This installment of OTF will focus on Beethoven’s sacred output, with a special emphasis on his only oratorio Christus am Ölberge (Christ at the Mount of Olives). This oratorio, along with two masses (his Mass in C and the Missa Solemnis) form the complete set.

Christus am Ölberge, is all about the anguish and despair felt by Christ on the eve of his crucifixion, as he reflects in the Mount of Olives during a sleepless night. The oratorio ends with Christ accepting his fate, rather than in a resignation of sorts, choosing his sacrifice of his own free will.

The work was written over a very short time (based on which story you believe, from a few days to a couple of weeks), at or around the time of Beethoven’s Heiligenstädter Testament, an unsent letter where Beethoven reveals he is going deaf, and goers through his own battle with anguish and despair.

Interestingly, Beethoven does not consider a complete setting of the Passion (as others have done), rather focusing on one specific episode. In doing so, Beethoiven creates a work of human proportions (rather than a two-hour magnum opus), allowing for a focus on the human aspects rather than a continuous narrative of the biblical story.

The libretto for this oratorio is from poet Franz Xaver Huber, and the work was likely created in the lenten season of 1803 (April 5th) in a concert that also premiered his second symphony. The work is later revised in 1811, explaining its later Hess number (op. 85) compared to that of its contemporary symphony (op. 36). The work was published near the time of the MasS in C (op. 86).

Beethoven, we note, was not kind to the libretto, writing “Putting aside the value of such poetry (…) I rather would have set Homer, Klopstock or Schiller to music. If they have their share of difficulties, such immortals are worth it.“

Christus am Ölberge, op. 85
oratorio for three soloists (STB), choir and orchestra
(Text: Franz Xaver Huber)
Ann Petersen (Soprano), Adam Zdunikowski (Tenor) and Ole Stovring Larsen (Bass)
Chorus Soranus & Torun Chamber Orchestra
Direction: Knud Vad

The Masses

For completemness, here are openly available performances of the masses:

Mass, in C Major, for four soloists (SATB), chorus and orchestra, op. 86
Heather Harper (Soprano), Janet Baker (Mezzo-Soprano), Robert Tear (Tenor) et Hans Sotin (Bass)
New Philharmonia Chorus & London Philharmonic Orchestra
Direction: Carlo Maria Giulini

Mass, in D Major, for four soloists (SATB), chorus and orchestra, op. 123 "Missa solemnis"
Lois Marshall (soprano), Nan Merriman (mezzo-soprano), Eugene Conley (tenor) et Jerome Hines (bass)
Robert Shaw Chorale & NBC Symphony Orchestra
Direction: Arturo Toscanini

March 16, 2012, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "Birds" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentary March 16 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.