A new overture – fast

Beethoven’s revised version of Fidelio was due to be premiered on the 23rd May 1814. Beethoven had planned to write a new overture for the performance. He was still yet to complete it before the final rehearsal on the 22nd May. The night before, he was dining out with his physician (Dr. Bertolini). After dinner, he took a menu, drew lines on its blank side, and began to write. “Come, let”s go”, said Bertolini. “No,” Beethoven replied, “wait a moment. I have an idea for my overture.” Bertolini left, and Beethoven remained to finish his sketch. (1) Treitschke, who revised the libretto for the opera, recounted the final rehearsal and first performance:

The orchestra was called to rehearsal on the morning of the performance. B. [Beethoven] did not come. After waiting a long time we drove to his lodgings to bring him, but – he lay in bed, sleeping soundly, beside him stood a goblet with wine and a biscuit in it, the sheets of the overture were scattered on the bed and floor. A burnt-out candle showed that he had worked far into the night. The impossibility of completing the overture was plain; for this occasion his overture to Prometheus (2) was taken and the announcement that because of obstacles which had presented themselves the new overture would have to be dispensed with today, enabled the numerous audience to guess the sufficient reason. (3)

Beethoven later remember the incident and remarked “the people applauded and I was ashamed. It did not belong to the rest.” (4)

Beethoven “conducted” the first performance, but Michael Umlauf (who also conducted Beethoven”s Ninth Symphony) actually gave the real cues behind his back.

The new overture to Fidelio was performed at the performance on May 26 and “was received with tempestuous applause.” (5)

(1) Marek, George (1969) Beethoven: Biography of a Genius. London: William Kimber, p.473.

(2) According to Marek (op. cit.) The actual overture played was actually probably that of The Ruins of Athens

(3) Cited in Marek, op. cit.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid., p.474.