Beethoven Missa Solemnis

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Back to the Berlin Philharmonic archive with a performance on June 3, 2012, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt; soloists Ruth Ziesak, soprano; Gerhild Romberger, alto; Richard Croft, tenor; and Georg Zeppenfeld, bass.

The Missa Solemnis is a rather austere work. It took Beethoven five years to complete, and I read somewhere that he considered it his finest work. It’s also his longest (treating Fidelio as separate acts). It’s not something you leave humming, except in snatches, unlike the Brahms Requiem. And it’s hard to sing, as this former chorus member can testify. For all those reasons, it’s infrequently performed.

Herbert Blomstedt

Herbert Blomstedt

The four soloists have a greater role than in most choral works. In this performance, they and the choristers all have scores (though the conductor doesn’t). After the performance, conductor Blomstedt (who uses no baton) gives a 20-minute lecture on the work, very well done and without notes.

There’s an interesting article on Beethoven in the New Yorker of last October 20 by Alex Ross, their music critic. He quotes from several biographers; one of them found a letter in which the composer said “Plaudite, amici, comoedia finita est,” and notes that “Applaudite amici” appears in the sketchbooks for the Missa Solemnis, over the fugue theme of the Credo; and concludes that Beethoven “presumably did not know that … he was about to undergo deification.”

This performance is very well-done, and perhaps best followed with a score, because of its magnificent austerity.

Thomas B. Lemann


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