Missa solemnis (Beethoven)

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In this famous portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, Beethoven can be seen working on the Missa solemnis in D major.

The Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123, was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven from 1819 to 1823. It was first performed on 7 April 1824 in St. Petersburg, Russia, under the auspices of Beethoven's patron Prince Nikolai Galitzin; an incomplete performance was given in Vienna on 7 May 1824, when the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei were conducted by the composer.[1] It is generally considered one of the composer's supreme achievements and, along with Bach's Mass in B minor, one of the most significant Mass settings of the common practice period.

Despite critical recognition as one of Beethoven's great works from the height of his composing career, Missa solemnis has not achieved the same level of popular attention that many of his symphonies and sonatas have enjoyed.[citation needed] Written around the same time as his Ninth Symphony, it is Beethoven's second setting of the Mass, after his Mass in C, Op. 86.

The Mass is scored for 2 flutes; 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, C, and B); 2 bassoons; contrabassoon; 4 horns (in D, E, B basso, E, and G); 2 trumpets (D, B, and C); alto, tenor, and bass trombone; timpani; organ continuo; strings (violins I and II, violas, cellos, and basses); soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists; and mixed choir.

Structure[edit]

Like most Masses, Beethoven's Missa solemnis is in five movements:

Performance[edit]

The orchestration of the piece features a quartet of vocal soloists, a substantial chorus, and the full orchestra, and each at times is used in virtuosic, textural, and melodic capacities. The writing displays Beethoven's characteristic disregard for the performer, and is in several places both technically and physically exacting, with many sudden changes of dynamic, metre and tempo. This is consistent throughout, starting with the opening Kyrie where the syllables Ky-ri are delivered either forte or with sforzando, but the final e is piano. As noted above, the reprise of the Et vitam venturi fugue is particularly taxing, being both subtly different from the previous statements of the theme and counter-theme, and delivered at around twice the speed.

The orchestral parts also include many demanding sections, including the violin solo in the Sanctus and some of the most demanding work in the repertoire for bassoon and contrabassoon.

A typical performance of the complete work runs 80 to 85 minutes. The difficulty of the piece combined with the requirements for a full orchestra, large chorus, and highly trained soloists, both vocal and instrumental, mean that it is not often performed by amateur or semi-professional ensembles.

Dedication[edit]

The work was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf of Austria, archbishop of Olomouc, Beethoven's foremost patron as well as pupil and friend. The copy presented to Rudolf was inscribed "Von Herzen—Möge es wieder—Zu Herzen gehn!"[2] ("From the heart – may it return to the heart!") [3]

Critical response[edit]

Some critics have been troubled by the problem that, as Theodor W. Adorno put it, "there is something peculiar about the Missa solemnis." [4] In many ways, it is an atypical work, even for Beethoven. Missing is the sustained exploration of themes through development that is one of Beethoven's hallmarks. The massive fugues at the end of the Gloria and Credo align it with the work of his late period—but his simultaneous interest in the theme and variations form is absent. Instead, the Missa presents a continuous musical narrative, almost without repetition, particularly in the Gloria and Credo, the two longest movements. The style, Adorno has noted, is close to treatment of themes in imitation that one finds in the Flemish masters such as Josquin des Prez and Johannes Ockeghem, but it is unclear whether Beethoven was consciously imitating their techniques to meet the peculiar demands of the Mass text. Donald Tovey has connected Beethoven to the earlier tradition in a different way:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elliot Forbes (ed.), Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Princeton, 1970, vol. II, p. 908, p. 925
  2. ^ See Beethoven: Missa solemnis, Op. 123, Kyrie; Tutzing: Schneider, 1965; facsimile ed.
  3. ^ Gutmann, Peter. "Ludwig van Beethoven: Missa Solemnis". Classical Notes. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  4. ^ Adorno, Theodor W. Alienated Masterpiece: The Missa Solemnis. Essays On Music. University of California Press. 2002. p. 570.

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