Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Scott Burnham

Committee Members

Anne Stone

Raymond Erickson

L. Poundie Burstein

Subject Categories

Musicology | Music Performance


Beethoven, Missa solemnis, Mass, liturgy, Catholicism, bodily knowledge


Since its 1824 premiere in St. Petersburg, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, Op. 123 has only ever been performed in secular concert settings. This performance history is reflected in critical trends in Missa solemnis scholarship. Following Adorno’s 1959 essay that characterized the Missa as “alienated,” critical perspectives on Beethoven’s last Mass have largely responded to the work as "absolute" music, indifferent to or disregarding the Mass text. Despite its exclusively secular performance history, however, the Missa solemnis was written for use in the Mass liturgy (at the installation of the Archduke Rudolf as Archbishop of Olmütz). Moreover, the Missa was composed during a dynamic period in the socio-cultural life of Catholic Vienna, when the intersection between religious practice and Enlightenment ideals was vigorously debated.

This dissertation addresses a liturgical gap in much Missa solemnis scholarship. It argues that knowledge of liturgical theology and practice enlarges the range of audible meaning in the Missa and suggests useful theoretical models with which to conceptualize the listening experience. Part socio-historical investigation, the dissertation highlights the context of the Missa’s production in the cultural complexities of Beethoven’s Vienna (acknowledging in particular the role of the Catholic Aüfklarung) and in the intersection of the Mass liturgy with broader aesthetic and philosophical trends in the nineteenth-century German-language world. In considering the Missa in relation to the identity and function of the Mass, the dissertation employs the concept of embodiment as a hermeneutical tool. It argues that somatic knowledge—central to theological understanding of the liturgy—offers a compelling lens through which to observe interdisciplinary text/music/liturgy conversations at work in the Missa.

This dissertation advocates a multi-disciplinary approach to the Missa solemnis, studying the work as music, text and liturgy, drawing on a variety of philosophical, theological, musicological and artistic voices, historical and contemporary. While historical enquiry is considered important to the discussion, the contemporary listener is always present: the dissertation probes the ways in which approaching the Missa in its liturgical dimension interact with and potentially shape a contemporary listening experience. In doing so, it advocates for listening as a philosophical and imaginative challenge.