About this Recording
8.572125 - HAYDN, J.: Masses, Vol. 5 - Masses Nos. 5, "Grosse Orgelsolomesse" and 9, "Heiligmesse" (Trinity Choir, Rebel Baroque Orchestra, Burdick)
English  German 

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 in honorem BVM, ‘Grosse Orgelsolomesse’ in E flat major (Hob.XXII:4; 1768–9)

Haydn’s Mass settings illustrate many different uses for sacred music in the Austrian court, several of which converge in the Grosse Orgelsolomesse (‘Large Organ Solo Mass’), also known as the Missa in honorem BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary). Composed around 1768 or 1769, the Mass was probably first performed on a Marian feast day, highlighting the veneration of the Virgin Mary that was a vital part of worship in the Habsburg Empire. (Like many Mass settings, the work was later recycled for use on St Joseph’s Day as the Missa Sancti Josephi.) The Mass is also a good example of the Austrian tradition of Mass settings featuring obbligato organ; the solo organ part, which Haydn probably played himself, offers delicately worded commentary throughout. While Haydn stays true to techniques common in Viennese Mass settings, in other aspects the work is quite unique. Haydn augments the traditional church ensemble of violins and continuo with horns and cors anglais, instruments more commonly used in secular music. (Haydn may have added parts for trumpets and timpani at a later date, as manuscript copies of the Mass dating from the 1770s suggest.) Equally atypical is Haydn’s use of E flat major, a choice that may be linked to the presence of the cors anglais. (In the Stabat Mater, the two movements featuring cors anglais—‘O quam tristis’ and ‘Virgo virginum praeclara’—are also in the key of E flat.)

As is evident from its opening measures, the Grosse Orgelsolomesse has a quality that is at once melancholy and lyrically sweet, and this distinctive hue colours even the most standard elements of the work. In the Kyrie, gently descending melodies, quasi-improvisatory organ interjections, and occasional inflections of the minor mode create a ruminative mood that still prevails in the opening of the Gloria, as the chorus intones ‘Et in terra pax’. Haydn’s subtle approach to text continues throughout the Gloria, which also takes advantage of the standard use of solo and ensemble to express text and enliven the lengthy section. At the phrase ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’, for example, Haydn sets ‘Qui tollis’ (‘Thou that takest away’) in an extremely low register, and places ‘peccata mundi’ (‘sins of the world’) in a much higher range. Although it was not unusual to give this phrase special musical treatment, Haydn’s approach simultaneously illustrates God’s power and strength as well as the literal banishment of frivolous, worldly offenses. In the Credo, Haydn approaches the ‘Crucifixus’ with similar elegance, using sombre imitation to create a ponderous weight that completely avoids pathos. The Sanctus likewise begins with gentle imitation that poetically converges in unison chorus at the words ‘Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua’ (‘Heaven and Earth are full of your glory’). Haydn uses the slightly expanded musical forces to dramatic effect as well. In the Benedictus, the organ provides ornate decoration throughout (Haydn actually designated the part ‘Organo concerto’), while in the Agnus Dei, baleful cors anglais echo the section’s bittersweet sentiment.

Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida, ‘Heiligmesse’ in B flat major (Hob.XXII:10; 1796)

While the Grosse Orgelsolomesse was among the earliest sacred works Haydn composed for the Esterházy court, the Heiligmesse was perhaps the first Mass that Haydn composed after his return to the Esterházy court in 1796 to serve the new Prince, Nicolaus II. Haydn titled the setting Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida, referring to the seventeenth-century Capuchin monk Bernard of Offida, whom Pope Pius VI had beatified the previous year. In 1796 the Feast of Maria Namen (the Most Holy Name of Mary) coincided with the Feast of St Bernard on 11 September, and although no concrete supporting evidence exists it seems likely that the work was performed on that day. Records reveal a remarkable program for the 1796 celebrations, featuring a month-long season of plays and operas that included Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and a play entitled Alfred for which Haydn wrote incidental music. In May 1802 the Heiligmesse was the first of Haydn’s Masses to be published by Breitkopf and Härtel. A few months later, a review in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung declared: ‘This work attests anew Haydn’s inexhaustible invention, his admirable novelty of ideas and their development; almost everything is new, and especially several movements, in their accompaniment and orchestration, show that in the soul of this old man there blooms eternal youth.’9

As the gently lyrical Kyrie makes clear, the Heiligmesse is the most overtly melodious of Haydn’s Mass settings. Not everyone found this tuneful quality appealing, however. One critic wrote in 1826, ‘when we hear the Kyrie eleison sung to a minuet tune, our feelings and judgement—resulting, it may be said, from a cold, Protestant education—lead us to consider such a style as a breach of religious propriety, and a violation of good sense’10. Haydn creatively merges this ‘minuet tune’ with the imitative texture usually associated with the second Kyrie, slyly segueing into a full-scale development section. The work also conceals several pre-existing tunes, one of which gave rise to the work’s nickname. In the Credo, Haydn wryly borrows from his own three-part canon Gott im Herzen (Hob.XXVIIb:44) for the ‘Et incarnatus est’ section: ‘Gott im Herzen, ein gut Weibchen im Arm, / Jenes macht selig, dieses g’wiss warm’ (‘God in the heart and a good woman on the arm, / One makes us holy, the other one warm’).11 Haydn selected a slightly more appropriate source for the Sanctus, an old German Sanctus tune called ‘Heilig, heilig’ (‘Holy, holy’), which he conceals in the inner voices (but points out in the manuscript by writing the word ‘Heilig’ over the alto part). Another distinctive feature of the Mass is the large role given to the choir, which takes the lead through much of the setting. Most striking is the setting of the Benedictus for full chorus throughout, something Haydn does only one other time, in his first Missa Cellensis. As the review published shortly after the work’s 1802 publication exudes, ‘…it is certain that anyone with a heart, and to whom music means anything at all, must grasp the meaning of this Benedictus and the following Agnus Dei’12. The rapturous calm of the Agnus Dei is quickly supplanted by the jubilant ‘Dona nobis pacem’, in which soft interjections and a surprising deceptive cadence slightly delay the inevitable exuberant conclusion.

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 Ibid., 158
10 Ibid., 140
11 Ibid., 131
12 Ibid., 161

Close the window