Analysis of Missa Solemnis



The three verses of the Kyrie are an obvious allusion to the trinity. The symbolism involving the trinity is very strong throughout this movement, as we shall see. The Kyrie first starts in D major. 'Kyrie' is intoned three times by the choir representing the people. Each time the choir is answered by a soloist representing the priest. There is a wavelike emotional feel to the music. With each intonation of 'Kyrie' the music swells and then backs off, all the while building in energy. A audio clip follows.

Opening Text of Kyrie

The Christe is the second verse of the Kyrie (see text) and is initially much more subdued (3/2 time vs. 4/4 (cut)) than the previous Kyrie verse. This is a traditional technique used in the mass that Beethoven borrowed from previous centuries. First the key modulates into the relative minor (B minor) which creates a darker, more solemn mood. The text is initially only entrusted to the soloist. There is also a noticeable use of thirds, which is another allusion to the trinity.

Beginning of Christe

After the Christe the music transitions back to D major briefly, but quickly modulates to the subdominant (G major). A transition period then follows, finally resolving to the goal of D major right at the end of the movement. This forms a basic ABA' structure for the Kyrie again in the manner of previously masses. It is worthwhile to note that in no other movement are the chorus and soloists so integrated as in the Kyrie.


Opening Motto in Gloria

The opening flourish to the Gloria heard above serves as a motto which recurs in several places throughout the Gloria. Most evident in this movement is the use of word painting. Beethoven uses music to add significance to the text -- bring the music down low for solemn parts and really letting it go strong during the Gloria! parts. "This quick succession of violently contrasted tempi, textures and moods is explained by Beethoven's desire to reflect in music every shade of meaning in the text, such that no bar is inexpressive. Such occupation with dramatic detail makes it unsuitable for liturgical perfomance." (Cooper) There is also a rare example of Beethoven succumbing to the music instead of the text in the Gloria. He couldn't resist ending with shouts of Gloria! Gloria! even though it is not called for in the text at all.

Closing Bars in Gloria


This movement is Beethoven’s largest, both in time and in amount of text used. It is characterized by vivd color, provided by lots of orchestration. At the beginning, Beethoven introduces a simple, but very memorable theme which is sung, in fugal form, by each part of the choir. This theme, which Beethoven thereafter associates with the word "Credo", is heard at various points throughout the movement.

When the music arrives at the phrase, "Et incarnatus est de spiritu sancto ex Maria virgine" (and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary), Beethoven utilizes a method characteristic of older religious music composers. In the 18th century, modes were closely identified with the idea of the supernatural, so he decides to use it here at a critical point in the text. Like composers before him, he employs a specific mode just as the text is speaking of the Holy Ghost, thus incorporating a tradition of older church music into his own. In this instance, Beethoven decides to use Dorian mode, which is explained as follows:

In the major key of D, the scale is D E F# G A B C# D, so that the intervals between each successive note of the scale are (W = whole note, H = half note) W W H W W W H. In the natural minor key of d, the scale is D E F G A Bb C D, with successive intervals of W H W W W H W. In the Dorian mode of D, the scale is D E F G A B C D, with successive intervals of W H W W W H W. A comparison of the interval scales between each mode shows how they are related. To identify the key signature of a specific scale in Dorian mode, simply take the beginning note and bring it down one whole step. The note that it lands on is the tonic of the major key with the key signature that should be used for the Dorian. For example, Dorian D has the same key signature as the key of C major, which has no accidentals. Dorian E has the same key signature as the key of D major, which has F# and C#, and so on... Listen now to the use of Dorian D in conjunction with the phrase, "Et incarnatus..."
Et incarnatus

Beethoven also employed the use of word painting, where he associated a particular phrase or musical element with the image of a word in the text. A very clear example of this is the presence of a solo flute in the background while the soloists are singing the phrase, "Et incarnatus..." The idea of a fluttering high instrument in relation to the idea of the Holy Spirit is not a novel one, though; Beethoven’s predecessors also employed this tool in previous Masses. In this short clip, the flute is very obvious.

By this time, the key has modulated from Dorian D to D Major, in association with the words of the text. Then, abruptly, the key changes to parallel d minor, just as the tenor reaches the phrase, "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis" (He was crucified also for us). The somberness of the music contributes to the very dark image of the crucifixion of Christ in the listeners’ minds. Also present in this section is the utilization of sharp sforzandos and syncopated rhythms, which jolt the listener into images of suffering. Try to pinpoint the exact moment when the music changes.

Shortly after the crucifixion, Beethoven employs another tool used by his predecessors. As the choir reaches the phrase, "Et resurrexit tertia die" (And the third day He arose again), the music consists of numerous upward running scales. These symbolize a musical resurrection of sorts; the music gives the listener a feeling of uprising emotion. Not only does the listener "see" Christ resurrected, but he also feels a upsurge of hope for mankind through Christ’s resurrection.
Et resurrexit


This movement is characterized by the tonality of D Major, which corresponds to a hopeful, optimistic text. In this movement there exists no marking of forte, and Beethoven avoids the use of bright instruments, such as flutes, oboes, and violins. Even the chorus is silent during this section, giving the distinct impression of gentle reverence. The phrase, "Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth" (Holy is the Lord God Sabaoth), is sung in an adagio tempo, generating feelings of peace, serenity, and solemnity.

As the "Sanctus..." phrase ends, the music changes to allegro pesante. The music becomes more joyful as the choir sings, "Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua" (Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory). This continues for only a short while, as the text moves on to "Osanna in excelsis!" (Hosanna in the highest!). Here the music becomes even faster, becoming Presto in its joyful praise. Listen now to the joyousness of the music in the "Pleni..." and the "Osanna...".

Beethoven chose to include the Benedictus in the Sanctus movement, perhaps because he did so before in his Mass in C, and other composers did so before him. The Benedictus can almost be considered a symphonic movement in and of itself. Preceding it is the Praeludium, which developed from his experiences as a teenage organist in Bonn. During Beethoven’s time, there was an interval between the Sanctus and the consecration, which was filled with organ improvisation provided by the organist. In place of this, he wrote a beautiful Praeludium, which some consider to be one of his finest inspirations. Here is a small sample of it.

It was in the Benedictus that Beethoven decided to include a violin solo accompanied by the orchestra. It is in the style of a violin concerto, which evoked criticism as a non-religious element in a Mass. Because of this violin solo and partly because of the Praeludium, some consider the Sanctus to be the most dramatic and the least religious of all of the movements. However, if one considers that Beethoven found religion in his music, he might have written the violin solo as an expression of religious feeling within himself, unhindered by binding words. But religious or not, one can still appreciate the beauty of the simple melody.
Violin Solo

The singing of the phrase "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini!" (Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord!) is an effective combination of voices, violins, and orchestra, complimented by the setting of the Praeludium and the violin solo.

Agnus Dei

This movement is set in the key of b minor, and it is the only movement to remain in a minor key throughout. It is adagio in pace, so as to emphasize its dark overtones and solemn manner. When used in the Mass, this text is stated as follows:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
Though composers before Beethoven used this format in their Masses, and though Beethoven himself used it in his Mass in C, he chose to deviate from this precedence. In the beginning section of the Agnus Dei, the text reads "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis" (O Lamb of God, that takest away from the sins of the world, have mercy upon us). This section is very solemn and dark, as illustrated by this clip.
Agnus Dei

Instead of repeated the entire "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem" as the final phrase, he saves only the "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace) for the conclusion. At the beginning of this section, Beethoven wrote on the score under Dona nobis pacem, "Prayer for inward and outward peace". He incorporated these prayers into the music itself.

The Dona nobis pacem is is structured like a symphonic finale, in Sonata-Rondo form, A B A’ C Coda. Some interpret his A theme as a "prayer for inward peace", sampled here:
Dona noblis pacem

Suddenly, Beethoven inserts a "war interruption", characterized by drums and trumpets, which play a relentless march. Critics have speculated that this interruption may be related to the wars instigated by Napoleon, which had a tremendous effect upon Beethoven. In any case, this war theme interrupts the prayer for inward peace, and the soloists resume singing a more passionate prayer for "outward peace", which constitute the B and C themes of the form. Perhaps it is here where Beethoven takes the most liberties with the Mass. Not only does he modify the order of the text, but he includes the war element, a response to the current events of his time.
War Interuption

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