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Work

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven Composer

Mass in C, Op.86 (a4)

Performances: 9
Tracks: 68
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Musicology:
  • Mass in C, Op.86 (a4)
    Key: C
    Year: 1807
    Genre: Mass / Requiem
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
    • 1.Kyrie: Andante con moto
    • 2.Gloria: Allegro con brio
    • 3.Credo: Allegro con brio
    • 4.Sanctus: Adagio
    • 5.Benedictus qui venit: Allegretto ma non troppo. Osanna
    • 6.Agnus Dei: Poco andante
Each year, in honor of his wife's name-day (September 8), Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II commissioned a new mass setting to be sung at his residence in Eisenstadt, Austria. In 1807, the commission fell to Beethoven, whose fame, already firmly established in Vienna, had begun to spread throughout Europe. Still, the commission caused the composer some anxiety, for between 1796 and 1802, his former teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn, had composed six such masses for Esterházy, and Beethoven dreaded the inevitable comparison between his efforts and those of the older master. Nevertheless, he spent part of the summer working on the mass in Baden, and completed it in Heiligenstadt at the same time that he worked on his Fifth and Sixth symphonies.

The Mass in C Major was first performed on September 13, 1807, under the composer's direction. While Beethoven seems to have been quite pleased with the work, his first effort in the genre, Prince Esterházy was not, describing it as "unbearably ridiculous and detestable." The composer was undeterred, however, and the mass received a more positive response after an 1812 performance at Prince Karl Lichnowsky's residence near Troppau. (Sections had also been performed at Beethoven's legendary Akademie concert on December 22, 1808.) At the time of the work's publication, Beethoven considered dedicating it to Napoleon, but finally decided upon Prince Ferdinand Kinsky—possibly as an intentional snub to the ungrateful Esterházy.

That Beethoven wished to set the mass text "in a manner in which it has rarely been treated" is evident right from the opening of the Kyrie, which begins with unaccompanied bass voices. A passage in the Sanctus, scored for voices and tympani only, must have been equally startling to contemporary audiences. Much like Haydn before him, Beethoven further divided main sections of the mass into smaller units, allowing for a symphonic progression of keys and tempi.

Beethoven reduces the choral texture to unison or octave singing for particularly profound passages of text, including "Quoniam tu solus sanctus" (Thou alone are holy), "Deum verum de Deo vero" (True God from true God) and "sub Pontio Pilato" (under Pontius Pilate). As in the Fifth Symphony, the contrast between C major and C minor is a salient feature. The texts associated with these keys imbue the contrast with particular meaning: C minor implies anguish, C major, relief. This is especially evident in the Agnus Dei, where the C minor of "miserere nobis" (Have mercy on us) gives way to a "dona nobis pacem" (Grant us peace) in C major.

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