Credo: Beethoven's Faith as Reflected in the Missa Solemnis



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The Credo movement of a Mass is a musical setting of the words of the Christian Creed. By Beethoven’s time, the Mass as a musical form was no longer inextricably tied to the Church, but often performed in concert halls. In the spring of 1819, Beethoven began work on the Missa Solemnis which he originally intended for Archduke Rudolph’s enthronement in 1820, but did not complete until 1823. By the 1820’s, Beethoven’s interest in Renaissance counterpoint and fugal and contrapuntal writing in the style of Bach was increasingly evident in his music. Indeed, in his diary for the year 1815, just before his last major period of composition, Beethoven wrote about his desire to conduct and compose for a small court or chapel orchestra, composing music to the glory of God much as Bach had. As revealed in his correspondence and other writings, Beethoven’s God was simultaneously a personal paternal figure and omnipotent. Oriental views of God influenced this belief. Beethoven looked to God for the love and support his own father had not provided. Jesus, on the other hand, Beethoven saw as a suffering human being much like himself. Beethoven owned and presumably had read the writings of many Catholic and Protestant spiritual leaders, but he also had or read those of philosophers such as Kant, Hegel and Schlegel, and literary authors such as Vergil, Goethe, and Ovid. While the teachings of the Church partially affected his religious beliefs, as a man of the Enlightenment who conversed with other such men about philosophy, he was perhaps more influenced by the philosophers of the time. All of these influences may be observed in the Credo through such musical techniques as word painting, harmonic structure, word changes, and the concluding double fugue. In a letter written in 1824, Beethoven wrote, “my chief aim [in writing the Missa Solemnis] was to awaken and permanently instill religious feelings not only into the singers but also into the listeners.” This project is an attempt to understand the beliefs of an aging Beethoven through a close analysis of the Credo of his last Mass.



Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, Mass, Kant