Ludwig van Beethoven (b.Bonn1770; d.Vienna1827) composed his great masterpiece, the Mass in C, in 1807 on a commission from Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy (r.1794-1833). The commission was intended to revive a tradition established by Joseph Haydn to compose one Mass per year to celebrate the name day, September 12, the Most Holy Name of Mary, of the Prince’s wife, Princess Maria Hermengild Esterházy. With the failure of Haydn’s health in 1802 the tradition ceased. Beethoven was fully aware of the tradition that Haydn had established and it influenced him strongly in composing his own Mass. Beethoven’s Mass in C premiered on September 13, 1807 in Eisenstadt, the ancestral seat of the Esterházys, which is about 40 km south of Vienna. While Beethoven seems to have been quite pleased with the work, his first effort in the genre, Prince Nikolaus was not pleased – describing it as “unbearably ridiculous and detestable”. Beethoven was undeterred however, and the Mass received a more positive response resulting in its publication after an 1812 presentation in the city of Troppau, which at that time was part of Austrian Silesia and is now Opava in the Czech Republic, some 180 km northeast of Vienna. Of note in this Mass are the unaccompanied bass voices in the opening of the Kyrie, the unison or octave singing in the profound passages of the Gloria and Credo, the use of expanded highly developed contrapuntal codas (such as those used in Beethoven’s later symphonies) at the end of those movements, and a passage in the Benedictus scored for voices and tympani only. In the Agnus Dei Beethoven allows the “anguish” of the C minor key in the Miserere nobis to give way to the “relief” of the C major key in the Dona nobis pacem – a technique that he used later in his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor “Fate”, Op 67 (1808). The Mass in C was composed while Beethoven was beginning to suffer major hearing loss that would eventually lead to total deafness in the decade to follow. Beethoven battled against physical adversity for much of his adult life and it is a measure of his genius that his life’s work transcended this so magnificently. Nearly 200 years after his death, he is still one of the pre-eminent composers in the classical genre and his Mass in C amply illustrates that genius. The Chorale particularly enjoys this work because of the demands placed on every individual – choir, soloists, orchestra, and conductor. (44:00)
(Adapted from a note by John Palmer in the “All Music Guide to Classical Music”, published in 2005 by Backbeat Books)
Beethoven’s Mass in C is conducted by the Chorale & Orchestra music director Dr. Marc Jaros. Mary E. LeVoir is the organist. Soloists are Patricia Kent, soprano; Jocelyn Kalajian, contralto; John deCausmeaker, tenor; and Jon Nordstrom, bass. The Schola Cantorum is directed by Paul W. LeVoir. The Mass in C was in the repertory of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale & Orchestra prior to its residency at the Church of Saint Agnes in 1974. The Chorale and Orchestra last presented this Mass on October 29, 2017. The Mass in C was recorded by the Chorale in 1986 and is available for purchase from the Leaflet Missal Co. at http://www.leafletonline.com/.