1820 work discovered alongside original sketches for Missa Solemnis
Just a few days after an early forgotten piano sonata by Beethoven received its premiere in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, a lost hymn, written by the composer some 192 years ago, was preformed for perhaps the first time on October 25 at the University of Manchester. Professor Barry Cooper discovered the work, composed around 1820, alongside original sketches for the Missa Solemnis in Berlin.
An organ harmonisation of Gregorian hymn chant ‘Pange lingua’, the work, like the Missa Solemnis, was likely composed for Archduke Rudolf of Austria. It is unclear, however, whether the hymn was ever publically performed. According to Cooper, the work demonstrates Beethoven’s first use of his slow chorale style, best exhibited in his String Quartet No 15, Op 132, composed in 1825.
‘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,' said Cooper. ‘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.’
The premiere performance took place today at the University of Manchester’s Martin Harris Centre, featuring students from the university. The work will be published next spring in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association.
Hear an excerpt from the world premiere recording below: