Compositional History of Missa Solemnis

According to sketches and letters, Beethoven began his preliminary work on the Missa Solemnis in the beginning of 1819. This seems contradictory to the date of the announcement of the Archduke elevation to cardinal and then Archbishop, but scholars attest that it is highly probable that news of the approaching appointment was known months ahead of the official notification.

Beethoven tried to work in strict order on the earlier movements of the mass. The Kyrie and Gloria were composed primarily during 1819 and 1820, and he finished the Gloria before the opening theme of the Credo was developed. In August 1821, Beethoven began work on the Credo, and then he completed the Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei before August 1822. He exacted major revisions to the Credo and especially the Agnus Dei.

Apparently there was a significant break between the composition of the first two movements and of the last three movements. Perhaps this accounts for a significant change of style; the Kyrie and Gloria are written in the more classical style of "true church music", whereas the Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei have more dramatic elements which are not part of traditional religious music. As with most compositions written over the course of many years, the character of the Missa Solemnis changed from the beginning to the end.

According to Schindler, one of Beethoven’s closest friends, Beethoven’s personality changed at the beginning of the composition of the Missa Solemnis. Schindler described his state as Erdenentrucktheit, translated as oblivion of everything earthly. Indeed, he seemed to transport into another world during the compositional process, as illustrated by Schindler’s description of a visit to Beethoven. "In the living room, behind a locked door, we heard the master singing parts of the fugue in the Credo – singing, howling, stamping…. the door opened and Beethoven stood before us with distorted features, calculated to excite fear. He looked as if he had been in mortal combat with the whole host of contrapuntists, his everlasting enemies."

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