San Jose Symphonic Choir, conducted by Leroy Kromm, will present Ludwig van Beethoven’s towering masterpiece Missa Solemnis on March 26, at the California Theatre, 345 South First Street, San Jose, at 7:30 p.m. The performance will take place on the 190th anniversary of Beethoven’s death.
The work was first conceived in 1819 as a tribute to his friend, student, and patron, the Archduke Rudolf of Austria, in celebration of his elevation to Archbishop of Olm. However, the composition took nearly 5 years, and was not completed until long after Rudolf’s installation. Beethoven dedicated the piece to him, autographing his score with the words “From the heart…may it return to the heart.”
Weighed down by personal hardships (he was mired in a legal battle to obtain guardianship of his nephew Karl), Beethoven was in ill health and nearing the end of his life, in addition to being completely deaf. Nevertheless, his work on the Missa reflected his life-long dedication to joining music and philosophy, and reflected his vision of an all-powerful God in music of awesome power.
While he did not regularly attend church, Beethoven was deeply religious; he once wrote to Rudolph: “On Him alone I place my reliance and hope that in all my manifold miseries the All-Highest will not let me perish utterly.”
In the end, he created a massive work in five sections: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The text of these sections are set to music that beautifully paints a huge range of emotions, weaving together the voices of the four soloists, the choir, and the orchestra. Beethoven provided the direction “Mit Andacht,” or “with devotion” along with the tempo marking at the beginning of the piece.
Conceived on the grandest of grand scales, the Missa has been called so difficult that “no human lungs can endure the strain imposed by it” (Musical Times, July 1882), and the “et vitam venturi” section of the “Credo” has been called the most difficult choral passage ever written. But scholars of the work also see in the performance demands the culmination of Beethoven’s struggle to express his spirituality.
Ticket information: General, $30 in advance, $35 at the door; seniors, students, military $25 in advance, $30 at the door; children under 12 are free. Tickets are available through the Symphony Silicon Valley Box Office, (408) 286-2600, x23. For more information call (408) 995-3318, or visit