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8.572122 - HAYDN, J.: Masses, Vol. 2 - Mass No. 3, "Cacilienmesse" (Trinity Choir, Rebel Baroque Orchestra, Burdick)
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Haydn’s Masses


The ‘father of the symphony’ and master of conversational wit in the string quartet, [Franz] Joseph Haydn is viewed today principally in the light of his instrumental music. According to his nineteenth-century biographer Georg August Griesinger, however, Haydn sometimes wondered if ‘instead of so many quartets, sonatas, and symphonies, he should have written more vocal music’¹. While our modern image of Haydn tends to neglect his vocal compositions, they comprise a large part of his oeuvre—and sacred music in particular played a unique role in his musical development. Haydn’s formative musical experiences were as a choirboy, and his first and last compositions were Mass settings. His Masses were popular during his lifetime, travelling to Catholic countries all along the Danube and making their way into concert halls after Breitkopf and Härtel published seven of them in the first part of the nineteenth century. Sacred music also figured prominently in the composer’s musical philosophy; in Haydn’s mind, compositional process and even artistic inspiration were indelibly linked to spirituality. Griesinger reports: ‘“If, when I am composing, things don’t go quite right,” I heard him say, “I walk up and down the room with my rosary in my hand, say several Aves, and then the ideas come again.”’² While his instrumental music is clearly inspired, perhaps Haydn’s sacred music—in particular, his twelve complete and authenticated Mass settings—brings us closest to the source of his artistic inspiration.

Haydn showed vocal talent at an early age. Around 1740, the Kapellmeister at St Stephen’s in Vienna, Georg Reutter, recruited him as a choirboy. Haydn received a well-rounded musical education at the church, learning keyboard, violin and composition in addition to singing. In his autobiographical writings, Haydn gives a light-hearted description of his early attempts to compose: ‘I used to think then that it was all right if only the paper were pretty full. Reutter laughed at my immature output, at measures that no throat and no instrument could have executed, and he scolded me for composing in sixteen parts before I understood two-part setting.’³ Reutter’s instruction was predominantly practical in nature; although Haydn remembered only two formal lessons, Griesinger writes that ‘Reutter did encourage him to make whatever variations he liked on the motets and the Salves that he had to sing in church, and this practice early led him to ideas of his own, which Reutter corrected’4. Haydn was forced to leave the school when his voice broke, and at the juncture of this important transition composed his first authenticated Mass, the Missa brevis in F major (1749). After leaving St Stephen’s, Haydn moved into the Michaelerhaus near St Michael’s Cathedral— coincidentally several floors above the famous librettist Metastasio. Through the poet he met the Italian composer Nicola Porpora, whom he credited with teaching him the Italian singing style and manner of composition. As Haydn said in 1766, ‘I wrote diligently, but not entirely correctly, until I had the good fortune to learn the true fundamentals of composition from the celebrated Porpora’5.

As with most composers of his era, Haydn’s musical output was closely linked to the needs of patrons. In 1761 he was hired as an assistant to the Esterházy court’s aging Kapellmeister Gregor Werner and was put in charge of all musical activities with the exception of sacred music, a responsibility that was added after Werner’s death in 1766. In spite of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy’s reported lack of interest in church music, Haydn composed a number of sacred works between 1766 and 1772 that showcase his facility with the various styles and traditions associated with Austrian church music, including the first Missa Cellensis (or Cäcilienmesse), the Stabat Mater, the Missa in honorem BVM (or Grosse Orgelsolomesse) and the Missa Sancti Nicolai (or Nikolaimesse). After the construction of an Italian opera house and marionette theatre at Eszterháza, the Prince’s new summer residence, Haydn transferred his focus from sacred to secular vocal music, composing only two Mass settings between 1772 and 1782: the Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo (or Kleine Orgelsolomesse) in the mid 1770s, and the second Missa Cellensis (the Mariazellermesse) in 1782.

With Prince Nicolaus’s preference for opera, his successor Prince Anton’s complete lack of interest in music, and the emperor Joseph II’s church music reforms of the 1780s all working against him, Haydn didn’t return to the Mass text for fourteen years. After Prince Anton’s death in 1794, however, the new prince, Nicolaus II, called his Kapellmeister back into service. Whereas Prince Nicolaus I had preferred the isolation of Eszterháza in Hungary, Nicolaus II enjoyed the more urban setting of Vienna, and Haydn stayed in the city until his death in 1809 (with the exception of summers, when he travelled with the Esterházy court to Eisenstadt). As part of his duties, Haydn was required to write a Mass each year to celebrate the nameday of Princess Marie Hermenegild, Nicolaus II’s wife, and between 1796 and 1802 Haydn composed six Masses in fulfilment of this responsibility: the Heiligmesse, Paukenmesse, Nelsonmesse, Theresienmesse, Schöpfungsmesse and Harmoniemesse. Haydn’s relationship with Nicolaus II was sometimes rocky, but the Princess was much friendlier than her notoriously difficult husband and reportedly made sure that Haydn’s favourite wine (Málaga) was served to him on a regular basis. While some of Haydn’s contemporaries criticised his late Masses as ‘too cheerful to be sacred’, their exuberance is perhaps due at least in part to his warm relationship with the Princess.

Haydn’s association with the Esterházy family may have provided the impetus for most of his Mass settings, but his ideas about faith in general gave them their unique spirit. Haydn’s biographer Griesinger writes of the composer’s approach to religion: ‘Altogether his devotion was not of a sort which is gloomy and forever in penance but rather cheerful, reconciled, trusting—and in this mould his church music, too, is composed.’6 This optimistic quality caused a certain amount of consternation, particularly in regard to Haydn’s late Masses. According to Haydn’s student Sigismund Neukomm, some maligned the works for their ‘more elegant and less ecclesiastical style’7. Albert Christoph Dies, another contemporary biographer, commented that some listeners found Haydn’s lively tempos and frequent use of waltz-like metres more suitable for the dance hall than the church, while the theatrical arias ‘with their exaggeratedly sensual and superficial performances... can very easily banish devotion but can never awaken it’8. As these criticisms illustrate, listeners had particular expectations when it came to sacred music, and Haydn’s settings depend upon an intimate acquaintance with these established Viennese traditions. At the same time that the works illustrate his fluency with the vernacular of sacred music, however, the Masses display an inspiration and an originality that belong to Haydn alone.

Missa Cellensis in honorem BVM, ‘Cäcilienmesse’ in C major
(Hob.XXII:5; 1766–c.1776)

While historical context provides a wealth of information about a work, the Missa Cellensis illustrates how difficult it can be to determine exactly when or where a Mass—which theoretically could be performed at any time in the church calendar—was first performed. After becoming the Esterházy Kapellmeister in 1766, Haydn began composing a large missa solemnis or ‘number Mass’, an elaborate setting with expanded orchestration in which the standard sections of the Ordinary were subdivided into additional movements. The resulting work—one of the largest Mass settings ever composed—was known until relatively recently as the Missa Sanctae Caeciliae or Cäcilienmesse. Although Haydn had called the piece ‘Missa Cellensis’ in the catalogue he kept of his own works, it was assumed that the composer had simply confused it with the Missa Cellensis of 1782. A partial manuscript inscribed with Haydn’s original title was discovered in 1975, however, confirming that the work was written for one occasion and subsequently reused for another purpose—a relatively common practice when it came to Mass settings. In its guise as the Missa Cellensis, the work was probably performed at one of the private services commemorating a pilgrimage to the church of Mariazell, a popular site approximately 80 miles from Vienna to which many devotees (including Haydn) travelled on foot. One such service took place on 8 September 1766, the feast of the Nativity BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary), at the Styrian Confraternity in Vienna, and it is possible that the Missa Cellensis was performed on this occasion. Although there is no existing documentation other than the alternate title, the Mass may have been reprised at the feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, perhaps at the behest of the Cäcilienbruderschaft (St Cecilia Brotherhood).

Scored for strings, oboes, bassoon, trumpets, timpani and organ in addition to soloists and choir, the Missa Cellensis may originally have consisted of the Kyrie and Gloria alone, with the other sections added in the mid-1770s for the other occasion at which the Mass was performed. Haydn draws upon the wealth of musical styles and traditions associated with the Viennese Mass throughout the lengthy setting, almost as if he were relishing the task of writing his first Mass setting for his employers. The Kyrie begins with a brief slow introduction for choir alone, incorporating dotted rhythms that proceed naturally from the rhythm of the text. The first ‘Kyrie’ is boldly stated by unison choir, supported by scurrying strings that generate palpable energy. In accordance with Viennese tradition, Haydn sets the ‘Christe’ as a distinct section that is further distinguished with the use of solo voice (tenor). The final ‘Kyrie’ unfolds in an elaborate fugue, paying homage to a compositional technique that was used less and less frequently in eighteenth-century Mass settings. In a festive Mass setting, the lengthy Gloria text could be divided into as few as two and as many as ten or eleven movements. Here, Haydn transforms the Gloria into seven separate movements with distinctly different characters, ranging from the ornate counterpoint of the ‘Gratias agimus tibi’ to the vocal pyrotechnics of the soprano solo ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’. In the Credo, Haydn employs a rhetorical technique common in eighteenth-century Mass settings but which he never used again: repeating the word ‘Credo’ (‘I believe’) throughout the movement to unify the sections and underscore the section’s basic premise.

In comparison to the previous sections, the choral Sanctus is surprisingly brief, serving as a reminder that the function of Mass settings was liturgical as well as aesthetic. As a church handbook advocated in 1826, the Sanctus needed to be short, ‘because during the consecration strict silence must prevail over the organ as well as choir so that nobody is disturbed in the worship of the moment [the consecration of the Host]’9. After the elevation of the Host, the Benedictus was then sung ‘in a lofty manner’, usually by a vocal soloist or small ensemble. Haydn departs from convention in the Benedictus and uses full chorus throughout the movement, a tactic he reused nearly thirty years later in the Heiligmesse. Particularly effective are the repeated statements of ‘Benedictus’ (‘blessed’), which sound almost like an incantation. The use of the full chorus in the Benedictus stands in stark contrast to the Agnus Dei, in which Haydn creates a more personal plea with the use of solo voice (bass) throughout. As was common practice, the Missa Cellensis triumphantly concludes at ‘Dona nobis pacem’ with a grand fugue in triple metre, both calling attention to the text’s lilting rhythm and—perhaps unintentionally— leaving listeners with a subconscious reminder of the Holy Trinity.

Jennifer More Glagov


¹ James Webster, ‘Haydn’s sacred vocal music and the aesthetics of salvation’ in Haydn Studies, ed. W. Dean Sutcliffe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 35
² H.C. Robbins Landon, Haydn, Chronicle and Works, Vol. IV (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 124
³ Daniel Heartz, Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, 1740–1780 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995), 237
4 Ibid., 236
5 Oxford Composer Companions: Haydn, ed. David Wyn Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 289
6 Landon, IV, 124
7 Ibid., 125
8 Ibid.
9 Bruce C. MacIntyre, The Viennese Concerted Mass of the Early Classic Period (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1986), 419

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