VANHAL: Missa Pastoralis / Missa Solemnis
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Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739 - 1813)
Missa Pastoralis in G major; Missa Solemnis in C major
One of the most curious aspects of Vanhal's large musical output is the surprising number of sacred works given that at no stage in his long career was he employed first and foremost as a church musician. Among these works are around fifty settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, a substantial body of work by contemporary standards. Haydn, for example, who like Vanhal cannot be considered a 'professional' church musician, composed a dozen Masses, half of them late in life and for very specific occasions. Leopold Hofmann, Vienna's leading church musician for much of his life, wrote over forty Masses although the exact number remains uncertain. We know that Vanhal enjoyed close associations with a number of monastic foundations and it is possible that they commissioned works from him from time to time. Nonetheless, it cannot be discounted entirely that he wrote many of these works from inner conviction. There was certainly little financial gain to be had in composing church music in comparison with other genres and Vanhal, the most important and successful freelance composer in Vienna, would have been only too well aware of this.
Although the notion of composing a Missa pastoralis was relatively new, the origins of the pastoral style have been traced back to seventeenth-century Italy where composers such as Corelli created a style of composition suitable for performance at the Christmas Eve service. In Bohemia, where Vanhal grew up, the style became especially popular and composers wrote 'pastoral' symphonies as well as, 'pastoral' motets. Interestingly enough, Leopold Hofmann wrote in both genres and yet did not compose a fully-fledged Missa Pastoralis. Vanhal's sole?¡-surviving Mass in the pastoral style, the Missa Pastoralis in G major, was composed no later than 1782, the date of the earliest documented performance, and is a relatively early and extremely important example of the genre in Vienna. Four copies of the work survive, an indication that the Mass enjoyed a reasonable level of popularity during the composer's lifetime.
The pastoral style in eighteenth-century music is characterized by its simplicity and rustic charm. Two of its most obvious stock devices - the drone bass and what can best be described as a yodeling pattern - are found in works as diverse as Hofmann's motet Pastor bone and Johann Stamitz's famous Sinfonia Pastorale in D major. Vanhal had no hesitation in adopting these hoary old cliches but his use of them - not only to set the scene but, as Bruce MacIntyre has observed, 'to promote a coherent musical unity for the Mass cycle' ?¡- is sophisticated and highly effective. Thus, thematic material from the Kyrie - or close derivations of it - ?¡also finds its way into the Gloria, Et resurrexit, Benedictus and Dona nobis settings. The simplicity of the 'pastoral' sections of the Mass is leavened by ingenious orchestral writing and the remainder of the work is infused with Vanhal's characteristically dramatic and highly organic musical language. This is readily apparent in the brilliantly conceived central section of the Gloria, beginning with the soprano-alto duet, Domine Jesu which evolves into a powerful and dramatic setting of the text Qui tollis peccata mundi, and in the driving symphonic sweep of the Credo.
Unlike the old Baroque 'number' Mass, of which Bach's B minor Mass is the supreme exemplar, the Missa Pastoralis is cast in six major movements with a central contrasting section in the textually long Gloria and Credo movements. This ground plan allows Vanhal to work on a larger scale in terms of the work's musical architecture in order to achieve a sense of continuity and musical unity. One manifestation of this is the use he makes of the soloists. In order to avoid the disruption of arias and set-pieces the soloists are used more like concertante instruments in a symphony to delineate new and important ideas. By using the soloists alone for the Et incarnatus and then reintroducing the choir boldly at the Crucifixus, Vanhal effects a miraculous transition from a state of rapturous mystery to high drama. In the Dona nobis, the theme of which bears an unnerving resemblance to 'Shoo fly, don't bother me', the soloists are used in short contrasting blocks alongside the full choir. At no stage do they sing independent parts simultaneously with the choir. This is very typical of the eighteenth-century Viennese Mass where the choirs for which the works were written were generally small - often two or three to a part - and the 'first singer' in each section functioned as soloist and also sang in the tutti sections.
The Missa Solemnis in C major was composed sometime before 1778, the year Gottweig monastery acquired a copy. The work seems to have circulated fairly widely in central Europe and at least a dozen copies have been preserved. Unlike the Missa Pastoralis the present work belongs to the mainstream of the eighteenth-century Viennese concerted Mass tradition. Its employment of the organ as a concertante instrument in the Quoniam is a little unusual for Vanhal but it has many precedents in the Masses of Hofmann and others. If one feature distinguishes this Mass and the Missa Pastoralis from many other works of the period, it is its modern instrumentation. The typical Viennese Missa solemnis was scored for choir - possibly with concertante voices - two clarini (high trumpets), timpani, two violins, violoncello, violone (a small double bass) and organ. A pair of trombones was generally used to double the ripieno alto and tenor voices and a bassoon might be added to the bass-line if it were readily available. Our two Vanhal Masses, however, omit the customary trombones and include a pair of oboes and a full string section with an independent viola part. With the exception of the organ continuo the forces used by Vanhal in the Masses are virtually identical with those found in many of his symphonies. His use of the oboes in both works raises some interesting questions. Oboes were considered very secular instruments during the mid-eighteenth century, and, like the lascivious horns, had even been excluded from church orchestras at one stage by papal edict. Although we know that this ban was not very strictly enforced, it is interesting to note that in 1783 when a census of church musicians was carried out in Vienna only one church numbered oboists in its orchestral ranks. It is possible, therefore, that this Mass, and others by Vanhal, was commissioned either for performance in a private chapel or by one of the great monastic houses like Gottweig whose members had assiduously collected the composer's symphonies from the very outset of his career.
In stylistic terms there is a strong kinship between this work and the Missa Pastoralis that goes far deeper than instrumentation. Both works display a similar complexity of internal musical organization, one which takes precedence over the structure of the text, notably in the long Gloria and Credo movements. Vanhal takes care to set the text intelligibly but, like all composers, he devotes special care to sections like the Qui tollis, Et incarnatus and Agnus Dei. The two Masses also include some thrilling contrapuntal writing for the chorus, the high point being the brilliant concluding Dona nobis fugue of the C major Mass.
Long after his death and when his multitude of symphonies, quartets and conce