Mass in C - Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)


Beethoven's Mass in C was composed for the birthday of Princess Maria Hermengild Esterhazy in 1807. The composer conducted a private first performance of the Mass in Eisenstadt in September of that year in the presence of Princess Maria and Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy. It was not a success. The Prince did not like the work, being more used to the masses of Haydn, and let Beethoven know his displeasure.

However, the Mass was heard by a wider public just over a year later when, in December 1808, it was part of a massive concert at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Its durability and popularity over the next two centuries rather suggests that it was Prince Nicolaus's ear that was at fault and not the Mass! Its quality was recognised by Mendelssohn who conducted it in Düsseldorf in 1837, a decade after Beethoven's death.
The work was composed when Beethoven was suffering problems with his hearing, problems which led to him becoming profoundly deaf within the next decade.
The son of a father and grandfather of Flemish origin who were also musicians, Ludwig van Beethoven left formal school at 11 and became a professional musician, with various posts as a harpsichord player, organist and viola player. He moved to Vienna where he lived for the rest of his life and met Haydn. In 1792, he studied with Haydn but they did not get on and Beethoven moved on to study with other composers including Salieri. In 1795 he made his first public appearance in Vienna playing his B flat major piano concerto.
Beethoven's life produced some of the greatest music ever composed despite enormous physical and emotional difficulties. His fight against his hearing difficulties which began when he was a comparatively young man and which he knew were incurable combined with his failure to find a loving wife.
Though he fell in love frequently - notably with Bettina Brentano whom he met in 1810 - he never married. His increasing isolation from the world because of his deafness led him to be bad tempered and difficult though it inspired rather than hindered his musical genius. By 1819 he was completely deaf, but some of his greatest works were composed from this world of silence - his piano sonatas and, in 1824, his ninth symphony for example.

The following year, in 1825, he completed his string quartet opus 130, among other works. But in December 1826 in Vienna he developed pneumonia and underwent the first of four operations to try to save his life. On March 26 1827 he died aged 56 in Vienna. An autopsy showed he died of cirrhosis of the liver.
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.


Aylesbury Choral Society


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