Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 70–80 Minutes
Genre: Missa solemnis
Time of Creation: 1819–1823
World Premiere: April 7, 1824 (St. Petersburg)

Table of Contents

Beethoven's Missa solemnis in 5 Sentences

With his Missa solemnis, the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven created one of the most famous mass compositions ever. Late in his life, Beethoven himself described his Missa solemnis as his best work. Originally, the mass was to be premiered at the enthronement of Archduke Rudolph of Austria as Archbishop of Olomouc. However, this did not happen, as Beethoven was unable to complete the work in time. Few of Beethoven’s other works are as controversially discussed as the Missa solemnis, since very traditional structures (e.g. in the Kyrie) and innovative sounds (e.g. in the Sanctus) collide here.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Beethoven's Missa solemnis

Highlight 1: Kyrie

The Kyrie is a good example of how traditionally the Missa solemnis begins. Beethoven does not experiment here, so it is hard to see what unconventional direction the work will take later. In 1827, a music critic wrote that the Kyrie was “among the most excellent [that] recent compositions have produced in this genre.”

Highlight 2: End of the Gloria

The end of the Gloria stands in contrast to the conventional Kyrie. Accordingly, it was also incomprehensible to the critic already mentioned, who wrote: “The Gloria is comprehensible only in places, sometimes only tactually. […] The Gloria breaks off suddenly with very short notes and closes. This especially weakened the impression.”

Highlight 3: The "holy spirit" in the Sanctus

The longer the Missa solemnis, the more unconventional it becomes. An example of this can be found in the Sanctus: Here a solo violin embodies the descent of the Holy Spirit to earth – an almost “unheard-of” timbre at the time:

Highlight 4: War and Peace in the Agnus Dei

In the last part of the Missa solemnis, a radiant prayer for peace and warlike sounds are juxtaposed. The work ends “peacefully”:

3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Missa solemnis

Question 1: What does Missa solemnis mean?

The term “Missa solemnis” or “Missa sollemnis” is Latin for „Solemn Mass“.

Question 2: Where did Beethoven compose his Missa solemnis?

Beethoven composed the Missa solemnis in his summer home in Mödling near Vienna.

Question 3: How many masses did Beethoven write?

Beethoven composed two masses: the (rather unknown) Mass in C major, op. 86, in 1807, and the (very famous) Missa solemnis, op. 123, between 1819 and 1823.

2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Missa solemnis

Recording 1: hr-Sinfonieorchester, Wiener Singverein, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Regine Hangler, Katrin Wundsam, Steve Davislim, Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Live, 2016)

This luxurious cast recording is from the 2016 Rheingau Music Festival:

Recording 2: Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Daniel Reuss, Carolyn Sampson, Marianne Beate Kielland, Thomas Walker, David Wilson-Johnson (Live, 2016)

All fans of historical performance practice are recommended to listen to this recording with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century:

1 Quote about Beethoven's Missa solemnis

From the heart may it go to the heart again.

Ludwig van Beethoven

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