Lost Beethoven hymn is premiered
25 Oct 2012
A piece of music composed by Beethoven 192 years ago has been discovered by a University of Manchester academic and will be performed for perhaps the first time this afternoon (25 October).
Professor Barry Cooper – one of the world’s leading experts on the composer –found the work which Beethoven composed in about 1820, written alongside some original sketches of the famous Mass in D, known as the Missa Solemnis, in a sketchbook now in Berlin.
Professor Cooper believes that, like the Missa Solemnis , the music was probably written for Archduke Rudolph of Austria. If it was ever performed, says Professor Cooper, it would probably have been at the ceremony where he was made Archbishop of Olmütz – now Olomouc in the Czech Republic.
According to Professor Cooper, Beethoven’s organ harmonisation of the thousand-year-old Gregorian hymn chant, called ‘Pange lingua’, adds to our understanding of the composer’s devotion to Christianity.
It was also the first time, he says, Beethoven used his famous slow chorale style, exemplified in the opus 132 string quartet written in 1825 – regarded by music lovers as a masterpiece.
The discovery of an entirely new piece by Beethoven is extremely rare, according to Professor Cooper.
The tune resembles a version of ‘Pange lingua’ that is still sung in churches today, and to complete the piece, Professor Cooper added the words of the vocal part – sung by a group of singers to Beethoven’s harmony played by the organ.
The only section missing from Beethoven’s score is the first line, which is sung unaccompanied and so did not need Beethoven’s work.
It will be performed by an ensemble of music students at the University of Manchester’s Martin Harris Centre.
Professor Cooper said: “This piece is surprising because it doesn’t sound like Beethoven. If I hadn’t seen it in his own handwriting, complete with corrections, I wouldn’t have believed it was by him.’
“I suppose it’s likely that no one had noticed this before, because as the first line is sung without accompaniment, it isn’t written down, which makes the tune much less easily recognised.
“It’s quite telling that Beethoven wrote what is after all a simple piece of functional liturgical music – and must in some way indicate his devotion.
“Gregorian chant was sung much slower in those days, so it’s striking that he used the same slow chordal style for the Opus 132 quartet written in 1825. I believe this is the first time he did this.”
The academic, based at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, added: “My hunch is that it was written to be performed during the liturgy, after the Missa Solemnis, to complete the service.
“But Beethoven wasn’t averse to writing a simple harmonisation to a popular melody – and had done it a couple of times before, though not for a Gregorian chant.
“The only comparable work is a 1791 score he wrote for The Lamentations of Jeremiah”.
Notes for editors
The first known performance of Beethoven’s ‘Pange lingua’ setting will take place at the University of Manchester’s Martin Harris Centre at 2.30PM. Anyone is welcome to attend. It lasts about two minutes and will be performed by University of Manchester music students as part of a performance seminar led by Professor Cooper.
A performing version of the piece is to be published next spring in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association.
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