Beethoven's Inspirations and Influence
The Impact of Handel’s Music on Beethoven’s Choral Works

The Impact of Handel’s Music on Beethoven’s Choral Works

Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most celebrated composers of all time, has left an indelible mark on the world of classical music. Born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770, Beethoven’s musical prowess was evident from a young age. However, it wasn’t just his natural talent that propelled him to greatness. Beethoven was profoundly influenced by prominent composers who came before him, and perhaps none more so than George Frideric Handel. This article delves into the life and history of Beethoven with a particular focus on how Handel influenced his choral works. By understanding the dynamics between Beethoven and his contemporaries and tracing the imprint of Handel’s music on Beethoven’s compositions, we can gain a deeper appreciation of Beethoven’s masterpieces and their everlasting impact on music history.

Growing up in the Classical period, Beethoven found himself at the confluence of the styles of various great composers. He was not just a passive observer in this wellspring of musical evolution, but an active participant pushing the boundaries and innovating constantly. As a child prodigy, Beethoven had already heard and performed many works by European composers. However, it was after moving to Vienna, the musical heart of Europe, that Beethoven’s exposure to the works of George Frideric Handel became more profound.

Beethoven admired Handel’s mastery in creating both sacred and secular works with grandiosity and emotional depth. Handel’s vivid portrayal of biblical stories and use of large-scale choral compositions left a lasting impression on the young Beethoven. The influence of Handel’s majestic choral works is particularly evident in Beethoven’s later choral symphonies and operas. We will explore this influence further by analyzing specific compositions and contrasting them with Handel’s works.

Beethoven’s Early Encounters with Handel

Beethoven’s initial encounters with Handel’s music occurred during his early years in Bonn. The far-reaching fame of Handel, particularly through his oratorios, made him a central figure in the Baroque era that preceded Beethoven’s time. The young Beethoven had a voracious appetite for studying the great composers. By the age of 12, he had thoroughly acquainted himself with many of Handel’s works such as “Messiah,” “Israel in Egypt,” and “Water Music.” His fascination with Handel’s grand choral arrangements and intricate orchestral techniques began to take root.

Despite limited resources and opportunities in Bonn, Beethoven’s talent did not go unnoticed. His early tutors recognized his potential and encouraged him to study the works of masters like Handel. In 1792, at the behest of his patrons, Beethoven moved to Vienna to further his studies and career. This was a significant step, as Vienna was the epicenter of musical innovation and boasted an extensive library of musical compositions, including those of Handel.

In Vienna, Beethoven was under the tutelage of notable musicians such as Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri, both of whom had the utmost respect for Handel’s genius. Through his deep dive into Handel’s works in the context of broader classical training, Beethoven’s understanding and appreciation of choral and symphonic music matured significantly. Handel’s influence became increasingly apparent as Beethoven began to compose his own grand choral works.

Comparative Analysis of Choral Works

When examining Beethoven’s and Handel’s choral compositions, substantial evidence of stylistic influence surfaces. Handel’s “Messiah” is a cornerstone in the realm of choral music, distinguished by its elaborate use of chorus, soloists, and orchestra in a narrative form. The oratorio’s grandeur and emotional dynamism deeply affected Beethoven, who aspired to create equally compelling musical experiences.

Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” a liturgical masterpiece, exhibits clear traces of Handel’s influence. The imposing scale, the grandeur of the choruses, and the sophisticated interplay between choir and orchestra in “Missa Solemnis” reflect Beethoven’s admiration for Handel’s style. Like “Messiah,” Beethoven’s work carries the dramatic weight and profound spiritual resonance that engage listeners through both its musical and emotional depth.

Another notable example is Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9,” especially the “Ode to Joy” chorus. Here, we observe Handelian grandeur in Beethoven’s use of a full chorus and orchestra to convey a message of universal brotherhood. The symphony’s fourth movement mirrors Handel’s penchant for uniting voices and instruments in a harmonic and thematic climax that leaves a lasting impression on the audience.

Contemporaries and Influences

While Handel’s influence on Beethoven is evident, it’s important to consider the broader spectrum of contemporaries who contributed to Beethoven’s development as a composer. Joseph Haydn, who tutored Beethoven, was crucial in shaping his early compositional techniques. With a more structured approach to symphony and sonata, Haydn’s influence is predominantly seen in Beethoven’s early works.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, another towering figure of Classical music, served as both an inspiration and a friendly rival to Beethoven. Although Mozart passed away when Beethoven was still finding his musical footing, the vibrant and emotionally expressive qualities in Mozart’s compositions left a lasting impression on him.

Antonio Salieri, under whom Beethoven received vocal composition training, played a significant role in refining his operatic and vocal music composition skills. Salieri’s keen focus on emotive and coherent vocal lines complemented Beethoven’s choral aspirations that resonated with the grandeur reminiscent of Handelian oratorios.

Through these multifaceted influences, Beethoven evolved his distinctive style, adeptly marrying the structural finesse of Haydn, the expressive agility of Mozart, and the choral grandeur of Handel.

Handel’s Legacy in Beethoven’s Later Works

Beethoven’s later works exhibit a culmination of his lifelong study and admiration of Handel’s techniques. This can be primarily seen in his choral works. Pieces like “Christ on the Mount of Olives” and “The Glorious Moment” serve as testament to Beethoven’s continued reverence for the grandeur embodied in Handelian compositions.

“Christ on the Mount of Olives” is an early oratorio that echoed the dramatic narrative style found in Handel’s works. Though rooted in Beethoven’s distinct stylistic language, the influence of Handel’s mass and oratorio forms are transparent through the piece’s vivid storytelling and expansive choral passages.

Furthermore, “The Glorious Moment,” composed to honor the Congress of Vienna, showcases Beethoven’s flair for creating magnificent celebratory pieces. Drawing inspiration from Handel’s majestic “Water Music” and “Royal Fireworks Music,” Beethoven crafted an anthem of triumph and unity. The grand orchestration and jubilant choral segments bear the hallmark of Handel’s ceremonial flair.

The Unfulfilled Dream: Beethoven’s Opera

One of Beethoven’s enduring aspirations was to create a grand opera that would rival the celebrated works of Handel. Although Beethoven’s operatic endeavor, “Fidelio,” remains his only completed opera, it is imbued with Handelian influences. The opera’s powerful overtures, complex arias, and emotionally charged choruses reflect Beethoven’s vision of melding German and Italian operatic traditions with the sense of grandeur he so admired in Handel’s compositions.

Despite the challenges and revisions “Fidelio” underwent before attaining its final form, Beethoven’s meticulous orchestration and choral arrangements in the piece highlight his ambition to create timeless music that transcends conventional boundaries. The opera’s themes of liberty and justice align perfectly with Handel’s heroic and moral stories, showcasing the ideological confluence between the two composers.

Beethoven’s unfinished projects, such as the incomplete oratorio “The Triumph of the Cross,” further suggest his unending desire to craft monumental works. Though these projects never saw completion, they hint at Beethoven’s lifelong quest to reach the heights set by his predecessors while leaving his unique imprint on the musical landscape.


Ludwig van Beethoven’s choral works are a testament to his genius and the powerful influences that shaped him, with George Frideric Handel’s legacy standing out prominently. Through a synthesis of Handel’s grandeur, Haydn’s structure, Mozart’s expressiveness, and Salieri’s vocal composition techniques, Beethoven created a monumental body of work that continues to inspire and captivate audiences worldwide.

The profound impact of Handel on Beethoven’s choral music is unmistakable, from the majestic “Missa Solemnis” to the universally cherished “Ode to Joy.” Beethoven’s journey through the rich tapestry of eighteenth and nineteenth-century music allowed him to absorb and innovate, culminating in works that echo the greatness of Handel’s oratorios while heralding a new era of symphonic and choral grandeur.

By analyzing Beethoven’s life, his interactions with contemporaries, and his choral compositions, we gain insights into the dynamic interplay of influence and innovation. Handel’s legacy, channeled through Beethoven, has left an indelible mark on Western classical music, shaping the course of music history and enriching the cultural heritage of humanity.