Musicology

“Suspended Time: the Fugue in the Credo of the Missa Solemnis”

Wednesday afternoon, October 31, 2:00-6:00pm, Bayside A
Michael Heinemann
“Suspended Time: the Fugue in the Credo of the Missa Solemnis”

The fugue, Et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen“ in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis

It would be too easy to suggest that quoting different patterns of musical history and integrating them in a new context should constitute the entire artistic importance of the Missa solemnis or should be seen as the result of the idea of “Kunstvereinigung”  intended by Beethoven. This Credo is directed to another concept, i.e. to contrast different levels of compositionally formed time: as an expression of timelessness and eternity, essentials of Christian faith. Perhaps it gives therein an impression of Beethoven’s own approach to religion.

This idea is reflected particularly in the last part of the Credo, the fugue to the words “et vitam venturi saeculi”, which marks a contrast especially to the action in the dramatic parts which precede it, and forms a finale with its two major parts, which in itself explains this dichotomy on a second level.

As a composer, Beethoven demonstrates in this Credo a process of historic integration of different styles, which is useful in particular for explaining some parts of the liturgical text. But the Missa’s inherent tendency to “determinated negation”, which is represented by Beethoven’s sublation of the fugal technique to a utopia of polyphony, does not end in negation at all, but in the pure affirmation of the hymnal finale, which seems to evoke Händel’s anthems or other representative music of the Baroque era. At the same time the finale is a reminiscence of the “timelessness” of the Credo’s very beginning, owing to the text, which indeed expresses timeless truths of religion. Therefore the setting of the “Credo” in the Missa solemnis is not only full of symbols in the tradition of madrigalism, but a symbol per se as regards its texture and its processual flow. The composition becomes a sign to illustrate moving immobility.