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8.572128 - HAYDN, J.: Masses, Vol. 8 - Masses Nos. 7, "Kleine Orgelsolomesse", 12, "Theresienmesse" (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 brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, ‘Kleine Orgelsolomesse’ in B flat major (Hob.XXII:7; 1774)

The first of the two Masses Haydn composed between 1772 and 1796, the Kleine Orgelsolomesse (‘Small Organ Solo Mass’) in B flat—also known as the Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo – was intended for the Eisenstadt church of the Barmherzige Brüder (Order of St John of God). A religious order with members known for their medical abilities, the Barmherzige Brüder had great faith in the healing powers of music, which occupied a prominent place in its services. The order’s Eisenstadt centre was intimately bound to the Esterházy court, and provided its employees with medical care and prescriptions (Haydn was reportedly given ‘chest powder’, ‘stomach elixir’, herbal tea and ‘tooth powder’). Although Haydn did not inscribe a date on the manuscript, as he often did, the work was probably composed in the mid-1770s and performed on the feast day of John of God, the Barmherzige Brüder’s patron saint. The small forces for which the work is scored—chorus, solo soprano, and the typical church ensemble of two violins and continuo—reflect the institution’s modest resources.  Orgelsolomesse merges standard missa brevis techniques with Haydn’s ingenious approach to the genre. As in the Missa brevis in F, he shortens the lengthy Gloria and Credo sections by setting lines of text simultaneously. The Gloria was so short, in fact, that Haydn’s brother Michael composed a version ‘un poco più prolongato’ (‘a little more prolonged’). In other sections, however, Haydn replaces customary procedures with his own unique approach. In the Benedictus the rhapsodic aria for solo soprano is accompanied by strings and obbligato organ, as in the Grosse Orgelsolomesse, logically prompting the nickname, Kleine Orgelsolomesse. And in the Agnus Dei Haydn foregoes the traditional reuse of music from the Kyrie, surprisingly overriding the customary change in character at ‘Dona nobis pacem’ to end the work in the same contemplative mood in which it began.

Missa, ‘Theresienmesse’ in B flat major (Hob.XXII:12; 1799)

The fourth of the six nameday Masses, the Theresien­messe was so called because of the belief that the work was written for Marie Therese, the wife of Emperor Francis II and the soprano soloist in The Creation and The Seasons. (A few years later, Michael Haydn com­posed a Mass that was certainly dedicated to the Em­press, the Missa Sancti Theresa.) It is now thought that the Empress had the work in her library simply because she was an avid collector of Haydn’s music, rather than because she was the dedicatee. A contemporary account of the first performance vividly illustrates the opulence of the nameday festivities:

At 3:00 we saw the table in the Great Hall, fifty-four strong. A lot of toasts were drunk, which were always announced by trumpets and drums from the gallery and by the thunder of cannon in front of the Castle. The Prince also drank a toast to Haydn’s health, and everyone joined in. The banquet went on till 5 o’clock, but the spirit wasn’t really cheery despite eighty dishes and all sorts of wines. That evening there was a grand ball.

As was typical of Viennese Masses from the period—and was particularly true of Haydn’s late Masses—the Theresienmesse owes much of its dramatic effect to its effortless intermingling of the quartet of soloists with powerful choral writing, as well as its use of traditional elements of Mass settings in new ways. After a slow introduction, Haydn proceeds through the entire textural gamut in the first statement of the Kyrie alone, redefining the counterpoint that historically concludes the second Kyrie as development material. He also uses changes in musical texture to add meaning not necessarily explicit in the words, as would have been expected. In the Gloria, for example, the text ‘Gratias agimus tibi’ is accorded to soloists, creating a feeling of immediacy and intimacy absent in the verse itself. A similar effect occurs in the Credo. After a unified choral opening that accentuates the text’s main idea (belief in a single God), solo voices express the heavy emotions that accompany the Crucifixion (‘Et incarnatus est’). Likewise, solo voices create an oasis of tranquillity within the happily assertive ‘Dona nobis pacem’ (‘Grant us peace’).

While the dramatic use of chorus and soloists was of course expected in the Viennese Mass, Haydn’s symphonic use of form is much more idiosyncratic, particularly in the Theresienmesse. In the Kyrie, for example, the main subject (the melodic fragment that each voice gradually imitates) of the fugue is based on musical material from the introduction, revealing a concern for large-scale coherence more typical of a symphony. The Kyrie concludes with a reprise of the slow introduction, creating a three-part form that not only recalls the tripartite textual structure (‘Kyrie eleison’—‘Christe eleison’—‘Kyrie eleison’) but also the three-part sonata form that had become standard in the first movement of a symphony. As well as inspiring form and melodic development, the instruments are vital to the mood of individual sections. In the Gloria, sparkling string flourishes echo the jubilant text, as do brilliant trumpet fanfares after ‘Benedicimus te’ and ‘Adoramus te’. Trumpets again punctuate the mention of the death of Christ, in the Credo. And at the words ‘Dona nobis pacem’ (‘Grant us peace’) in the Agnus Dei, the strings, trumpets and timpani interject an almost martial tone that foreshadows the exhilaratingly dramatic 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.

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