HAYDN: Nelson Mass / Little Organ Mass
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Franz Joseph Haydn(1732-1809)
Nelson Mass; KleineOrgelmesse
It was only after the death of the Emperor Joseph II in 1790 that theway was once more open to composers to provide settings of the liturgy withfull orchestral accompaniment. The removal of the Josephine restrictions of theprevious ten years by the new Emperor Leopold II, followed in 1792 by hissuccessor, Franz II, made feasible Mozart's great unfinished Requiem andthe six Masses written by Haydn between 1796 and 1802. Of these the so-called NelsonMass is one of the greatest.
Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 in Rohrau in Lower Austria, the son of awheelwright. Unlike Mozart, he was to enjoy a long and successful life wellinto the early years of the next century. His father gave him all the encouragementneeded to start a musical career and at the age of eight, possessed of a finetreble voice, he joined the choir of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Over aperiod of some ten years as a chorister he received training in instrumentaland vocal music, with rather less instruction in music theory, a knowledge ofwhich he acquired, as he later said, largely through the music he knew andperformed. After leaving the choir school he was obliged to find work tosupport himself, serving as an accompanist, teaching and performing. His mainchance came when he entered the service of the Esterhazy family in 1761, asDeputy Kapellmeister, eventually, under Prince Nikolaus, succeeding in1766 as Kapellmeister, now commissioned by this wealthiest of benefactorsto write operas, symphonies, quartets and all kinds of music and to take chargeof the Prince's musical establishment, principally based at the new Palace ofEszterhaza. Apart from a period in the 1790s when he travelled to London fortwo seasons, most of Haydn's music was written for the princely family andtheir residences in Vienna, Eisenstadt and Eszterhaza. The last of these, whereHaydn worked for nearly 25 years, provided a degree of isolation and theincentive for the composition of a vast quantity of music, as well as theconvenience of having his own permanent orchestra to work with.
The death of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy in 1790 put an end to thisrelationship and the Prince's successor disbanded the orchestra, so thatHaydn's services were no longer needed, although he retained his salary and thetitle of Kapellmeister. He now moved to Vienna, shortly to accept aninvitation from the violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon to visitEngland, where he spent some eighteen months from early 1791, enjoying hugesuccess and receiving an honorary degree at Oxford. Salomon invited Haydn toLondon again in 1794 with a commission for six further symphonies and fromSpring 1794 until Summer 1795 Haydn was again acclaimed by the London public.
The accession of anew Esterhazy Prince led in 1796 to a rekindling ofinterest in music and the return of Haydn to duties under the family'spatronage, now principally at Eisenstadt. The period brought some of Haydn'sgreatest works, including the oratorio The Creation in 1798 and TheSeasons in 1801, as well as the three great late Masses, the Missa intempore belli (Paukenmesse) in 1796, the so-called NelsonMass in 1798 and the Harmoniemesse in 1802. In this last yearHaydn's health began to deteriorate and he was to die five years later, asNapoleon's troops again occupied Vienna.
The Nelson Mass is a particularly dramatic and emotional work,well suited to the grandeur of the hero from whom it takes its familiar name.
In truth, the title of Nelson has little or nothing to do with the work thatHaydn had called Missa in angustiis ('Mass in time of tribulation'). TheMass was composed, dated in Haydn's own hand, between 10th July and 31stAugust, presumably intended for the name day of Princess Esterhazy. Theconnection with the English admiral is derived from the fact that the work wasfirst performed shortly after news of Nelson's defeat of Napoleon's fleet atAboukir Bay had reached the Austrian capital. There is also some suggestionthat Haydn added a trumpet call in the Benedictus recalling thecourier's own trumpet call when news of the battle was brought to PrinceEsterhazy. Whatever the truth of this, since that time the name of Nelson hasbeen associated with the Mass and both Nelson, with Sir William and LadyHamilton, met Haydn in September 1800 during a four-day visit to Eisenstadtduring which there seems to have been a performance of the Mass.
The Nelson Mass was originally scored for three trumpets,timpani, strings and organ, with the organ part later transcribed by theEsterhazy Kapellmeister Johann Nepomuk Fuchs for woodwind. The Mass istruly symphonic and opens impressively, trumpets and drums to the fore in theominous key of D minor, before the entry of the soprano soloist. The joyful Gloriais in three sections, a D major Allegro in which soloists arecontrasted with the full choir, followed by a B flat major Qui tollis, markedAdagio, opening with a bass solo and moving to D minor with anaccompaniment of organ and strings. The final section recalls the first in acheerful D major Allegro, leading to the customary fugal ending. The Credois again in three sections, an Allegro con spirito and Vivace inD major framing a G major Largo that starts with a moving soprano solo, Etincarnatus est. The third section, Et resurrexit soon moves from Bminor to D major once more, to end in triumph. The Sanctus starts with ameditative Adagio, soon leading to a livelier Pleni sunt coeli. TheBenedictus, moving from D minor to an energetic D major Hosanna inexcelsis, gives further prominence to the solo soprano, with continuinglydemanding high tessitura. Solo voices are used in the G major Agnus Dei, amovement of prayerful serenity, before the final contrapuntal D major Donanobis pacem.
The earlier Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo or KleineOrgelmesse ('Little Organ Mass') in B flat major was probably written inthe winter of 1777-78 for the chapel of the Brothers of Mercy in Eisenstadt, inhonour of the founder of the order, St John of God. It is on a much smallerscale than the Nelson Mass and was originally scored for violins andorgan, with a soprano soloist in the Benedictus and a four-part choir.
It is in six sections and follows contemporary practice of the Missa brevis inoffering compact versions of the Gloria and Credo, with theirrelatively long texts, in which phrases are allowed to overlap. The Kyrie isan Adagio and the vigorous Gloria, introduced by the customaryplainchant, is followed by a Credo that finds a place at its heart for amoving Adagio setting of the words Et incarnatus est. The Sanctusincludes a Hosanna in excelsis of contrapuntal promise, while the Benedictus,with its more prominent organ accompaniment, introduces elaborate writingfor the solo soprano, before the return of the Hosanna. The Agnus Deipleads for mercy on sinners, the music dying away as the heartfelt Donanobis pacem comes to an end.