Beethoven's Theologian: Johann Michael Sailer and the Missa solemnis.

Citation metadata

Author: Nicholas Chong
Date: Summer 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 22,244 words
Lexile Measure: 1670L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

In February 1819, Beethoven found himself in the midst of a lengthy legal battle with his brother Caspar Carl's widow, Johanna. Caspar Carl had died just over three years earlier, and the composer was seeking custody of his nephew Karl, son of Johanna and Caspar Carl. Johanna had a history of criminal conduct, and Beethoven did not think, her morally fit to raise Karl. (1) As the affair dragged on, Beethoven's friend Antonie Brentano wrote a letter on his behalf to Johann Michael Sailer (1751-1832), a Catholic theologian in Bavaria who was a friend of the Brentano family. According to Antonie, Beethoven had been an admirer of Sailer's for some time, and, believing Sailer well suited to the task, he wished to know if the theologian would be willing to educate his nephew:

[Beethoven] wishes to send this talented, lighthearted boy to a Catholic university that is not too expensive, where, besides the Invisible Spirit to protect him, a visible spirit would lovingly care for his salvation and preservation. Heaven has suggested Landshut to him, and since he learned through one of my relatives that I was fortunate enough to know you personally--you, whom he has already venerated in spirit for a long time--he very ardently desired that I would introduce the matter to you. (3)

In biographical Beethoven sources from 1819 and 1820, Sailer's name appears with unusual frequency for a public figure who was neither a musician nor a close personal associate of the composer. Beethoven himself expressed his esteem for the theologian in a letter dating from late April or early May 1819 to the Archduke Rudolph, later the dedicatee of the Missa sokmnis: "At Landshut everything is very well arranged for the training of my nephew, because the worthy and celebrated Professor Sailer would superintend everything pertaining to his education." (4) Beethoven's opinion of Sailer was shared by Karl Joseph Bernard, editor of the Wiener Zeitung and one of the composer's closest friends. In a statement addressed to Beethoven in the conversation books of early 1819, Bernard advised, "If you want to achieve some degree of peace, I believe that it would be good for you to appoint a guardian, as you were willing to do yesterday. If it should work out, however, that the boy can be taken to Sailer in Landshut, it would of course be even better, since you could have all reassurance to that extent, because you would know that he was in the best hands." (5) Shordy afterward, Bernard also reported to Beethoven the high regard in which the theologian was held by one Father Ignatius, prior of the Michaelskirche in Vienna: "[Father Ignatius] cannot praise Professor Sailer enough, and says that no greater salvation could befall the boy than to spend a couple of years under his supervision"; "[Father Ignatius] is enthusiastic about him [Sailer?]. If I were to reflect for 100 years, he said, I would not be able to conceive anything better than to entrust the boy to...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A679119005