In the key of C.
Frankly, I don’t think it would matter to me f it was in D or B Flat or F Sharp.
It’s a mass.
With a huge choir.
And lots of soloists.
And a theme that may have been novel back then, but wears thin now.
I mean, really. How many of these religion-themed compositions can one hear before they all sound the same?
Apparently, this particular mass did not go over well when it was first performed. According to its entry on Wikipedia,
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his Mass in C major, Op. 86, to a commission from Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II in 1807. In fulfilling this commission, Beethoven was extending a tradition established by Joseph Haydn, who following his return from England in 1795 had composed one mass per year for the Esterházy family, to celebrate the name day of the Prince’s wife. Haydn had ceased this tradition with the failure of his health in 1802.
Prince Nikolaus did not appreciate the mass, causing Beethoven to leave his house in a rage. Charles Rosen, in The Classical Style, has called the episode Beethoven’s “most humiliating public failure”. The mass is appreciated by critics (such as Rosen), but is probably one of the least often performed of Beethoven’s larger works.
Of the work, Michael Moore writes “While [it] is often overshadowed by the immense Missa Solemnis, written some fifteen years later, it has a directness and an emotional content that the latter work sometimes lacks.” The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs (2004 edition) forthrightly calls the work a “long-underrated masterpiece.”
To my ears, this like every other mass to which I’ve listened. No better. No worse. So I don’t know why Prince Esterhazy did not appreciate it. It sounds fine to me.
Beethoven was 37 when he composed this mass.
Here are the performers on today’s CD:
Elly Emeling soprano
Janet Baker mezzo-soprano
Theo Altmeyer tenor
Marius Rintzler bass
New Philharmonic Chorus
New Philharmonic Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini conductor