Missa solemnis (Beethoven)

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Missa solemnis
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven, Missa solemnis, Kyrie.jpg
Autograph, beginning of the Kyrie, with the famous dedication "Von Herzen..." and the performance advice "Mit Andacht" ("with devotion")
Key D major
Catalogue Op. 123
Text Mass ordinary
Language Latin
Dedication Rudolf of Austria
Performed7 April 1824 (1824-04-07): Saint Petersburg
  • soloists
  • choir
  • orchestra

The Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123, is a Solemn Mass composed by Ludwig van Beethoven from 1819 to 1823. It was first performed on 7 April 1824 in Saint 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. [2]


Written around the same time as his Ninth Symphony, it is Beethoven's second setting of the Mass, after his Mass in C major, Op. 86. The work was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf of Austria, archbishop of Olmütz, 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!" [3] ("From the heart – may it return to the heart!") [4]


Like many masses, Beethoven's Missa solemnis is in five movements:

Tempo markingMeterKey
Assai sostenuto. Mit Andacht Allabreve.svg D
Andante assai bem marcato.3
Tempo I Allabreve.svg D
Allegro vivace3
Meno Allegro3
Tempo I3
B, F
Dm, D, B, D
Allegro majestoso3
Allegro, ma non troppo e ben marcato Commontime.svg D
Poco piu Allegro Allabreve.svg D
Allegro na non troppo Commontime.svg B
Adagio Commontime.svg Dm
Adagio expressivo3
Allegro Commontime.svg C
Allegro molto Allabreve.svg F
Allegro ma non tropo Commontime.svg F
Allegro ma non tropo; Allegro con motto3
Adagio. Mit Andacht2
Allegro pesante Commontime.svg D
Praeludium – Sostenuto ma non troppo3
Andante molto cantabile e non troppo mosso12
G, C, G
Agnus Dei
Adagio Commontime.svg D
Alegretto vivace (Bitte um innern und äussern Frieden)6
Allegro assai Commontime.svg B
Tempo I6
F, D
Presto Allabreve.svg D, B
Tempo I6
B, D


The form of the Credo is divided into four parts: (I) allegro ma non troppo through "descendit de coelis" in B; (II) "Et 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.

Scoring and music

The mass is scored for 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 orchestra consists of 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.

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.


Some critics have been troubled that, as Theodor W. Adorno put it, "there is something peculiar about the Missa solemnis." [6] In many ways, it is an atypical work, and lacks the sustained thematic development that is one of Beethoven's hallmarks. The 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 demands of the Mass text. Donald Tovey has connected Beethoven to the earlier tradition in a different way:

Not even Bach or Handel can show a greater sense of space and of sonority. There is no earlier choral writing that comes so near to recovering some of the lost secrets of the style of Palestrina. There is no choral and no orchestral writing, earlier or later, that shows a more thrilling sense of the individual colour of every chord, every position, and every doubled third or discord. [7]

Musicologist Michael Spitzer writes, "Gregorian melodies, of course, continued to be used in the Mass throughout the eighteenth century; but by Beethoven's time they were relatively rare, especially in orchestral Masses. The one composer who still used them extensively is Michael Haydn, in his a cappella Masses for Advent and Lent. It is significant that in some of these he limits the borrowed melody to the Incarnatus and expressly labels it 'Corale'. In the Missa dolorum B. M. V. (1762) it is set in the style of a harmonized chorale, in the Missa tempore Qudragesima of 1794 note against note, with the Gregorian melody (Credo IV of the Liber Usualis) appearing in the soprano. I have little doubt that Beethoven knew such works of Michael Haydn, at that time the most popular composer of sacred music in Austria." [8] Similarities between the "Et Incarnatus est" sections from Michael Haydn's Missa Sancti Gabrielis, MH 17 (1768) and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis can be found.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

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<i>Great Mass in C minor</i>, K. 427

Great Mass in C minor, K. 427/417a, is the common name of the musical setting of the mass by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and considered one of his greatest works. He composed it in Vienna in 1782 and 1783 after his marriage when he moved to Vienna from Salzburg. This large-scale work, a missa solemnis, is scored for two soprano soloists, a tenor and a bass, double chorus and large orchestra. It remained unfinished, missing large portions of the Credo and the complete Agnus Dei.

Coronation Mass (Mozart)

The Krönungsmesse, composed in 1779, is one of the most popular of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 17 extant settings of the Ordinary of the Mass. It can be classified as either a Missa brevis or a Missa solemnis because although it includes all the sections of the Ordinary, it is relatively short.

Missa brevis

Missa brevis is Latin for "short Mass". The term usually refers to a mass composition that is short because part of the text of the Mass ordinary that is usually set to music in a full mass is left out, or because its execution time is relatively short.

<i>Petite messe solennelle</i>

Gioachino Rossini's Petite messe solennelle was written in 1863, possibly at the request of Count Alexis Pillet-Will for his wife Louise to whom it is dedicated. The composer, who had retired from composing operas more than 30 years before, described it as "the last of my péchés de vieillesse".

<i>Missa solemnis</i> (Bruckner)

The Missa solemnis, WAB 29, is a solemn mass composed by Anton Bruckner in 1854 for the installation of Friedrich Mayer as abbot of St. Florian Abbey on 14 September 1854.

Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida

The Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida is a mass in B-flat major by Joseph Haydn, Hob. XXII:10, Novello 1, was written the same year as the Missa in tempore belli (1796), and it "may have been the first mass Haydn wrote after his return from England." Yet it may also have been the second. It is usually given as Haydn's ninth setting of the mass, though its Hoboken number is XXII:10. This mass was written in honor of St. Bernard of Offida, a Capuchin monk who devoted himself to helping the poor; a century after the monk's death, he was beatified by Pope Pius VI.

The Harmoniemesse in B-flat major by Joseph Haydn, Hob. XXII:14, Novello 6, was written in 1802. It was Haydn's last major work. It is because of the prominence of the winds in this mass and "the German terminology for a kind of wind ensemble, Harmonie," that this mass setting is called "Harmoniemesse" or "Wind Band Mass". Besides flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in B-flat, 2 trumpets in B-flat, the mass also calls for choir, timpani, strings, and organ, the latter supplying figured bass for most of the duration.

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Mass in C major, K. 220 "Sparrow"

The Sparrow Mass is a mass in C major K. 220/196b, Mass No. 9, Missa brevis No. 5, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1775 or 1776 in Salzburg. The mass is sometimes termed a missa brevis et solemnis, because it is short in a simple structure as a missa brevis, but festively scored like a missa solemnis with brass and timpani in addition to four soloists, strings and organ. It was possibly first performed on 7 April 1776 in a mass for Easter at the Salzburg Cathedral. The nickname is derived from violin figures in the Hosanna which resemble bird chirping.

Mass in C major, K. 337 "Solemnis"

The Missa solemnis in C major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, K. 337, was written in 1780 for Salzburg. It was Mozart's last complete mass. The mass is scored for soloists, choir, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, strings and organ, the latter supplying figured bass for most of the duration.

Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis in A minor, ZWV 17, is the vocal-instrumental sacred work, written by Czech Baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. It was completed in 1736 as the first of five "High Mass" compositions he wrote in the last ten years of his life. Last three were also called "Missae ultimae".

Mass No. 1 (Bruckner)

The Mass No. 1 in D minor, WAB 26 by Anton Bruckner, is a setting of the Mass ordinary for soloists, mixed choir and orchestra, and organ.

Mass in C major, K. 257 "Credo"

The Credo Mass in C major, K. 257, is a mass composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1776. It is scored for SATB soloists, SATB choir, violin I and II, 2 oboes, 2 clarini, 3 trombones colla parte and basso continuo.

Mass in C major, K. 66 "Dominicus"

The Missa solemnis in C major, K. 66, is a mass composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1769. It is scored for SATB soloists and choir, violins I and II, viola, 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 clarini, 2 trumpets and basso continuo.

Mass in C major, K. 258 "Piccolomini"

The Missa brevis No. 7 in C major, K. 258, is a mass composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1776. It is scored for SATB soloists, SATB choir, violin I and II, 2 oboes, 2 clarini, 3 trombones colla parte, timpani and basso continuo.

Mass in C major, K. 262 "Missa longa"

The Missa longa in C major, K. 262/246a, is a mass composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in May 1776. Other sources claim it was composed in May 1775. It is scored for SATB soloists, SATB choir, violin I and II, 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 clarini, 3 trombones colla parte, timpani and basso continuo.

Mass No. 6 (Schubert)

Mass No. 6 in E-flat major, D 950, is a mass composed by Franz Schubert. It is scored for two tenor soloists, soprano, alto and bass soloists, SATB choir with divisi, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, violin I and II, viola, cello, and double bass. It was Schubert's final setting of the order of Mass, and is classified as a missa solemnis.

Missa Sancti Nicolai, Mass No. 6 in G major, Hob. XXII/6, also known as the Nicolaimesse, is a mass by Joseph Haydn, composed around 1772 and revised in 1802.

<i>Missa Cellensis</i>

Missa cellensis refers to two masses by Joseph Haydn:


  1. Elliot Forbes (ed.), Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Princeton, 1970, vol. II, p. 908, p. 925
  2. Beethoven: Missa Solemnis, preface by Willy Hess (editor). Edition Eulenburg No. 951.
  3. See Beethoven: Missa solemnis, Op. 123, Kyrie; Tutzing: Schneider, 1965; facsimile ed.
  4. Gutmann, Peter. "Ludwig van Beethoven: Missa Solemnis". Classical Notes. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  5. Stauffer, George B. (2003). Bach - The Mass in B Minor: The Great Catholic Mass. p. 103. ISBN   0300099665.
  6. Adorno, Theodor W. Alienated Masterpiece: The Missa Solemnis. Essays On Music. University of California Press. 2002. p. 570.
  7. Tovey, Donald Francis (1937). Essays in Musical Analysis, Volume V. London: Oxford University Press. p. 165.
  8. Spitzer, Michael (2016). Beethoven. London: Routledge. p. 123. ISBN   9781472440303.