"Beethoven is the parallel to Christian sacrifice," says Robert Shafer, musical director of the Oratorio Society of Washington, which will be performing Missa Solemnis at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall tonight at 8:30. "Beethoven wrote it at the end of his career, at the height of his powers." Because Beethoven was deaf, Shafer continues, he was, for a musician, "almost dead while alive. And because of this, his spirituality, his intensity is heightened . . . Christ had to suffer for our sins, Beethoven had to suffer deafness for our music."

Shafer also says that "while Mozart's struggle came from his contemporaries, Beethoven's struggle came from God. God took away his hearing. That relationship between Beethoven and God is a triumph. Most others would have given up."

"A cry for peace" is written into the end of the mass, adds tenor Gene Tucker. "I believe it's a personal statement of his belief . . . he writes in a prayer for inward and outward peace.

"It's wonderful to see the combination of forces at work in Beethoven," says Tucker, adding, "The piece ends somewhat unresolved, it fades away after the prayer for peace. Beethoven leaves the meaning of Missa Solemnis up to the listener."