Missa Solemnis, Ludwig van Beethoven

   Scored for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists, large four-voiced choir, and a symphony orchestra augmented by contrabassoon and organ, Beethoven’s is one of the largest-scale settings of the mass ordinary. Each of the five prayers is a continuous movement, albeit with changes of texture and tempo. The solo parts and the choral parts are very demanding, particularly in range, and there is an extended violin solo in the Benedictus. The work requires about 75 minutes to perform. Beethoven began work on the Missa Solemnis in April or May 1819, intending it for the grand installation as Archbishop of Olmütz of his longtime patron Archduke Rudolph of Austria at the Cologne Cathedral. But he did not finish the first version until the end of 1822, long after the installation, and added trombone parts and revised the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei significantly in 1823. The mass was first performed as a concert piece, in the Kärntnerthor Theater in Vienna on 7 May 1823, and included only the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei. The first liturgical performance celebrated the 400th anniversary of the University of Freiburg in Breisgau on 4 August 1857. Today it is rarely heard outside the concert hall.
   Without attempting a revival of the stile antico, Beethoven did make earnest efforts to imbue the Missa Solemnis with some sense of the sacred. One hears these most easily in the enormous fugal sections that conclude both Gloria and Credo, the frequently homorhythmic declamations, and in the a cappella announcement of "Et resurrexit." At the same time he sacrifices none of the complex harmonic relations that fill all his late major works.
   A recent critical edition has been edited by Norbert Gertsch for G. Henle Verlag (2000).

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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