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Beethoven's Jesus (2015)
Beethoven's Jesus
Who was Beethoven’s Jesus?
Beethoven’s factotum Anton Schindler was the composer’s steady companion in his last decade. At the time of the Missa Solemnis in 1823 Schindler relates the following incident about a previous Beethoven Mass written some fifteen years earlier. Like all Masses, it had been written in Latin (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei). In order to reach a wider audience — as well as to comply with newly established State requirements — Beethoven had the Latin text paraphrased in vernacular German. Schindler writes: “The twentieth of April 1823 — we were at table around noon — the Haushofmeister of Countess Schafgotsch brought the score for the C major Mass of 1807 with the new text in the vernacular . . . . Beethoven opened the manuscript and began to read rapidly. When he came to the qui tollis (“Who takes away”— the sins of the world) from the Gloria, the tears were running down his cheeks; at the Credo he began to weep loudly and had to stop reading. “Yes” he said, “that is how I felt when I wrote that!” . . .Never have I seen Beethoven so devastated by remorse as in that moment . . . It was the first and last time that I saw him in tears.”

What then does the German paraphrase of the qui tollis say? “He carries with tender love even the sinner with true Father’s care, full of compassion. He is the support of the weak. He is the help of the oppressed. He is the hope of those who are tired of life. No complaint but finds its way to Him, no tear is wept in vain.”

Romain Rolland, who describes the scene, continues as follows: “He is the compassionate Savior, the divine Friend in whose arms contrite sinners, the oppressed and the broken come to sob. It is He, the Lamb, who carries the sins of the world. It is His thought, His facethat inspire the poignant Miserere, “have mercy,” that follows the qui tollis.

How can one doubt the truth of the tears that Beethoven weeps in spite of himself in front of Schindler? They tell us the secret of all the tears he wept in solitude …. The face of Christ was at the center of this thought and prayer. If he did not like to speak about it, it was because he observed a ferocious silence about what was most profound and most dear to him. Did he say any more about the “Immortal Beloved?”