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Missa solemnis (Beethoven)


1 Structure
Like most Masses, Beethovens Missa solemnis is in ve
Kyrie: Perhaps the most traditional of the Mass
movements, the Kyrie is in a traditional ABA' structure, with stately choral writing in the rst movement
section and more contrapuntal voice leading in the
Christe, which also introduces the four vocal soloists.
Gloria: Quickly shifting textures and themes highlight each portion of the Gloria text, in a beginning to the movement that is almost encyclopedic
in its exploration of 3/4 time. The movement ends
with the rst of the works two massive fugues, on
the text In gloria Dei patris. Amen, leading into a
recapitulation of the initial Gloria text and music.
Credo: The movement opens with a chord sequence
that will be used again in the movement to eect
modulations. The Credo, like the Gloria, is an often disorienting, mad rush through the text. The
poignant modal harmonies for the et incarnatus
yield to ever more expressive heights through the
crucixus, and into a remarkable, a cappella setting of the et resurrexit that is over almost before
it has begun. Most notable about the movement,
though, is the closing fugue on et vitam venturi that
includes one of the most dicult passages in the
choral repertoire, when the subject returns at doubled tempo for a thrilling conclusion.
The form of the Credo is divided into four parts: (I)
allegro ma non troppo through descendit de coelis
in B-at; (II) Incarnatus est through Resurrexit
in D; (III) Et ascendit through the Credo recapitulation in F; (IV) Fugue and Coda et vitam venturi
saeculi, amen in B-at.

In this famous portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler,

Beethoven can be seen working on the Missa solemnis in D major.

The Mass in D major, Op. 123 "Missa solemnis", was

composed by Ludwig van Beethoven from 1819 to 1823.
It was rst performed on 7 April 1824 in St. Petersburg,
Russia, under the auspices of Beethovens 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 composers supreme achievements
and, along with Bachs Mass in B minor, one of the most
signicant Mass settings of the common practice period.
Despite critical recognition as one of Beethovens 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. Written around the same time as his Ninth Symphony, it is Beethovens second setting of the Mass, after
his Mass in C, Op. 86.

Sanctus: Up until the benedictus of the Sanctus,

the Missa solemnis is of fairly normal classical proportions. But then, after an orchestral preludio, a
solo violin enters in its highest rangerepresenting
the Holy Spirit descending to earthand begins the
Missas most transcendently beautiful music, in a remarkably long extension of the text.

The Mass is scored for 2 utes; 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

Agnus Dei: A setting of the plea miserere nobis

(have mercy on us) that begins with the mens

voices alone in B minor yields, eventually, to a
bright D-major prayer dona nobis pacem (grant
us peace) in a pastoral mode. After some fugal
development, it is suddenly and dramatically interrupted by martial sounds (a convention in the 18th
century, as in Haydn's Missa in tempore belli), but after repeated pleas of miserere!", eventually recovers
and brings itself to a stately conclusion.



the end of the Gloria and Credo align it with the work
of his late periodbut 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 nds 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 dierent way:

The orchestration of the piece features a quartet of vocal The pianist Vladimir Horowitz used the piece as emblem[5]
soloists, a substantial chorus, and the full orchestra, and atic of his criticism of Beethoven in general:
each at times is used in virtuosic, textural, and melodic
capacities. The writing displays Beethovens characteristic disregard for the performer, and is in several places 5 See also
both technically and physically exacting, with many sudden changes of dynamic, metre and tempo. This is consis Solemn Mass
tent throughout, starting with the opening Kyrie where the
syllables Ky-ri are delivered either forte or with sforzando,
but the nal e is piano. As noted above, the reprise of
6 References
the Et vitam venturi fugue is particularly taxing, being
both subtly dierent from the previous statements of the
theme and counter-theme, and delivered at around twice [1] Elliot Forbes (ed.), Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Princeton,
1970, vol. II, p. 908, p. 925
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.

[2] See Beethoven: Missa solemnis, Op. 123, Kyrie; Tutzing:

Schneider, 1965; facsimile ed.

A typical performance of the complete work runs 80 to

85 minutes. The diculty 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

[4] Adorno, Theodor W. Alienated Masterpiece: The Missa

Solemnis. Essays On Music. University of California
Press. 2002. p. 570.


[3] Gutmann, Peter. Ludwig van Beethoven: Missa Solemnis. Classical Notes. Retrieved 8 September 2011.

[5] Crutcheld, Will. Vladimir Horowitz: Beethoven is

Sometimes Boring, I Prefer Lehar, New York Times,

7 External links

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

Performance of Agnus Dei movement (starting with

Dona Nobis Pacem)

"'Missa Solemnis, a Divine Bit of Beethoven- NPR

commentary by Jan Swaord

Critical response

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 Beethovens hallmarks. The massive fugues at

Missa Solemnis: Scores at the International Music

Score Library Project
'Credo Movement,'- Commentary by Kristin Diana

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