BEETHOVEN'S MISSA SOLEMNIS
The chapter to the year 1819 in Thayer's Life of Beethoven (p. 718-745) first discusses Karl van Beethoven's education, then the conversation books and finally Beethoven's composition of the Missa solemnis. However, at the beginning of the chapter, we also find Thayer's reference to Archduke Rudolph who would subsequently provide Beethoven with the actual occasion for its composition:
"The key note for much that must occupy us in a survey of the year 1819 is sounded by two letters to Archduke Rudolph. The first is a New Year's greeting: . . . " (Thayer: 718).
We can feature this New Year's greeting in its original text, followed by our own translation:
Beethoven an Erzherzog Rudolph
[Wien, 1. Januar 1819]
Alles was man nur in einem Wunsche zusammenfassen kann, was nur ersprießlich genannt werden kann, Heil, Glück, Segen ist in meinem Wunsche an dem heutigen Tage dargebracht für I.K.H. enthalten. Möchte nur auch mein Wunsch für mich auch huldreich von I.K.H. aufgenommen werden, nämlich: daß ich mich der Gnade I.K.H. ferner zu erfreuen habe. Ein schreckliches Ereigniß hat sich vor Kurzem in meinen Familien-Verhältnissen zugetragen, wo ich einige Zeit alle Besinnung verloren habe, und diesem ist es nur zuzuschreiben, daß ich nicht schon selbst bei I.K.H. gewesen, noch daß ich Auskunft gegeben habe über die meisterhaften Variationen meines hochverehrten erhabenen Schülers und Musen-Günstlings. Meinen Dank für diese Überraschung und Gnade, womit ich beehrt bin worden, wage ich weder mündlich noch schriftlich auszudrücken, da ich z u t i e f stehe, auch wenn ich wollte oder es noch so heiß wünschte, G l e i c h e s m i t G l e i c h e m z u v e r g e l t e n. Möge der Himmel meine Wünsche für die Gesundheit I.K.H. noch besonders wohl aufnehmen und erhören. In einigen Tage hoffe ich das mir gesendete Meisterstück von I.K.H. selbst zu hören und nichts kann mir erfreulicher sein, als dazu beizutragen, daß I.K.H. den schon bereiteten Platz für Hochdieselbe auf dem Parnasse baldigst einnehmen.
Am 1. Januar 1819.
Ihro Kaiserliche Hoheit mit Liebe und tiefster Ehrfurcht gehorsamster Diener
Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven to Archduke Rudolph
[Vienna, the 1st of January, 1819]
Everything that one can combine in one wish, what can be called fortunate, at all, good fortune, happiness, blessings, that is what is contained in my wish on this, today's date, for Y.I.H. My my wish also be received gracefully by Y.I.H. in my favor, namely, that I shall continue to enjoy the grace of Y.I.H. A terrible event has taken place in my family, recently, on the occasion of which I have lost all of my senses, for some time, and it is only due to this that I have not come to see Y.I.H., myself and that I have not commented on the masterful variations of my highly revered, exalted pupil and favorite of the muses. My gratitude for this surprise and favor with which I have been honored, I neither dare express in words nor in writing, since I am t o o l o w , in order to, even if I wanted to or fervently desired it, namely to r e s p o n d a t t h e s a m e l e v e l , i n k i n d. May the heavens receive and fulfill my wishes for the health of Y.I.H. especially favorably. In a few days I hope that I will hear the masterwork by Y.I.H. that was sent to me, myself, from Y.I.H. and nothing could be more delightful than to contribute to the fact Y.I.H. take his place at the Parnassus for it, the soonest.
An the 1st of January, 1819.
Your Imperial Highness' most obedient servant, with love and reverence,
Ludwig van Beethoven.
[Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 4, Brief No. 1282, p. 227]
[Original: not known, Text pursuant to Nohl II, No. 215. The GA points out that in the first print by Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, Drei und achtig neu aufgefundene Original-Briefe Ludwig van Beethoven's an den Erzherzog Rudolph, Wien, 1865, p. 43f. the greeting is missing; to : refers to the fact that in Köchel, p. 43, there follows a hyphen that separates the text; to : refers to the fact that Beethoven's nephew Karl ran away to his mother on December 3rd, 1818 and was returned to Beethoven by the police, two days later, and to further consequences of this situation; to : refers to the 40 Variations for Piano that Archduke Rudolph had composed on a theme given him by Beethoven, namely on "O Hoffnung". As the GA reports, these Variations were printed by S.A. Steiner in 1819, on the initiative of Beethoven; to : refers to the dedication of these Variations to Beethoven; details taken from p. 227.]
Thayer (p. 718) then discussed the "O Hoffnung" theme that Beethoven had given to his pupil in 1818 and to which Archduke Rudolph had composted 40 variations that he dedicated to his teacher.
Thayer then briefly discusses the events of December, 1818, that brought him, but also his nephew, a great deal of grief. As Thayer had reported in the previous chapter (p. 205), in November and December, 1818, Karl had attended public school and made good progress there, but also in his (private) piano, French and drawing lessons, while Beethoven, in turn, was again on friendly terms and in friendly contact with the Giannatasios. When Karl ran away to his mother on December 3, 1818, he turned to them for help. We refer to it here in passing as these events also set the tone for Beethoven's above-quoted letter to Archduke Rudolph.
The second letter that Thayer refers to was, as the Gesamtausgabe reports, already written on March 3rd, 1819, and not in June of that year:
Beethoven an Erzherzog Rudolph
[Wien, 3. März 1819]
Ihro Kaiserliche Hoheit!
An dem Tage, wo I.K.H. gnädigst zu mir schick[t]en, war ich nicht zu Hause,
u. gleich daruaf befiel mich ein starker Katharr so, daß ich im Bette
Liegend mich schriftlich I.K.H. nahe -- Welche Menge von Glückwünschungen
auch bey ihnen mein gnädigster Herr mag herangeströmt seyn, so weiß ich
nur zu gut, daß diese neue Würde nicht ohne Aufopferungen von Seite
I.K.H. angenommen wurde, denke ich mir aber, Welch erweiterter Wirkungs
Kreiß dadurch ihnen u. ihren großen edelmüthigen Gesinnun-[gen] geöfnet
wird, so kann ich auch nicht anders als deswegen meinen Glückwunsch zu den
<Ersten>übrigen anderen I.K.H. ablegen, Es gibt beynahe kein gutes --
ohne Opfer u. gerade der edlere beßere Mensch scheint hiezu mehr als andere
Bestimmt zu seyn, damit seine Tugend geprüft werde.--
Er .. fül.lung Er..fül.lung!
mögte ich nun von Herzen gern singen, Wären I.K.H. nur ganz wieder hergestellt, aber der neue Wirkungskreiß, die Veränderung, später Reisen, kann bald gewiß die Unschäzbare Gesundheit I.K.H. wieder in den besten Zustand bringen, u. alsdenn will ich obiges Thema ausführen mit einem tüchtigen A-- -- -- men oder Alleluja.--Was die Meisterhaften V[a]r.[iationen] I.H.H. anbelangt, so habe ich selbe ohnlängst zum schreiben gegeben, manche kleine Verstöße sind von mir beobachtet worden, ich muß aber meinem erhabenen Schüler zurufen: "La Musica merita d'esser studiaata"--bey so schönen Anlagen u. wirklich reicher Erfindungsgabe I.K.H. wäre es schade, nicht selbst bis zur kastalischen Quelle vorzudringen, wozu ich mich denn als Begleiter anbiete, sobald es einmal die Zeit I.K.H. zulaßen wird. I.K.H. können auf zweierley Art schöpfer werden, Musikal. schöpfer u. Menschen-Beglücker sind in der jezigen Monarchen Welt bisher nicht anzutreffen.--und nun von mir--ich bedarf wohl der gnädigsten Nachsicht--ich füge hier 2 Stücke bey, worauf geschrieben, daß ich Sie vor dem Namenstage I.K.H. voriges Jahr schon geschrieben habe, aber Mißmuth u. so manche traurige Umstände meine damalige so üble Gesundheit hatten mich so Muthloß gemacht, daß ich mich gar nur mit der grösten Ängstlichkeit u. Befangenheit I.K.H. nähern konnte, Von Mödling aus bis an das Ende meines dasigen Aufenthaltes gieng es mit meiner Gesundheit zwar beßer, aber wie viele andere Leiden trafen mich, manches befindet sich unterdeßen in meinem schreibpulte, wo ich das Andenken an I.K.H. bezeugen kann, u. ich hoffe dieses alles in einer beßeren Lage auszuführen -- der Erlaß I.K.H., daß ich kommen sollte, u. wieder, daß I.K.H. mir dieses sagen würden laßen wann? wußte ich nicht zu deuten, denn Hofmann war ich nie bin es auch nicht, u. werde es auch nei seyn können, u. ich komme mir hier gerade vor als, wie Sir Davison in Marie Stuart, als die Königin E.[isabeth] das Todesurtheil in seine Hände übergibt, ich wünsche, daß Ich, daß ich zu meinem Grädigsten Herrn kommen darf, wie ehmals, Gott kennt mein innres, u. wie der schein auch gegen mich vieleicht ist, so wird sich einmal alles für mich aufklären. -- der Tag, wo ein Hochamt Von mir zu den Feyerlichkeiten für I.K.H. soll aufgeführt werden, wird für mich der schönste meines Lebens seyn, u. Gott wird mich erleuchten, daß meine schwachen Kräfte zur Verherrlichung dieses Feyerlichen Tages beytragen.--
Es folgen nebst tiefster Danksagung die Sonaten, nur fehlt das Violonzell noch glaube ich, welche Stimme ich nicht gleich gefunden habe, da der Stich schön ist, so habe ich mir die Freyheit genommen, ein gestochenes Exemplar nebst einem Violin qui[n]tett bey zu legen.-- Zuden 2 Stücke[n] von meiner Handschrift an I.K.H. Namenstag geschrieben sind noch 2 andere gekommen, wovon das letztere ein großes Fugato, so daß es eine große Sonate aus macht, welche nun bald erscheinen wird, u. schon lange aus meinem Herzen I.K.H. ganz zugedacht ist, hieran ist das neueste Ereigniß I.K.H. nicht im mindesten schuld.
Indem ich um Verzeihung meines schreibens bitte, flehe ich den Herrn an, daß Reichlich seine segnungen auf das Haupt I.K.H. herabflößen, der neue Beruf I.K.H., der so sehr die Liebe der Menschen umfaßt, ist wohl einer der schönsten, u. hierin werden I.K.H. Weltlich oder geistlich immer das schönste Muster seyn.--
Ihro Kaiserliche Hoheit gehorsamst treuster Diener
Ludwig van Beethowen
am 3-ten Merz 1819
Beethoven to Archduke Rudolph
[Vienna, the 3rd of March 1819]
Your Imperial Highness!
On the day on which Y.I.H. gracefully sent for me, I was not at home, and
right thereafter, I had an attack of a strong cold so that I am writing to
Y.I.H., lying in bed.--No matter what amount of congratulations might have
reached you, my most gracious Lord, I only know too well that this new honor
has not been accepted on the part of Y.I.H. without sacrifices, however, I
think of the expanded sphere of influence that will be opened up for your
great, noble intentions, I can not do otherwise but to add my
congratulations to the others that Y.I.H. received. There is almost
nothing good that can be achieved without any sacrifice, and particularly
the more noble, better man appears to be destined for this than others, so
that his virtue will be tested.--
Ful .. fill.ment Ful..fill.ment!
I would like to sing now gladly, from the bottom of my heart, were Y.I.H. only completely restored, but the new sphere of activities, then travel, that might put Y.I.H.'s priceless health back into the best state and then I shall execute the above theme with a strong A-- -- -- men or Alleluja.--As far as the masterful variations of Y.I.H. are concerned, recently, I have sent them to be copied, some minor transgressions have been observed by me, and I have to call out to my exalted pupil, "La Musica merita d'esser studiaata"--with the beautiful talent and truly rich inventiveness of Y.I.H. it would be a pity if he would not venture forth to reach the Castalian source, himself, for which purpose I offer myself as his escort, as soon as Y.I.H.'s time would allow. Y.I.H. can be creative in two ways. Musical creators and benefactors of mankind have not been found among the world of present monarchs.--and now about myself--I seem to require Your most gracious lenience--here, I add two pieces on which is written that I had already written them before the Name Day of Y.I.H., however, melancholy and many a sad circumstance and my ill health of that time had made me so discouraged that I could only approach Y.I.H. with the greatest fear and reservations, From Mödling to the end of my stay here my health had somewhat improved, but many other sufferings befell me, however, many an item has accumulated in my desk with which I can attest to my thinking of Y.I.H. and I hope that I will be able to complete everything in a better situation--the Decree that I should come and again that Y.I.H. would let me know about it ans when? I was not able to interpret, since have never been a courtier, I am no courtier and shall never be one, and I find myself in a situation that is similar to Sir Davison in Mary Stuart, when Queen E.[isabeth] hands the death sentence to him, I wish that I would be able to come and see my most Gracious Lord as before, God knows my innermost, and as much as appearances may speak against me, everything will eventually be cleared in my favor.--The day on which a High Mass by me on the occasion of the celebrations for Y.I.H. will be performed, will be the most beautiful day of my life and God will enlighten me so that my weak powers will contribute to the glorification of this solemn day.--
In addition to profoundest thanks there follow the Sonatas, only the violoncello is missing, I believe, a part that I could not find, right away, since the print is beautiful, I have taken the liberty of enclosing an engraved copy in addition to a violin quintett.--To the 2 pieces by my hand on the occasion of the Name Day of Y.I.H. there have accumulated yet another 2, of which the latter is a great Fugato, making up a great sonata that will be published, soon, and that had been meant for Y.I.H. for a long time, the latest event of Y.I.H. is not a contributing factor to it, in the least.
In asking for forgiveness for my writing, I plead to the Lord that many of his blessings shall be showered upon Y.I.H., the new calling of Y.I.H. that embraces the love of man to such a degree, is certainly one of the most beautiful, and in this, Y.I.H., be it in secular or sacred respects, will always be the most beautiful example.--
Your Imperial Highness' most obedient and faithful servant
Ludwig van Beethowen
on the 3rd of March 1819
[Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 4, Letter No. 1292, p. 245-247]
[Original: Autograph, St. Petersburg, Institute for Russian Literature (PuschkinHouse, A.F. Onegin Collection); and Vienna, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, separated part of the second sheet (Date and Signature) Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; to : according to the GA this refers to the fact that the Archbishop of Olmütz, Count Maria Thaddäus von Trauttmannsdorff-Weinsberg, had died on January 20, 1819, and that Archduke Rudolph had been Coadjutor since 1805 and, in this capacity, had a right to succession; it also refers to his election on March 24, 1819, to the Papal confirmation and appointment as Cardinal on June 4, 1819 as well as to his receipt of the Cardinal's Hat on September 28, 1819 and to his inauguration on March 9, 1820; to : refers to WoO205e; to : refers to 40 Variations for Piano on a Theme by Beethoven, composed in 1818; to : refers to the copy Q 15075 in the Archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna that probably goes back to this commission; to : refers to both authographs of Archduke Rudolph that have been preserved, with many corrections by Beethoven's hand; to : refers to the 1st and 2nd movement of Op. 106; to : refers to Beethoven's stay in Mödling from May 19 to October, 1818; to : refers to a letter of this kind, probably to a strict reaction to Beethoven's unexcused absence, that has not been preserved; to : refers to Friedrich Schiller, Maria Stuart, Act IV, Scene 11; to : refers to Op. 123; to : refers to a copy of the two Cello Sonatas, Op. 102 that Beethoven had lent out from December 1818 to January 1819, for a brief period; to : refers to the editions of Op. 102 and Op. 104 that had been published by Artaria in January respectively February; to : refers to Op. 106; details taken from p. 247.]
As the above letter indicates, Archduke Rudolph has been Coadjutor of the Archbishop of Olmütz (Graf Maria Thaddäus von Trauttmannsdorff-Weinsberg) already since 1805, so that the death of the latter on January 20, 1819, brought with it the very likely outcome of Rudolph's succession. That Rudolph already knew of his appointment before the official election on March 24, 1819, is also evident from Beethoven's above-quoted letter that is dated March 3, 1819.
Lewis Lockwood analyses this letter as follows:
"The impetus to writing a great Mass in D major was the news in early March 1819 that Archduke Rudolph had been elected archbishop by the cathedral chapter of Olmütz in Moravia and would be officially installed in a great ceremony a year later. At once Beethoven wrote to congratulate him, characteristically combining, in a single letter, expressions of homage, some avuncular advice, stoic wisdom, firm reminders of Beethoven's artistic superiority, and resistance to any kind of subordinate status.
When I consider . . . what an enlarged sphere of activity is going to be thereby opened to you and to your fine and noble qualities, I too cannot but add my congratulations to the many others which Your Imperial Highness must have received.
There is hardly any good thing that can be achieved . . . without a sacrifice; and it is precisely the nobler and better man who seems to be destined for this more than other human beings, no doubt that his virtue may be put to the test.
Teacher to student:
Beethoven thanks the archduke for the forty variations he had written on a theme Beethoven had given him, then reminds him who his teacher is by mentioning "several slips" in the work, adding bluntly in Italian, "La Musica merita d'esser studiata" ("music derserves to be studied"). The he had also used this expression in a letter to nephew Karl's boarding school teacher, Cajetan Giannattasio del Rio, in 1817, suggests a parallel between his deeply paternal view of his young nephew and his more complex feelings about his royal pupil, at least in the necessities of their musical education.
Advice on how to be both an artist and a public benefactor:
Your Imperial Highness can . . . create in two ways, both for the happiness and welfare of so many people and for yourself. For creators of music and benefactors of humanity have not hitherto been found in the world of monarchs.
Reminder of Beethoven's stubborn individuality:
The meaning of your Royal Highness' command that I should come, and again your indication that Your Imperial Highness would let me know when I should do so [Beethoven's underlining] I was quite unable to fathom, for I never was, still am not, and never will be, a courtier.
Pleasure and admiration:
The day on which a High Mass composed by me will be performed during the ceremonies solemnized for Your Imperial Highness will be the most glorious day of my life.
This letter conveys part of the spirit in which this immense Mass then composed. In an immediate sense it was a tribute to his royal pupil's new stature, the crowning work among those he had already dedicated to him. . . . " (Lockwood: 400-402).
Maynard Solomon sheds yet another interesting light on Beethoven's possible motivation for the composition of the Missa solemnis:
"Rudolph was also important as Beethoven's protector, as his personal passport to the imperial court. And for many years it was apparently Beethoven's expectation that when Rudolph assumed his bishopric, Beethoven would become his Kapellmeister. This, at least, is what Beethoven reported in a letter of March 27, 1809 and in later years, several of Beethoven's letters seem to confirm this impression. Rudolph perhaps kept Beethoven's hopes on this score alive for an unreasonably long time, and it still remains unclear why this expectation--which may have provided one of the motivations behind the composition of the Missa Solemnis--was never fulfilled" (Solomon: 305-306).
After our look at the actual occasion for the composition of the Missa we can turn to its creation history.