Historical Circumstances

Beethoven’s foremost pupil and patron at this time was Archduke Rudolph, the brother of the reigning Emperor of Austria. Many of Beethoven’s compositions had been commissioned by and dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph, so Beethoven felt great devotion and gratitude to the Archduke.

On April 24, 1819, Archduke Rudolph was elected a cardinal, and on June 4, 1819, he was further elevated to Archbishop of Olmutz in Moravia. The date of his installation was set for March 9, 1820. As Beethoven’s interest in true church music had developed and deepened, he felt that this event presented the perfect occasion to express his appreciation for the Archduke’s benevolence by writing a composition. In a letter to the Archduke, Beethoven wrote, "The day on which a High Mass composed by me will be performed during the ceremonies solemnized for Your Imperial Highness will be the most glorious day of my life; and God will enlighten me so that my poor talents may contribute to the glorification of that solemn day."

Beethoven immersed himself in his work completely, devoting his mind and his heart to the writing of this Mass. After the date of the installation came and went, without the completion of the Mass, it became apparent to everyone, including the Archbishop Rudolph, that the impetus driving Beethoven to write the Missa Solemnis was of a greater purpose.

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