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Title The Missa Solemnis of Ludwig van Beethoven in D major, opus 123

The Missa Solemnis of Beethoven, in D major (his second mass) is a monumental work, not only in its length, nearly 80 minutes, but above all by its content, absolutely stupefying.

With the Mass in B minor of J. S. Bach, it is one of the two summits of all sacred music. Note the difference between the two, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis does not have one air for soloists: it is essentially a choral work, with active participation of the soloists.

This complex work is not easy for the listener, unlike other works of Beethoven, such as the concertos and symphonies. Its approach and its comprehension require a number of hearings. Fortunately, today’s listeners have the privilege to listen to, and re listen to the recordings made by the great conductors, with prestigious singers, choirs and orchestras of the highest level.

It is seldom played in concert, much less than it should. As for its performance in church, at the time of the mass, it is even rarer.

Title Historical

Beethoven dedicated much of his time and energy to the composition of this work: it was nearly four years before he finished it. Beginning in April 1819, it was originally intended for the instillation of the Archduke Rudolph, as Archbishop of Olmutz, anticipated for March 1820.

In fact, the work did not achieve its premier until March 1823. The long labour resulted in an incredible work, remarkable for its thematic, harmonic, rhythmic, vocal and orchestral plan.

The first partial hearing (Kyrie, Credo, Agnus Dei), was all that was heard at the concert on 7 th May 1824. The concert also included his opus 124, the overture “Consecration of the House” and the opus 125, the 9 th Symphony. The first edition dates from 1827.

At the start of the Kyrie, which opens the work, Beethoven wrote: “Vom Herzen, möge es wieder, zu Herzen gehen!” which can be translated as: “From the heart, may it go further, to the heart!” or better: “Arising in the heart, may it return to the heart!”.
Title Orchestra and soloists for the Missa Solemnis

The necessary forces for this work:

- 4 great singers: soprano, alto, tenor, bass;

- a large choir of 4 voices;

- an important orchestra constituting:

  • 2 flutes;
  • 2 oboes;
  • 2 clarinets in A;
  • 2 bassoons;
  • 1 contrabassoon;
  • 4 horns in D;
  • 2 trumpets in D;
  • 3 trombones: alto, tenor and bass, absent in the Kyrie;
  • kettle drums
  • ad libitum organ (reinforcing the basses);
  • strings, in quintet.
Title Structure of the work

I – KYRIE (length: 9 to 11 minutes).

1 – Assai sostenuto, Mit Andacht (with piety).

A short page of orchestra introduces the work then the choir sings the “Kyrie Eleison”, with short interventions of the soloists.

2 – Andante assai ben marcato.

It begins with a passage presented by the horns and trombones. The four soloists sing the “Christe Eleison”, then by the choir, who they join.

3 – Tempo primo.

Choir and soloists repeat the “Kyrie Eleison”.
The Kyrie is presented totally as a long prayer, combining by turns imploration, solemnity, and meditative passages.

II – GLORIA (length: 16 to 18 minutes).

This section is, in itself, a master work. It is divided into 8 parts, all connected.

1 – Allegro vivace “Gloria In Excelsis Deo”.

This is a brilliant section, in D major, where the brass predominate. It is solely choral and orchestral.
The Gloria, rightly said, breaks out fortissimo, then the:

  • piano subito “Et In Terra Pax”;
  • fortissimo “Laudamus Te”;
  • fortissimo “Glorificamus” (4 fugal entries).

It is the first piece in which the soloists do not intervene.

2 – Meno allegro “Gratias”.

Tender beginning by the clarinets, the entry of the soloists, followed by the choir.

3 – Allegro vivace “Domine Deus”.

Between the choirs “forte” then a passage fff (triple forte) on “Omnipotens”.Soloists on “Domine Fili” then a return to the choir.

4 – Larghetto “Qui Tollis”

Moving passage in the woodwinds then dialogue soloists-choir, which finish with “Miserere Nobis”.

5 – Allegro maestoso “Quoniam”.

Is devolved solely on the choir, and finishes fortissimo on “In Gloria Dei Patris, Amen”.

6 – Allegro ma non troppo “In Gloria Dei Patris”.

Long fugue of more than 3 minutes, essentially choral, with intervention of the soloists towards the end.

7 – Poco più allegro “Amen”.

Intervention of the soloists (a vertiginous soprano part) supported by the choir.

8 – Presto “Gloria In Excelcis Deo”.

After a horn call, the choir launch into a very short and jubilant conclusion.

III – CREDO (length 19 to 21 minutes).

This section is also another strong moment of the Missa Solemnis and also long. It contains a number of variations in tempo, tonality, rhythm, and also changes of nuances, frequent and fierce (passages of pp to ff and vice versus).

It is possible to distinguish 9 parts, all connected:

1 – Allegro ma non troppo “Credo In Unum Deum”.

The basses of the choir declame “Credo”, then the tenors, the sopranos, the altos and the choir arrive at a fortissimo. The Credo is heard a second time and is followed by a fugue on “Consubstantialem Patri”. This leads to a piano passage (proceeded by the woodwinds which emerge the part of the flute) “Qui Propter Nos Homines”, followed by a forte on “Descendit De Coelis”.

2 – Adagio “Et Incarnatus”.

The tenors of the choir enter pianissimo, followed by the soloists (note, anew, the flute part, singing like a bird) then the choir. The adagio is pursued by a short andante realised by the solo tenor, in a heroic style: “Et Homo Factus Est”, accompanied by the choir, and joined to the following section.

3 – Adagio espressivo - “Crucifixus”.

The soloists are accompanied by the choir, in a moving passage and the choir conclude on “Et Sepultus Est”.
Suddenly, the atmosphere changes, and very quickly...

4 – Allegro (very short) - “Et Resurrexit”.

During 6 measures the choir sings forte and a capella, in a startling passage, and begun by the tenors, then the entire choir: “Tertia Die Secundum Scripturas”.

5 – Allegro molto - “Et Ascendit”.

The choir, in successive entries, clearly evoke the Ascension, culminating in a call from the trombones and horns, just before the “Judicare” (choir).

6 – Allegretto ma non troppo - “Credo In Spiritum” (choir).

Repeat of the beginning by the choir, with different words. Numbers 7 and 8 are constituted of an immense fugue, one of the longest in existence. Only the choir intervenes.

7 – Allegro ma non troppo - “Et Vitam Venturi”.

This section is the essential part of the fugue, beginning piano (sopranos) arriving at fortissimo.

8 – Allegro con moto.

This is the second part of the fugue: on the same text, with a remarkable rhythm (difficult parts for the sopranos, repeated by every vocal part).
This section is terminated by “Amen”.

9 – Grave - “Et Vitam Venturi”.

The Credo is completed by this slow passage: the four soloists return and, accompanied by the choir, sing the above text. Then is the “Amen”, sung by all.

IV – SANCTUS and BENEDICTUS (length 15 to 17 minutes).

The two parts are connected by an orchestral prelude.


1 – Adagio (Mit andacht).

Mysterious orchestral beginning, then successive entries of the 4 soloists on Sanctus.

2 – Allegro pesante.

The choir, in fugal entries (sopranos, tenors, altos, then basses) declame the “Pleni Sunt Coeli”, which then joins to:

3 – Presto.

“Osanna” fugue, by the choir (sopranos, altos, tenors, then basses).

4 – Sostenuto ma non troppo.

This is the “Praeludium” (orchestra: flute and solemn strings).


It has the qualities of a sort of slow concerto movement for violin: indeed the latter plays, during the entire Benedictus, a very difficult high part.

It is an “andante molto cantabile e non troppo mosso”.

There is a long dialogue between the choir and 4 soloists, until the reprise, by the choir, of the Osanna fugue (doubled at the start by the 3 trombones, before the final entry of the violin).

V – AGNUS DEI (length: around 15 minutes).

It comprises 4 parts:

1 – Adagio “Agnus Dei”.

A moving dialogue between the soloists and choir.

2 – Allegro vivace.

The choir sings “Donna Nobis Pacem”, with a short intervention of the soloists.

3 – Allegro assai.

It begins with a trumpet call, followed by the soloists, on Agnus Dei. Then the choir intervenes fortissimo, on “Donna Nobis Pacem”, followed by the soloists.

4 – Presto.

It begins with an important orchestral passage in which the strings dialogue with the winds, until a fortissimo of the choir on “Agnus, Agnus Dei”. The soloists re appear, then it is the conclusion, by the choir, on “Donna Pacem, Pacem”.

Title The text of the Missa Solemnis


Kyrie eleison!
Christe eleison!
Lord, have mercy upon us!
Christ have mercy upon us!


Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Glory be to God on high, and peace on earth to men of good will.
Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, We adore Thee, we glorify Thee
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory.
Domine Deus, Rex cælestis!
Deus Pater omnipotens!
domine, Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe!
O Lord God! O heavenly King!
O God, the Father Almighty!
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotton Son!
Domine Deus! Agnus Dei! Filius Patris! O Lord God! Lamb of God! Son of the Father!
Qui tollis peccata mundi! miserere nobis; suscipe depracationem nostram. O Thou, who takest away the sins of the world! have mercy upon us; receive our prayer.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis. O Thou, who sittest at the right hand of the Father! have mercy on us.
Quoniam tu solus sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe! cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris, Amen. For Thou alone art holy, Thou alone art Lord, Thous alone art most high, O jesus Christ! together with the Holy Ghost, in the glory of God the Father, Amen.


Credo in unum Deum, patrem omnipotentem, factorem cæli et terræ visibilium omnium et invisibilium. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
Credo in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
Filium Dei unigenitum; et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula. the only-begotten Son of God; and born of the Father before all ages.
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine: God of Gods, Light of Light,
Deum verum de Deo vero; true God of true God;
Genitum, non factum; consubstantialem Patri, per quem omnia facta sunt; begotten, not made; consubstantial to the Father, by Whom all things were made;
Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostram salutem, descendit de cælis, Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven,
et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex maria Virgine, et homo factus est. and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis; sub Pontio Pilato passus et sepultus est, He was crucified also forus; suffered under Pontius Pilate and was buried,
Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas. And the third day He arose again according to the Scriptures.
Et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. And ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos; cujus regni non erit finis. And He is to come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; of whose kingdom there shall be no end.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit; qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur; qui locutus est per prophetas. Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who, together with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets.
Credo in unam sanctam Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam. I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Confiteor unum Baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi sæculi. Amen. And I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Holy is the Lord God Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt cæli et terra gloria tua. Heaven and earth are fully of Thy Glory.
Osanna in excelsis! Hosanna in the highest!
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini! Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord!
Osanna in excelsis! Hosanna in the highest!

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem. O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us, grant us peace.
Title Conclusion
In conclusion, we cite the composer himself:
“The greatest work I have ever composed”.
Title Discography of the Missa Solemnis

Here can be found some performances on the Internet, new CD and second hand:

in the USA

in the UK

in France

in Germany

out of sale

The discography of this work is marked by a few remarkable examples, among which:

Cd Beethoven

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Conductor Orchestra Year Label Available


Russian National Orchestra



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New York Philharmonic Orchestra


Sony Classical

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Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam


Deutsche Grammophon

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Berliner Philharmoniker


Deutsche Grammophon

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Wiener Philharmoniker


Deutsche Grammophon

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London Symphony Orchestra



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Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra



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European Symphony Orchestra



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English Baroque Soloists


Deutsche Grammophon

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Carlo Maria GIULINI

London Philharmonic Orchestra



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Chamber Orchestra of Europe



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Orchestre des Champs-Elsées


Harmonia Mundi

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Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam




Hebert van KARAJAN

Philharmonia Orchestra of London



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Hebert van KARAJAN

Berliner Philharmoniker




New Phiharmonia Orchestra



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Terje KVAM The Hanover Band 1987 Nimbus Records Search.Buy from


Wiener Philharmoniker


Deutsche Grammophon

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Gewandhausorchester Leipzig


Berlin Classics

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Helmuth RILLING Bach Collegium Stuttgart 1988 Hänssler SearchBuy from


Chicago Symphony Orchestra



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Beethovenorchester Bonn



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NBC Symphony Orchestra


Music & Arts

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Heinz WALLBERG Wiener Philharmoniker 1965 Atlas -

Günter WAND

Orchestra of the Gürzenich of Cologne



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Tonhalle-Orchestre Zurich


Arte Nova

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