About this Recording
8.572127 - HAYDN, J.: Masses, Vol. 7 - Masses Nos. 2 (revised) and 13, "Schopfungsmesse" (Trinity Choir, Rebel Baroque Orchestra, Burdick, Glover)
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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 brevis (1805 revision) in F major (Hob.XXII:1; 1749, revised 1805)

In 1789 the German music-publishing firm of Breitkopf and Härtel wrote to Haydn requesting music to publish, and it subsequently issued a two-movement keyboard sonata (Hob.XIV:48) as part of a continuing series Musikalischer Pot-Pourri—or as Haydn sarcastically called it, the ‘Musical Vegetable Pot’9. Despite Haydn’s seeming disdain for their initial collaboration, the firm became Haydn’s principal publisher after 1796. Although at first they were not interested in any of Haydn’s sacred music, they re-evaluated their decision after the success of The Creation and The Seasons, publishing five of the six late Masses after 1802 (with the exception of the Theresienmesse, which Haydn curiously did not offer the firm). Breitkopf and Härtel’s new interest in his vocal music led Haydn to revisit some of his more youthful works, among them the early Missa brevis in F. In 1805 one of Haydn’s visitors wrote, ‘By chance he had found one of his earliest works, a small Mass... This composition pleased him anew, and now he is adding parts to it, in order that this earliest and perhaps last product of his genius could be presented to Prince Esterházy as a sign of grateful recognition.’10 Haydn significantly expanded the work’s orchestration, adding flute, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and timpani to the setting he had composed over fifty years prior. The Missa brevis may indeed have been presented to Nicolaus II, but the motivation behind the work’s reorchestration was likely more mercenary. According to Griesinger, who served as Haydn’s liaison to Breitkopf and Härtel, the setting was among twelve works offered for sale in 1805. While the firm purchased the music, most of it (including the revised Missa brevis) never made it into print.

Missa, ‘Schöpfungsmesse’ (‘Creation Mass’) in B flat major (Hob.XXII:13; 1801)

First performed on 13 September 1801 at the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, the Schöpfungsmesse, or ‘Creation Mass’, derives its nickname from a notorious musical reference to Haydn’s famous oratorio The Creation, which had first been performed in 1798. Although he was nearly seventy, Haydn was apparently still very much involved in the performance of his music. As one orchestra member later reported, when unhappy with the organist’s rendition of a solo passage in the Mass, Haydn ran ‘with the agility of a weasel’ to the organ and played it himself. While no specific account of the nameday festivities exists, it was reported that Haydn’s brother Michael was present at the Schöpfungsmesse’s first performance, and he conducted a performance of the Theresienmesse on 4 October at Laxenbourg Castle, the summer residence of Nicolaus II. Knowing that his Kapellmeister was likely nearing the end of his career, the Prince offered Michael a job at the Esterházy court—a position he ultimately refused.

One of the Schöpfungsmesse’s most distinguishing features is its marvellous musical illustration—and the Gloria provides perhaps the most distinctive (and certainly best-known) example. Shortly after the powerful choral opening, horns announce the melody from Adam and Eve’s duet ‘The dew-dropping morn, how she quickens all!’ from The Creation. The familiar tune subsequently accompanies the phrase ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ (‘Thou that takest away the sins of the world’), making the wry connection between the ‘sins of the world’ and its original sinners. As Griesinger explains:

In the Mass which Haydn wrote in the year 1801, it occurred to him at the ‘Qui tollis’ that weak mortals sinned mostly against moderation and chastity only. So he set the words ‘Qui tollis, peccata, peccata mundi’ entirely from the passage in The Creation, ‘Der thauende Morgen, o wie ermuntert er’. In order that this profane thought should not be too conspicuous, however, he let the ‘Miserere’ enter right afterwards with the full chorus.11

While the brief appearance of this familiar melody probably made many in the audience smile, at least one of Haydn’s admirers wasn’t amused. The Empress Marie Therese was so upset by Haydn’s reuse of secular music in the context of the Mass, in fact, that Haydn felt compelled to write an alternate version of this section for her. Other picturesque elements are less controversial. In the Credo, a delicate organ obbligato—evoking a dove’s fluttering wings to symbolise the Holy Ghost—introduces ‘Et incarnatus est’, a slow, rhapsodic solo that poetically underscores the birth of Christ. The chorus’s forceful interjection at the important phrase ‘sub Pontio Pilato: / passus et sepultus est’ (‘under Pontius Pilate: / suffered and was buried’) gives further emphasis to this important liturgical moment. Just as striking is the sudden and cataclysmic enactment of the Last Judgement at ‘judicare vivos’ (‘to judge the living’), which quickly dissolves into a droning evocation of the dead (‘et mortuos’). As he had done in The Seasons, which had had its premiere under five months earlier, Haydn uses music in the Schöpfungsmesse to make the words truly come alive.

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 Wyn Jones, 25
10 Landon, V, 338
11 Ibid., 201

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