Mendelssohn’s Lauda Sion

Felix Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn was commissioned to write his setting of this text by the authorities in Liège to mark the 600th anniversary of the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 11th 1846.

At the time of this commission, Mendelssohn was working on his oratorio Elijah for the 1846 Birmingham Festival, which was in August. He interrupted his work on that to compose Lauda Sion and to conduct the first performance in St. Martin’s Church, Liège. He must have worked at great speed, because in May and June 1846 he was also directing music festivals in Aachen and Cologne. Elijah was of course completed on time, but with such work-pressure it is not surprising that a year hence he would be recovering from a nervous break-down; indeed thereafter he had only a few months to live.

Beethoven’s Mass in C, op 86

The Mass in C was composed in 1807, a period of prodigious output when Beethoven was in his mid-30s.

He had slowly become adjusted to his deafness, and a protracted, unhappy love-affair had been finished and buried. In 1806, Beethoven composed his 4th Piano Concerto, the 4th symphony, the violin concerto, the Appassionata Sonata and the 3 Rasumovsky quartets. Nearly all his music was received ecstatically and his fame and reputation blossomed across Europe.

On the strength of this, Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy commissioned Beethoven to write a Mass for his wife’s name’s-day on 13th September 1807. Given that Haydn had written six masterpieces marking this occasion in previous years, and Beethoven had not written a single mass until now, this caused him some consternation. Beethoven’s friend Johann Nepomuk Hummel had succeeded Haydn as the Esterhazys’ Kappellmeister and had written slightly less distinguished works for the occasion, but Beethoven was, rightly, nervous of comparison with Haydn.

The Mass he produced proved inventive, novel and striking – quite different from anything Haydn or Hummel could have written. Although Beethoven was pleased with his work it did not find favour with the Prince. The Prince, indeed made a barbed comment about it; to make matters worse, Hummel laughed, so ending a long friendship. But there was no stopping the flow of masterpieces from Beethoven’s pen: his next work was to complete the 5th Symphony.