BEETHOVEN - STARR; Heiliger Dankgesang (Holy Song of Thanksgiving,) transcribed for orchestra from Beethoven's String Qt. No. 15, Op. 132

Ludwig van Beethoven
Year of composition
Difficult (Grades 7+)
14 minutes
Classical music
Instrumental parts
Not available

In 1825, Beethoven fell gravely ill. In addition to liver disease, it is now known (from recent analysis of strands of his hair) that he suffered from slow lead poisoning - probably from medications that were prescribed for him. He wrote a note to his doctor (the note has survived) urging the physician to come see him immediately to ease his pain, as he was suffering greatly. Though bed-ridden for months, Beethoven survived the illness – although it is now clear that he believed he came very close to death.

Following his partial recovery, he composed his final five string quartets. The String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, opus 132, contains a vast movement (the third, Molto Adagio) that is a musical description of his near-death experience and an expression of his thanks to God for survival. This movement stands out not only as one of the composer's most intimate declarations of his faith, but also as one of his greatest musical works.

In five continuous sections, this 14-minute piece is one of Beethoven's most expansive creations. There are so many musical ideas crammed into the Heiliger Dankgesang, it fairly bursts at the seams. Yet, all of these ideas can barely be contained by a string quartet. I decided to orchestrate this work, not only to explore the sonorities that I believe are only hinted at in string quartet form, but also to clarify audibly these complex musical ideas – by differentiating them through contrasting instrumental timbres.

Perhaps the greatest audible revelation is the hymn (which appears to be original) that is embedded into the fabric of the Holy Song. In the central (third) section, Beethoven presents this hymn tune in whole notes against dense polyphonic writing. But in the final section (the fifth,) Beethoven distintegrates the hymn tune into fragments and superimposes those fragments one on top of another, irregularly, like a patchwork quilt. In this final section, especially, the varied timbres of the woodwinds and horns will help the listener follow the various elements in what is one of Beethoven's most complex moments.

At the glacially slow tempo that Beethoven has indicated, this music in orchestral form sounds very much like some of Mahler's adagios, 75 years before Mahler composed them.

Of the five sections, the odd-numbered parts are the Holy Song, in three variations (I call them A1, A2 and A3.) The contrasting even-numbered sections are both Andantes, two versions of the same music, entitled 'Gathering New Strength.' Thus, the form of the entire movement is based on the rondo principle: A1, B1, A2, B2, A3.

Of great importance is that the entire character of this work is personal worship. It is not linked to Christian liturgy, like Beethoven's masses or Christ on the Mount of Olives. It is a declaration of his most profound beliefs, the musical equivalent of the Heilingstadt Testament. It is also the purest expression in all of music of the power of wellness to stimulate artistic creation.

Which method of viewing music should I use?

Score Exchange has two methods to display previews of music: seView which uses regular html and javascipt and the Scorch plug-in from Avid which needs to be downloaded and installed onto your computer. Both have advantages and disadvantages:


seView, is the most compatible option. You should be able to view music on all modern web browsers including most mobile devices. Even if your device does not support javascript you should still be able to preview at least page one of the music.

You do not need to install any additional software to use seView.


Scorch is a free plug-in from Avid for displaying and printing music. It can also play the music that you're seeing. As modern web browsers are updated, Scorch is no longer compatible with many browsers. Scorch has never been compatible with mobile devices and some web browsers on Mac computers.

If your web browser does not install Scorch automatically, you can click here to download and install scorch manually.

cloud scorch goes here

Licensing for this music

This score was published on Score Exchange by Mark Starr. When you buy it, you are granted a license that includes the following:

Sharing the file you download
When you buy the score - make multiple copies
When you buy parts - make multiple copies

For anything not permitted by the above licence then you should contact the publisher first to obtain permission.

In order to submit this score to Mark Starr has declared that they own the copyright to this work in its entirety or that they have been granted permission from the copyright holder to use their work. If you believe that this score should be not available here because it infringes your or someone elses copyright, please report this score using the copyright abuse form.