Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Hallelujah" from Beethoven's Christ On The Mount Of Olives

the young Beethoven, by Joseph Willibrord Maehler
   The composer Beethoven was born into a Catholic family, but does not seem to have been devout as an adult.  It is known that he did not attend Mass regularly, and scholars are reluctant to assign to him any religious affiliation at all.  At the same time, it is also clear from his letters and his few religious compositions that, in his stubborn and idiosyncratic way, he retained a strong belief in God and His Providence.
Beethoven’s best-known and by far most successful religious composition is the Missa Sollemnis, which he completed just a few years before his death.  He did make other forays into sacred music earlier in his career, however.  In 1802, for instance, he produced the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, a revision of which he published in 1811.  The dramatic action of the piece focuses on Christ’s “Agony in the Garden” after the last supper, shortly before his arrest.  Beethoven’s piece reaches its climax not with the Resurrection, but at the moment in which Jesus decisively sets aside his human fears and says, “Not my will, but Yours!”
Christ on the Mount of Olives was not one of Beethoven’s more successful endeavors.  The composer himself was sharply critical of Franz Xaver Huber’s libretto; critics did not consider most of the music up to Beethoven’s usual standards.  The oratorio as a whole has not been performed as often as many other Beethoven pieces over the past two centuries, except for one passage: the triumphant “Hallelujah” that rings out at Our Lord’s moment of decision.  It’s a glorious musical acknowledgment of Christ’s self-sacrificing act of redemption, and a glorious way to celebrate the Easter Season.