Holy Smoke

Why didn’t Beethoven go to Mass?

38 min listen

Ludwig van Beethoven had a profound faith in God. He was born and raised a Catholic and on his deathbed he asked to receive the Last Rites. He told the priest, ‘I thank you, ghostly sir – you have brought me comfort.’ One of his closest friends, Archduke Rudolf of Austria, was made a cardinal (before being ordained priest and bishop, something inconceivable today). To mark Rudolf’s enthronement as Archbishop of Olomouc in 1819, Beethoven wrote a great Mass, and took such trouble over the setting of the Latin words that he delivered the work three years late. Yet, so far as we know, not once did the adult Beethoven actually attend a church service. Why? Norman Lebrecht, my guest on this episode of Holy Smoke, offers an explanation in his magnificent new book Why Beethoven: A Phenomenon in 100 Pieces.


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