The Purpose

Beethoven spent over a year researching the history of church music so that he could integrate the original styles into his Mass. However, as a fully mature composer who had developed a strong personal style in his compositions, he wanted to include his own interpretations of the text in his Mass. As Irving Kolodin summarized, "One the one side, he found his emotional involvement urging him to dimensions of effort he had not contemplated. On the other, the challenge of the timeless text and the musical values it had acquired over centuries put him to an intellectual exertion which projected question upon question and demanded unqualified answers. Clearly the commitment to bring his work to completion by the time the Archduke had become the Archbishop could not be met."

Still, there is the question of whether Beethoven intended the Missa Solemnis to be performed in a church for a Mass. Because of the length of the Mass and the number of musicians required for its performance, the Missa Solemnis simply is not practical for the purposes of a typical Mass. However, Beethoven did truly intend for it to be performed at a special religious occasion like the Archduke’s ceremony; he was scrupulously true to the texts, taking very few liberties that were minor compared to the manipulations of other composers. But although his original motivation for writing the Missa Solemnis was a grand religious ceremony, Beethoven did not feel by any means that the composition was restricted to a church setting. He had no objections to the performances of separate movements in concert halls, and, in fact, he at one point retitled the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei movements "Three Grand Hymns with Solo and Chorus Voices".

There seem to be many different arguments in the debate about the proper setting for the Missa Solemnis, whether it is a church or a concert hall, but perhaps Beethoven thought that the question was irrelevant. He wrote, "My chief aim was to awaken and permanently instill religious feelings not only into the singers but also into the listeners." Perhaps Beethoven meant that if religious feelings were aroused by the music itself, then it has created within the listener a far purer form of religion than that which exists within the walls of a church.

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