16 March 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Spotlight Beethoven: “Missa Solemnis”

A major work in the oeuvre of its composer, hence a major work in musical history – Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”. The majestic composition that Beethoven himself thought of to be his greatest is a highly complicated mass setting, equally demanding for the choirs, orchestras and soloists performing it and for their audiences.

It was composed between 1819 and 1823 and on 19 March 1823, Beethoven presented it to his patron, pupil and friend Archduke Rudolf of Austria. The original occasion Beethoven composed it for was Rudolf’s appointment as Archbishop of Olomouc. So it was three years overdue!

Karajan was very fond of the “Missa Solemnis”. He conducted it 34 times in almost 50 years, from his years in Aachen up to 1986, made two concert films and four studio recordings – possibly the most celebrated was the 1966 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Wiener Singverein and the soloists Janowitz, Ludwig, Wunderlich and Berry. Except Fritz Wunderlich (who had died 6 months before), the cast was the same for a special occasion in 1967: Karajan’s very first Salzburg Easter Festival.

with Leontyne Price, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, Nicola Zaccaria in Salzburg in 1959


in Berlin in 1966


studio recording in 1966


with Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Peter Schreier, Karl Ridderbusch in Salzburg in 1975


with Lella Cuberli, Trudeliese Schmidt, Vinson Cole, José van Dam in Berlin in 1985


We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan conducting the “Missa Solemnis”. Listen to them here.


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