BEETHOVEN'S MISSA SOLEMNIS



 


Angels Making Music (around 1510)
Matthias Grünewald
from the Isenheim Altar
(Colmar, Alsace, France: Unterlinden  Museum)



 I AM THAT WHICH IS.

I AM ALL, WHAT IS, WHAT WAS, WHAT WILL BE:
NO MORTAL MAN HAS EVER LIFTED MY VEIL.

HE IS ONLY AND SOLELY OF HIMSELF, AND TO THIS
ONLY ONE ALL THINGS OWE THEIR EXISTENCE.

As Thayer [p. 481] reports, Beethoven kept these inscriptions under glass at his desk and, in all likelihood, knew them from Friedrich Schiller's essay, THE MISSION OF MOSES [see our fill quote from this work in our section on Nietzsche and Beethoven].

While we, of course, can not ascertain what precise meaning these ancient Egyptian temple inscriptions had for Beethoven, we can certainly see from the way he that he kept them at his desk that they must have meant a great deal to him.  We might also be able to imagine that the composer Beethoven might not have been in a position to put their meaning to him in words or to even write it down on paper.  

Where, then, would we find Beethoven's true expression of his personal relationship to the spiritual?  This answer should not be too difficult for us:  In his works of sacred music, and that in an ever-increasing spiritual intensity, from his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Gellert Lieder to his Mass in C Major of the year 1807 to the Missa solemnis of the years 1818-1823, whereby, of course, musicologists can not always agree on which of his early sacred works should be considered more serious steps in that development.  

Our journey into the discovery of the world of Beethoven's Missa solemnis will, therefore, also lead us to many of these steps on his path toward the composition of this great work, as you can see from our overview below that provides you with links to our various pages on this topic. 

All italicized headings merely serve as sub-headings to various sections, while all other headings serve as links to the various pages.  From each page, you can continue to navigate in two ways:  The first link on the bottom of each page leads you to the next page, while the second link leads you back to this main page.  We hope, that this will help you to navigate easily. 

In our Brief Overview of the History of Church Music up to Beethoven, we are trying find the first traces of the use of music in Christian liturgy and to follow the further development of music in liturgy through the various ages up to Beethoven.  After that, we are trying to take a look at Beethoven's Artistic and Spiritual Development towards His Composition of the Missa solemnis.  In doing so, we are, on the one hand, looking at his development with respect to sacred music in general and at his early sacred works, on the other hand.  These preliminary excursions should help us to better understand Beethoven's first steps with respect to the composition of his most important sacred work, the Missa solemnis.

ALL PAGES ARE NOW AVAILABLE! 

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF CHURCH MUSIC UP TO BEETHOVEN

BEETHOVEN'S ARTISTIC AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
TOWARDS HIS LATER COMPOSITION OF THE MISSA SOLEMNIS

(With a brief look at his early sacred works:
The "Gellert-Lieder", "Christ on the Mount of Olives" and the Mass in C Major) and
E.T.A. Hoffmann's AMZ Essay on the Mass in C Major

CREATION HISTORY

First Traces of Beethoven's
Inner Motivation for the Composition

Actual Opportunity
for the Composition

(Archduke Rudolph)

  Development of the Composition from the First Sketches to the Complete Score

MARKETING STRATEGIES

Early and Unsuccessful Negotiations with Publishers

Negotiations with respect to the Subscription

 PERFORMANCE HISTORY DURING BEETHOVEN'S LIFE TIME

Incomplete First Performances in Vienna

First Performance in St. Petersburg

ACTUAL PUBLICATION AND DEDICATION

Dedication to Archduke Rudolph
(Overview)

Negotiations with Schott, Mainz, and Publication (Summary)

 TO THE MUSIC

To the Musical Content

To Contemporary Music Criticism

 MISCELLANEOUS

Bibliography

Missa solemnis Links

CONCLUSION

After the various opinions that found their reflection in our Contemporary Music Criticism page, and after you have had a change to explore our Missa solemnis links section, this web site author wants to conclude this section with a few personal remarks. 

In his Bericht von einer späten Freundschaft.  In memoriam Karl Barth (in:  Späte Freundschaft Carl Zuckmayer Karl Barth in Briefen, Zürich: 1991. Theologischer Verlag, p.85; the article quoted from is that by the German writer Carl Zuckmayer in which he reminisces about his late friendship with the Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth and which appeared in the above-noted book featuring their correspondence in the late 1960's, befor Karl Barth's death), Zuckmayer writes, among other things, about the Mozart friend Karl Barth's doubts about Beethoven:  "Am schlechtesten kam Beethoven weg . . . Auch die Missa Solemnis schien ihm nicht aus einem befreiten Herzen zu kommen, sondern aus einem geplagten Hirn" (Zuckmayer writes that the worst opinion Barth had of a composer was that of Beethoven, and that, with respect to the Missa solemnis, he had the impression that it was not composed by a man with a free heart but rather by one with a troubled mind).  In my opinion, this would agree with what Solomon quotes of Paul Henry Lang, namely, that those Christians whose primary concern was obedience to God would be appalled by Beethoven who would not bend without having had his doubts and who would only arrive at faith after a Faustian struggle with temptation.   

In this writer's opinion, this might remind us of the fact that, in spite of its sublime character, the Missa solemnis was written by a human being and can only be judged by human beings who, without a doubt, will arrive at different opinions with respect to it.  

As a native of Munich and as a friend of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, this writer, with respect to any human being's attitude towards the Missa solemnis, by far prefers the personal conduct of this orchestra's 1983 - 1992 music director, Sir Colin Davis, at the occasion of his 1983 rehearsals of this work for his debut performance with this orchestra.  Those of you who understand some German might enjoy our link to this orchestra's website and the listening sample it offers of this rehearsal.  For those of you who can not directly follow this recording, let it be briefly mentioned that Sir Colin Davis, during the rehearsal of the Sanctus, paused and expressed that it is a dream to rehearse this work with this orchestra and these performers and that he asked them to help defend this dream.  To his words, this writer can not add anything better.