About this Recording
8.557060 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Missa Solemnis (L. Phillips, Redmon, J. Taylor, Baylon, Nashville Symphony and Chorus, Schermerhorn)
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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Missa Solemnis, Op. 123

 

In 1792 Beethoven left his native city of Bonn to seek his fortune in the imperial capital, Vienna. Five years before he had been sent to Vienna by his patron, the Archbishop of Cologne, for lessons with Mozart, but the illness of his mother had forced his immediate return home. Before long, after his mother’s death, he had been obliged to take charge of the welfare of his younger brothers, a task that his father was not competent to discharge.

 

As a boy Beethoven had had an erratic musical training through his father, a singer in the archiepiscopal musical establishment, later continued on sounder lines. In 1792 he was to take lessons from Haydn, from whom he later claimed to have learned nothing, followed by subsequent study of counterpoint with Albrechtsberger and Italian word-setting with Salieri. Armed with introductions to members of the nobility in Vienna, he soon established himself as a keyboard virtuoso, skilled both as a performer and as an adept in the necessary art of improvisation. In the course of time he was to be widely recognised as a figure of remarkable genius and originality. At the same time he became known as a social eccentric, no respecter of persons, his eccentricity all the greater because of increasing deafness, a failing that became evident by the turn of the century. With the patient encouragement of patrons, he directed his attentions largely to composition, developing the inherited classical tradition of Haydn and Mozart and extending its bounds in a way that presented both an example and a challenge to the composers who came after him.

 

Among Beethoven’s patrons and supporters in Vienna was Archduke Rudolph Johann Joseph Rainer, the youngest son of the Emperor Leopold II. Born in Florence in 1788, he had enjoyed a relatively enlightened childhood there, while his father was Grand Duke of Tuscany. The death of the Emperor Joseph II in 1790 brought the family back to Vienna. His father succeeded his brother as Emperor, but died in 1792, leaving the succession to the Archduke’s brother Franz. Rudolph’s inclinations were towards the arts, as his health prevented indulgence in more martial activities, and, like Beethoven’s earlier patron in Bonn, towards the church. The relationship with Beethoven began in 1803, when the composer became Rudolph’s teacher, providing instruction and encouragement in composition, theory and the piano. These lessons continued, intermittently, over the following years, and Archduke Rudolph did much to secure an income for Beethoven in the financial arrangements made in the difficult year of 1809 to ensure that he remained in Vienna. Beethoven dedicated a number of his finest works to the Archduke, including his fourth and fifth piano concertos, the so-called Archduke Trio, the Grosse Fuge, and the Hammerklavier Sonata.

 

In 1805 Rudolph had been named as co-adjutor bishop of Olmütz (Olomouc) and in 1819 he was appointed Archbishop and Cardinal. It was to mark this occasion that Beethoven set about the composition of his monumental Missa Solemnis, a work that might be performed at the enthronement of the Archbishop. In the event the Mass was not completed in time and it was not until 1823 that the Cardinal-Archbishop received the new composition, which had its first partial performance in Vienna in 1824, followed by a full performance in St Petersburg, through the agency of Prince Galitzin. Beethoven had worked on the Mass for some five years, preparing himself by a study of Handel and of the appropriate church style. The period was not an easy one in the composer’s life, while matters were coming to a head in his struggles over his nephew Karl with the boy’s mother, widow of his brother Caspar Carl. At the same time Beethoven’s deafness was now acute and his eccentricities of behaviour extreme. Nevertheless it was in these years that he wrote his remarkable last piano sonatas and his momentous last symphony, the latter first heard in the Vienna concert of 1824 in which movements from the Missa Solemnis, a composition by which he set the greatest store, were given. The first complete performance of the Mass, in Vienna, only took place after Beethoven’s death.

 

The Missa Solemnis is scored for an orchestra with the usual pairs of woodwind instruments, double bassoon, four horns, three trombones, trumpets and timpani, strings and organ, together with four solo singers and chorus. The work is conceived as a whole and has been described as a five-movement symphony, but in spite of its length it still has a possible liturgical use, as at first intended. The D major Kyrie is marked Assai sostenuto and Mit Andacht (With devotion), with the superscription Von Herzen - möge es wieder - zu Herzen gehen! (From the heart - may it go again to the heart!). In the first section the soloists and choir combine in prayer, leading to the central B minor Christe eleison, led by the soloists. The third Kyrie, directed to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is a greatly varied recapitulation.

 

The Gloria opens with a burst of triumph, hushed for a moment at the words et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, before the jubilant return in laudamus te. In a movement where the influence of Handel is perceptible, the clause glorificamus te provides a place for fugal writing. There is a change of mood and of key, to B flat major as the soloists introduce the words gratias agimus tibi. The woodwind and horns start the C major Larghetto setting of qui tollis peccata mundi, led by the soloists. The original key is restored, before further modulation and word-painting at the words miserere nobis, a plea reinforced by the trombones. A sudden hush is followed by a triumphant quoniam tu solus sanctus, in a phrase echoing Mozart’s Tuba mirum. In gloria Dei Patris provides the opportunity for a great fugue which makes use of all possible contrapuntal techniques, before a final unliturgical repetition of the opening words, Gloria in excelsis Deo.

 

The Credo, in B flat major, sets the opening statement of belief to a melody of strong contrapuntal possibilities, as voice after voice enters, before finally uniting on the words unum Deum. There is a sudden quietness for et invisibilium, after which the Credo resumes, with the return of the opening motif. Ante omnia saecula brings a pianissimo, soon interrupted by Deum de Deo, followed by the fugal consubstantialem Patri. There is further word-painting in what follows, leading to the necessary tranquil devotion of et incarnatus est, with its reduced orchestration and flute ornamentation, until the dramatic solo tenor announcement, et homo factus est. There is starker drama at the Crucifixus, and the sombre passus et sepultus est, tension dispelled at Et resurrexit tertia die, leading to the fugal entries of the ascending et ascendit in coelum. The trombones suggest the Last Trump at judicare vivos et mortuos. The Credo motif returns accompanied by the later clauses of the Creed and the double fugue at et vitam venturi saeculi, a monumental conclusion to this declaration of belief.

 

The Sanctus, an Adagio, again marked Mit Andacht, with the violins at first silent, has the entry of the solo voices preceded by the chords of the trombones. The sense of awe, stressed by the tremolo of the lower strings, is interrupted by the joyful Pleni sunt coeli and fugato Osanna. There is a meditative Praeludium, scored for flutes, bassoon, lower strings and organ, designed for the part of the Canon of the Mass before the Consecration. A violin solo, accompanied by flutes then clarinets, ushers in the Benedictus, the instrumental element continued with the entry of the solo voices in an extended, almost pastoral movement.

 

The B minor Agnus Dei is introduced by the bass soloist, joined by other voices in a prayer for mercy. The final petition of the Agnus Dei, has the epigraph Bitte um innern und äussern Frieden (Prayer for inner and outward peace), words that some have seen as a reflection of Beethoven’s own inner turmoil, particularly his bitter quarrel with his brother’s widow over the care of his nephew. There is something Mahlerian about the trumpets’ entry that heralds the return of the original petition, followed by the fugal treatment of the plea for peace. An orchestral passage of baroque suggestion is succeeded by a fortissimo, introducing an extended coda, in which the desire for peace remains the overriding theme.

 

It might be added that the conclusion also makes a more satisfactory concert ending than many purely liturgical settings of the Mass. Beethoven achieves, in a work that he subjected to much revision and over which he took the greatest care, a new musical, dramatic and liturgical synthesis, absorbing the earlier examples of such writing, from Bach and Handel, Mozart and Haydn, to the more immediately contemporary, Cherubini and Spontini. He creates here something that is both old and completely new, an apotheosis comparable to that he brought about with his last symphony.

 

Keith Anderson


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