Franz Josef Haydn
Mass In Time of War
Lord Nelson Mass
Sunday - May 23, 1999 - 3:00 pm
The Parish Church of Saint Luke
The North Shore Choral Society starts an exploration of all fourteen of Haydn's masses, beginning with two of the master's best-known works in this genre. Come join us on this journey!
for the May 23, 1999 Concert
by Donald Draganski
With this concert, the North Shore Choral Society embarks on a six-year project of performing all the Masses of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). Haydn's sacred choral music is much less known than his deservedly popular instrumental works; nonetheless his church music contains some of his finest writing and we hope our presentation of his Masses over the next few seasons will win many new listeners to these splendid works.
Haydn composed fourteen settings of the Mass which span over fifty years of the composer's creative life. Haydn's association with the Church goes back to his childhood when, at the age of eight his parents sent him to Vienna to join the Cathedral choir where, in addition to singing lessons, he also received training in all aspects of practical music-making, both vocal and instrumental. By contrast, little or no music theory was offered; similarly, the schooling he received in Latin, arithmetic, writing and other non-musical subjects is described by his first biographer, Georg Greisinger, as "scanty." As with so many other composers of his generation, Haydn was largely an autodidact. As he himself remarked, he learned more from hearing music than from studying it.
The young Haydn's excellent singing voice attracted the attention of the director of the Choir School who thought he could make the youth's fortune by turning him into a permanent soprano. Greisinger recounts the incident:
'At that time many castrati were employed at Court, and the director actually asked Haydn's father for permission to operate on the boy. The father, who totally disapproved of the proposal, set forth at once for Vienna and, thinking that the operation might already have been performed, entered the room where his son was and asked, "Sepperl, does anything hurt you? Can you still walk?" Delighted to find his son unharmed, he protested against any further proposal of this kind, and observing a castrato who happened to be present strengthened him all the more in his resolve.'
When the young Haydn's voice broke, he was peremptorily cashiered from the School and sent back to his parents. With only "three mean shirts and a worn coat" he stepped into the world to make his way as a professional musician. His parents were upset over this turn of events and tried to persuade the young boy to study for the priesthood. (This was the real reason for his father's putting a stop to the castration, for such an operation would have disqualified Haydn from receiving Holy Orders.) Haydn, firm in his resolve to pursue a secular musical career, opposed his parents' wishes and spent the next few years in a state of poverty that at times came perilously close to starvation. Public recognition of his talents finally brought him to the attention of the wealthy Esterhazy family who, in May 1761, signed him on as Vice-Kappelmeister. For the rest of his life Haydn remained associated with the Esterhazys, although in later years when he had achieved financial independence, his position with this noble family had become largely nominal.
The first eight masses were all composed before 1783; a gap of thirteen years followed, the result of an imperial decree prompted by papal fiat that forbade the use of orchestras in churches. When the Emperor Frances II subsequently repealed the ban, Haydn, no longer burdened by the earlier restriction, resumed his output of masses by composing six more, all of which display an even more prominent role for the orchestra.
These last six masses clearly reflect the choral music of Handel which Haydn had discovered during his several trips to England. This fortuitous melding of the grand Handelian style with the graceful Austrian classical tradition marks a distinctive change in Haydn's mass settings. That the sixty-year-old composer could develop a wholly new style of choral writing and produce these six masterpieces in the space of six years (along with two monumental oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons) represents an achievement little short of miraculous. Both Masses presented at today's concert date from this last creative period in Haydn's life, and both were composed under the threatening shadow of Napoleon's army as it moved closer and closer to Vienna.
The title of the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War) refers to the ill-fated campaign led by the Emperor Francis against Napoleon's army which was then moving through Italy towards Vienna. The work had its first performance on St. Stephen's Day (December 26th), 1796, in the Piaristenkirche in Vienna. It was subsequently performed the following year at the Esterhazy estate in Eisenstadt on September 19, l 797. This Mass is also known in German-speaking countries as the Paukenmesse, or Kettledrum Mass, so-called because of the soft beating of the tympani in the very opening of the KYRIE, as well as its more prominent role in the AGNUS DEI section. This Mass also reflects Haydn's increasing incorporation of symphonic form into his choral music - the KYRIE in particular clearly delineates the outlines of a symphonic sonata structure.
Shortly after Haydn composed his Missa in Angustiis, ("Mass in Time of Peril") in 1798, reports of Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile at Abukir reached the Austrian capital, and this news was received with much elation. Much of Europe was still struggling against Napoleon's forces, and Nelson's victory over the French fleet represented quite a morale-booster for the Austrians. Arriving in Vienna in 1800, Nelson was given a hero's welcome by the grateful Viennese; on this occasion Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton paid a visit to the Esterhazy estate where they attended a performance of this Mass which quickly became known by the enthusiastic Viennese as the "Nelson Mass."
This Mass, the only one written by Haydn in a minor key, is generally acknowledged to be the culmination of Haydn's choral output. It is vigorous and direct, and its rugged counterpoint anticipates many features of Beethoven's choral writing. The original instrumentation called for three high trumpets, drums, organ and strings; a later version published in 1802, used in today's performance, added woodwinds to the orchestral forces.
Copyright © 1999 by Donald Draganski