Lawrence Wall

Beethoven 101, Part 4: Missa Solemnis

Soon after the composition of the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s production began to decline. Most likely due to his increasing deafness, Beethoven has now passed the prime of his career. He soon became completely deaf, and many reported he even slipped into a slight madness.

Beethoven composed two settings of the Mass, his Mass in C and the Missa Solemnis. The Missa Solemnis was written around the same time as his famous Ninth Symphony and therefore did not garner the same attention following its premiere in 1824. While Beethoven was churning out the Missa Solemnis and his Ninth Symphony, the custody battle for his nephew remained a major challenge for the composer. He struggled financially and emotionally, and yet this is when we see the appearance of some of Beethoven’s greatest works.

The Missa Solemnis maintains a distinct difference compared to many of Beethoven’s previous works. When compared to many of his other works, the Solemnis changes its character throughout the piece. It is a complex mass and apparently Beethoven’s own character changed while he was composing the piece. He supposedly went through a almost religious transformation and would often be heard singing and stamping his feet while working on this piece.

The Missa Solemnis was written for the Archduke’s elevation to Cardinal and then to Archbishop. The work, however, was soon forgotten and today is severely underperformed. While Beethoven composed the work, he utilized his aristocratic connections to win custody of his nephew Karl, but ironically Beethoven himself was not entirely a fit guardian for the child. He spent his later years attempting to teach Karl music. He ultimately failed at this endeavor, and it is widely believed his experiences with Karl influenced his musical style during the final stages of his life.


Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Beethoven 101, Part 3: “Emperor Concerto”

The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, which is popularly known as “Emperor Concerto,” was Beethoven’s last piano concerto. In the years following the composition of his “Sinfonia Eroica,” Beethoven was challenged by the public and critics concerning his composing abilities. He also slipped deeper into deafness, and he began to retreat from society and become extremely untidy. Nevertheless, Beethoven showed he was still a capable and powerful composer.

Several masterpieces seemed to flow from the pen of Beethoven during the 1810s. His Piano Concerto No. 5, which premiered in 1811, was followed by the 7th and 8th Symphonies, as well as the Les Adieux Piano Sonata. Beethoven’s extreme belief in himself came into play around the time. Through his music, he began to break new ground in the classical music world.

His “Emperor Concerto” became arguably the most performed and beloved of his piano concertos. This popularity was largely due to the advancements of piano technology at about the time the work premiered. When the concerto was performed in Vienna in 1811, Carl Czerny — one of Beethoven’s students — performed on a more advanced piano than what had been used in the past. This allowed for the piece to attract more notice because the new piano allowed Czerny more power of expression. Therefore, the advancement of piano technology, coupled with Beethoven’s brilliance, cemented this piece in legendary status for years to come.

While the name “Emperor Concerto” dates back to Beethoven’s time, most scholars believe that Beethoven himself did not give this concerto that name — an understandable theory, especially given his change of heart after dedicating “Sinfonia Eroica” for Napoleon. Some people believe that the name derived from a comment made by an officer of Napoleon’s, stationed in Vienna and attending the Czerny performance. Supposedly, the man proclaimed it to be “an emperor of a concerto.” Whether or not the story is true, many would agree with that man’s words today.

And now, enjoy Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, an “emperor of a concerto”:

Next week we look at one of Beethoven’s last compositions, the Missa Solemnis, and the end of the composer’s life in the final installment of our four part series on Ludwig van Beethoven.


Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Beethoven 101, Part 2 of 4: “Sinfonia Eroica”

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, also known as the Eroica, is a four-movement work that represents Beethoven’s influence on both the Romantic and Classical eras of music. The Eroica developed during a period in Beethoven’s life that came after the Heiligenstadt Testament. This testament detailed his contemplations of suicide due to his increasing deafness and physical illness and his decision to continue living only to continue creating music.

The years following the 1802 composition of his Testament were full of increased creativity and productivity for Beethoven. He composed several pieces along with the Eroica at this time, including the Moonlight Sonata and his Third Piano Concerto. Beethoven intended for the symphony to serve as a dedication to the Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte, who — at the time — Beethoven viewed as the epitome of humanism. When Napoleon appointed himself Emperor of France, however, Beethoven furiously erased his dedication to the man and replaced it with “Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The Eroica was meant to be a testament to the humanist movement and ideals that it represented, but in the end, was a rejection of all Napoleon was as an Emperor.

The Eroica is a rigorous piece and one that was written with great emotional depth. This symphony highlights Beethoven’s development of the Heroic style. The influence of Bonaparte, the French Revolution, and the German enlightenment were dominant figures in influencing the composer during this period. The Eroica is a milestone in the development of this style which is characterized by driving rhythms and dynamic changes throughout the piece. Through this piece we see the dramatic depth and deep orchestration that will come to characterize Beethoven’s break with earlier periods of Western Music.

Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Beethoven 101, Part 1 of 4

Ludwig van Beethoven represented the bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, but many might not know how his  life and experiences influenced his compositions.

The German composer was born in Bonn in 1770. His father served as his first music teacher and — as legend has it — he was a very strict teacher. Johann van Beethoven supposedly forced his children to stand at the piano even if they cried in protest. This is, many believe, merely legend, but nevertheless Beethoven’s musical talent became obvious during his lessons. He would perform his first public performance at the age of seven, and soon Beethoven was performing regularly as his family depended on the money he was awarded by local aristocrats.

Beethoven's house of birth in Bonn, Germany. It now serves as the Beethoven House Museum.

Beethoven’s house of birth in Bonn, Germany. It now serves as the Beethoven House Museum.

As a young man, Beethoven became widely known as Mozart’s successor. Beethoven knew this, and he began to study Mozart’s work intensely and composed works with the great composer as his influence. Beethoven soon left Bonn for Vienna amid fears of war spreading from France in late 1792. Once in Vienna, he steadily established his career as a performer and composer. He became known for his improvisations while playing in the homes of the Austrian nobility and was celebrated as a piano virtuoso.

By the age of 26, Beethoven’s deafness became an ever-problematic aspect of the composer’s life.  He did not completely lose his hearing until later, and he acknowledged his condition in the infamous “Heiligenstadt Testament.” This letter, addressed to his brothers, recorded his thoughts of suicide due to his escalating deafness. He wrote, however, that he would continue his life for the sole purpose of his music.

The end of Beethoven’s life became a struggle not only because of his increasing deafness as he began to decline in several ways. His health was deteriorating, his brother Carl became ill and passed away, and finally his struggle to gain custody of his brother’s son became a large emotional and monetary investment. Beethoven considered his brother’s wife, Johanna, an unfit guardian and pursued custody of the child. This battle dragged on and took financial and emotional tolls on the composer for most of the later stages of his life until his death. Beethoven’s life provides a glimpse into the emotion and passion behind his musical compositions.

Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Tchaikovsky 101, Part 4 of 4: Symphony No. 6

After finishing The Nutcracker, Pyotr Tchaikovsky set to work on what would become his famous Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 “Pathétique.” At the age of 53, the Russian composer had gained European fame and legendary status. Prior to beginning work on his masterpiece, Tchaikovsky traveled widely. The composer returned to his home in Klin, however, in order to work on the symphony as well as a third piano concerto (Op. 75) and eighteen piano pieces (Op. 72). Tchaikovsky’s accomplishments, fame, and work could not alleviate Tchaikovsky’s state of depression at this time, though.

His Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 “Pathétique” demonstrates the complexities of his personal life, but does so in a calm and mysterious way. The symphony, especially movement III, portrays the difficulties of Tchaikovksy’s life and his inner troubles. It is almost a plea for people to recognize his pain.

Even though he was a busy man working on several compositions around this time, Tchaikovsky led the first performance of his Symphony No. 6 on October 161893. Nine days later, the composer died. The official explanation was that he suffered from cholera due to drinking a glass of unfiltered water while dining at a restaurant.

The end of Tchaikovsky’s life remains mysterious and controversial. Scholars debate whether the famous composer died due to cholera or an act of suicide. The latter hypothesis derives from Tchaikovsky’s sexual orientation. As a supposed homosexual, the musician may have been influenced by his native country to kill himself. The government did not embrace homosexuality, and many fear Tchaikovsky was pressured into thoughts of suicide after rumors emerged about his relationship with the nephew of a powerful noble.

Tchaikovsky’s music — including Symphony No. 6 and earlier works like The Nutcracker and Eugene Onegin —  not only shows the inner turmoil he experienced during his life, but furthermore likely provided a primary outlet as well as a source of solace.

The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 can be heard here:

Tchiakovsky 101:

Part 1: Tchiakovsky’s Life

Part 2: Eugene Onegin

Part 3: The Nutcracker

Part 4: Symphony No. 6


World Cup of Classical Music: Germany vs. Argentina

Celebrate the World Cup winners – as well as the second-place team – with a little Classical 101, Germany and Argentina editions.

Classical 101: Germany

German classical music and German classical musicians have played a major role in the development of the genre, with a significant contribution to orchestral works and operas. Mozart’s Die Zauberföte, for example, remains among the most beloved operas, and Beethoven’s symphonies are considered prime examples of the Romantic era. Robert Schumann is also credited with the creation of lied, a mixture of romantic poetry and music.

In honor of yesterday’s victory, get to know the biggest composers from this World Cup-winning country:

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach

Born in 1685 in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer who Beethoven described as “the original father of harmony.” Although he was not recognized as a great composer during his lifetime, Bach’s fame developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is famed for his more than 300 cantatas (of which close to 100 have been lost) as well as his music’s intellectual depth and beauty. An example of this can be heard in his Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is perhaps the most famous German composer of all time. Despite his hearing loss during the later stages of his life, he became a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic musical periods, and  remains one of the most influential of all composers. One of Beethoven’s most famous works in his Symphony No. 9.

Robert Schumann


Robert Schumann was born in 1810 and brought forth a new type of music called lied. After a hand injury ended his dreams of becoming Europe’s finest pianist, Schumann turned his energies to composition and is now recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Listen to his Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 to hear the composer’s prowess.



Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig and is known for his operatic works. His compositions are known for their complex textures and rich harmonies. Arguably his most famous work is his Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” can be heard below:



And to honor the second-place winner in the 2014 World Cup…

Classical 101: Argentina

Argentina’s contribution to classical music does not match that of Germany’s, but this should not detract from their legacy. Argentinians have contributed widely to many forms of classical music. Opera must be considered one of the main areas of classical composition. The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is considered one of the best opera houses in the world and represents the counties dedication to the art form. The country is less known for producing romantic and conservative compositions such as orchestral and piano works.

Alberto Williams


Alberto Williams, born in 1865 in Buenos Aires, is known as a pianist, conductor, and a pedagogue. While he was in Paris as a young man, Williams took lessons in composition from César Franck, who supposedly became fond of Williams. He is known for his orchestral works with his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor being one of the most popular.

Carlos Guastavino


Carlos Guastavino was born in 1912 in Santa Fe Province and is considered one of the most prominent Argentine composers of the twentieth century. He generated 500 compositions throughout his life and many were based on Argentine folk songs. He is sometimes referred to as the “Schubert of the Pamapas” and his songs Pueblito, mi pueblo, la rosa y el sauce (“The Rose and the Willow”) and Se eqivovó la paloma(“The Dove was Wrong”) have now become national favorites.

Alberto Ginastera


Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, Alberto Ginastera became a peer of Guastavino and established himself as another of Argentina’s great twentieth century composers. He is famously known for his composition of the opera Don Rodrigo, but is also known for his orchestral works.


Tchaikovsky 101, Part 3 of 4: The Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky, while he showed a darker side through his composition of Eugene Onegin, expressed himself differently in a later work. His composition of The Nutcracker, Op. 71 demonstrates his capability to use his personal struggles to create breathtaking music.

Tchaikovsky was commissioned to compose an opera to be produced simultaneously with a two-act ballet. Iolanta, the opera that resulted from this commission, ended up being completed before the ballet. The Nutcracker was delayed further because of Tchaikovsky’s conducting engagements at the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York City.

When it came time for Tchaikovsky to begin work on The Nutcracker, it was shortly after his sister passed away. Tchaikovsky became immersed in the ballet. He found solace in the character of Clara, who he saw as a parallel for his sister Sasha. Just like Eugene Onegin (discussed in last week’s blog of our four-part series on the Russian composer), Tchaikovsky found comfort in music during a difficult time in his life.

An interesting side note comes from an old rumor. It is believed that Tchaikovsky argued with a friend who speculated that the composer was incapable of writing a melody based on the notes of the octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky, after being assured it did not matter if the notes needed to be in ascending or descending order, wrote what would become the “Grand Adage” from the Grand Pas de Deux of Act Two. This is the scene where Clara dances with the Nutcracker Prince. The score of The Nutcracker is also noteworthy because it contains the use of the celesta. This was one of the first times the instrument was prominently used in a major music score.

The Nutcracker premiered a week before Christmas in 1892, just two years before Tchaikovsky’s death, and was not met with success. Tchaikovsky’s work contains many surprises, though. It shows both the ingenuity of the composer as well as his emotional state at the time — and despite its initial reception, The Nutcracker has grown to become among the most famous and beloved ballets today.

A listen to perhaps one of the most famous ballet excerpts, the “Waltz of Flowers,” shows the composer’s sensitivity:

Next week: We conclude our four-part series on Tchaikovsky with a look at his most famous work, Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74,Pathétique.” The last work premiered before the composer’s unfortunate death, and it is considered one of his greatest.

Tchiakovsky 101:

Part 1: Tchiakovsky’s Life

Part 2: Eugene Onegin

Part 3: The Nutcracker

Part 4: Symphony No. 6



Tchaikovsky 101, Part 2 of 4: Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin, one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous operas, was first completed in 1878 and premiered a year later in Moscow in 1879. During this period, Tchaikovsky had vacationed in Brailov, which is now a city in the modern Ukraine. He returned to Moscow late in 1878 and upon resuming his professorship at the Conservatoire, he resigned, finding the situation there unbearable.

At this time, the composer went through a personal crisis that related to the death of his beloved mother. According to scholars, the period during which Eugene Onegin was written was a turbulent time for Tchaikovsky. A letter written by the composer describing his anguish is often cited. He wrote of how he would never be able to reconcile the death of his mother, and that without music he would have “gone mad.”

Tchaikovsky's mother

Tchaikovsky’s mother

His mental state during this time brings the opera itself into clear focus. A dark drama, the opera carries with it beautiful music showing how Tchaikovsky expressed himself through writing. Furthermore, the opera also represents a change in Tchaikovsky’s music around the time. His prior operas prior reflected a nationalistic tone. After the first act of Eugene Onegin, however, this theme disappears almost completely.

The sudden change could be a result of his mental state or a desire to move on from his past as depression and confusion were beginning to take their toll on him. But according to his letters, Tchaikovsky felt a small joy in writing Eugene Onegin. He viewed music as a cure and a salvation. The opera allowed Tchaikovsky to temporarily free his mind from the torment of his mother’s death twenty-three years earlier.


Next week: In part 3 of Tchaikovsky 101, we will examine The Nutcracker, one of the most famous ballets. What was Tchaikovsky’s inspiration behind the ballet? What was his life like around that time? Stay tuned for the next part of this look into the life of the famous Russian composer.

Last Week: Tchaikovsky 101, Part 1: A Brief Look at Tchaikovsky’s Life


Tchiakovsky 101:

Part 1: Tchiakovsky’s Life

Part 2: Eugene Onegin

Part 3: The Nutcracker

Part 4: Symphony No. 6