Missa Solemnis

missa-autographPerhaps this rates (see video below) as the greatest musical performance that I’ve ever witnessed — crikey, has it really been almost 30 years? (12th Sep, 1986). That year I think I attended some 30 concerts as a promenader but still never made it into the hard core club (not even close). Read the very excellent Peter Gutmann’s (no, not this equally excellent PG) illuminating article on the piece.

Was he or wasn’t he? (Religious, that is.) One of the most intriguing questions raised by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is the extent to which it reflects the composer’s own religious feelings. On the one hand, he insisted that his nephew receive religious instruction and took the last sacrament himself (although, on the verge of death, he may have been too weak to protest). Yet biographers generally consider him a non-observant Catholic who was fascinated by other religions – they note that he had Persian aphorisms framed on his wall, leaned toward pantheism and felt no need for explanation by intermediaries of the unfathomable mysteries of life. Indeed, Beethoven shunned ritual and was in touch with Johann Michael Sailer, a theologian who rejected mechanical observance in favor of an individual believer’s interior experience of spirituality, a philosophy which resonated with Beethoven’s personal Enlightenment-derived conviction in freedom and reason.

Willy Hess characterized the Missa Solemnis as “an avalanche released by a speck of dust.”