02 Dec 2019

BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3

by Michael Clive

The Leonore Overture No. 3 — is one of the most popular of orchestral showpieces, and the most frequently programmed of the overtures Beethoven composed. It has become a model for concert and operatic overtures, and is certainly no less demanding than either of the others.

The overture unfolds slowly, with a descending scale leading to a portentous adagio that evokes the loneliness and isolation of the male protagonist, Florestan, who has been unjustly imprisoned in a gloomy subterranean prison. The next melody we hear is one that Florestan will sing in a meditation on his predicament, “In the springtime of youth.” But the emotional center of this soul-stirring overture is a theme that begins in the strings as an almost breathless utterance of hopeful excitement with an upward arpeggio that suddenly breaks into a thundering fortissimo. Without words and without the benefit of stage action, we know that this fervent melody stands for the possibility of rescue and vindication.