A letter by Beethoven was unearthed a couple years ago, in a pile of papers bequeathed to a museum. He writes about his newly composed “Missa Solemnis,” trying to find a buyer for it. It was untidy, obviously scrawled off in his typical hasty and heedless fashion.
He was doing the dance artists perform today to find a market for their work. It is bizarre to imagine him having to do this, now that “Missa Solemnis” is acknowledged as one of the greatest choral works of all time.
In the Benedictus movement of the mass, Beethoven weaves a solo violin in with four solo singers, while full orchestra and choir underpin it all. It is stunningly beautiful and profound. The Benedictus is the place in the mass where the priest welcomes the Holy Spirit down to Earth during the ritual of the Eucharist, and the violin musically represents that divine presence. The violin states and repeats the melody, and also creates wondrous arabesques around that theme.
All of this happens in the highest range of the instrument, swirling in the upper atmosphere of sound, creating a sense of heaven coming down to touch and bless the earth.
When the singers drop out, or the texture of the music changes with the addition of the choir, the violin remains, like an angel soaring through the architecture of the cathedral where this music belongs. Every moment of the solo requires the violinist to play her heart out, to find reserves of love and pour them into the music, as the singers welcome the Holy Spirit with the text “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
There is a feeling of being suspended throughout this music. When I listen to it, I feel like time is somehow being expanded, and like I am being lifted far above the Earth, able to view the whole of the cosmos in all of its contradictory beauty and torment. From there, I witness it being wrapped in compassion, knitted back together.
This is the sound of creation, of redemption, and for a moment I glimpse time and hope from a vast perspective.