Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Nelson Mass; Kleine Orgelmesse
It was only after the death of the Emperor Joseph II in 1790 that the way was once more open to composers to provide settings of the liturgy with full orchestral accompaniment. The removal of the Josephine restrictions of the previous ten years by the new Emperor Leopold II, followed in 1792 by his successor, Franz II, made feasible Mozart's great unfinished Requiem and the six Masses written by Haydn between 1796 and 1802. Of these the so-called Nelson Mass is one of the greatest.
Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 in Rohrau in Lower Austria, the son of a wheelwright. Unlike Mozart, he was to enjoy a long and successful life well into the early years of the next century. His father gave him all the encouragement needed to start a musical career and at the age of eight, possessed of a fine treble voice, he joined the choir of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Over a period of some ten years as a chorister he received training in instrumental and vocal music, with rather less instruction in music theory, a knowledge of which he acquired, as he later said, largely through the music he knew and performed. After leaving the choir school he was obliged to find work to support himself, serving as an accompanist, teaching and performing. His main chance came when he entered the service of the Esterh�zy family in 1761, as Deputy Kapellmeister, eventually, under Prince Nikolaus, succeeding in 1766 as Kapellmeister, now commissioned by this wealthiest of benefactors to write operas, symphonies, quartets and all kinds of music and to take charge of the Prince's musical establishment, principally based at the new Palace of Eszterh�za. Apart from a period in the 1790s when he travelled to London for two seasons, most of Haydn's music was written for the princely family and their residences in Vienna, Eisenstadt and Eszterh�za. The last of these, where Haydn worked for nearly 25 years, provided a degree of isolation and the incentive for the composition of a vast quantity of music, as well as the convenience of having his own permanent orchestra to work with.
The death of Prince Nikolaus Esterh�zy in 1790 put an end to this relationship and the Prince's successor disbanded the orchestra, so that Haydn's services were no longer needed, although he retained his salary and the title of Kapellmeister. He now moved to Vienna, shortly to accept an invitation from the violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon to visit England, where he spent some eighteen months from early 1791, enjoying huge success and receiving an honorary degree at Oxford. Salomon invited Haydn to London again in 1794 with a commission for six further symphonies and from Spring 1794 until Summer 1795 Haydn was again acclaimed by the London public.
The accession of anew Esterh�zy Prince led in 1796 to a rekindling of interest in music and the return of Haydn to duties under the family's patronage, now principally at Eisenstadt. The period brought some of Haydn's greatest works, including the oratorio The Creation in 1798 and The Seasons in 1801, as well as the three great late Masses, the Missa in tempore belli (Paukenmesse) in 1796, the so-called Nelson Mass in 1798 and the Harmoniemesse in 1802. In this last year Haydn's health began to deteriorate and he was to die five years later, as Napoleon's troops again occupied Vienna.
The Nelson Mass is a particularly dramatic and emotional work, well suited to the grandeur of the hero from whom it takes its familiar name. In truth, the title of Nelson has little or nothing to do with the work that Haydn had called Missa in angustiis (�Mass in time of tribulation�). The Mass was composed, dated in Haydn's own hand, between 10th July and 31st August, presumably intended for the name day of Princess Esterh�zy. The connection with the English admiral is derived from the fact that the work was first performed shortly after news of Nelson's defeat of Napoleon's fleet at Aboukir Bay had reached the Austrian capital. There is also some suggestion that Haydn added a trumpet call in the Benedictus recalling the courier's own trumpet call when news of the battle was brought to Prince Esterh�zy. Whatever the truth of this, since that time the name of Nelson has been associated with the Mass and both Nelson, with Sir William and Lady Hamilton, met Haydn in September 1800 during a four-day visit to Eisenstadt during which there seems to have been a performance of the Mass.
The Nelson Mass was originally scored for three trumpets, timpani, strings and organ, with the organ part later transcribed by the Esterh�zy Kapellmeister Johann Nepomuk Fuchs for woodwind. The Mass is truly symphonic and opens impressively, trumpets and drums to the fore in the ominous key of D minor, before the entry of the soprano soloist. The joyful Gloria is in three sections, a D major Allegro in which soloists are contrasted with the full choir, followed by a B flat major Qui tollis, marked Adagio, opening with a bass solo and moving to D minor with an accompaniment of organ and strings. The final section recalls the first in a cheerful D major Allegro, leading to the customary fugal ending. The Credo is again in three sections, an Allegro con spirito and Vivace in D major framing a G major Largo that starts with a moving soprano solo, Et incarnatus est. The third section, Et resurrexit soon moves from B minor to D major once more, to end in triumph. The Sanctus starts with a meditative Adagio, soon leading to a livelier Pleni sunt coeli. The Benedictus, moving from D minor to an energetic D major Hosanna in excelsis, gives further prominence to the solo soprano, with continuingly demanding high tessitura. Solo voices are used in the G major Agnus Dei, a movement of prayerful serenity, before the final contrapuntal D major Dona nobis pacem.
The earlier Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo or Kleine Orgelmesse (�Little Organ Mass�) in B flat major was probably written in the winter of 1777-78 for the chapel of the Brothers of Mercy in Eisenstadt, in honour of the founder of the order, St John of God. It is on a much smaller scale than the Nelson Mass and was originally scored for violins and organ, with a soprano soloist in the Benedictus and a four-part choir. It is in six sections and follows contemporary practice of the Missa brevis in offering compact versions of the Gloria and Credo, with their relatively long texts, in which phrases are allowed to overlap. The Kyrie is an Adagio and the vigorous Gloria, introduced by the customary plainchant, is followed by a Credo that finds a place at its heart for a moving Adagio setting of the words Et incarnatus est. The Sanctus includes a Hosanna in excelsis of contrapuntal promise, while the Benedictus, with its more prominent organ accompaniment, introduces elaborate writing for the solo soprano, before the return of the Hosanna. The Agnus Dei pleads for mercy on sinners, the music dying away as the heartfelt Dona nobis pacem comes to an end.
ReviewsNaxos offers a spacious sound, which is excellent because the impression of a church acoustic is right for the music. He uses the original instrumental score-for strings, three trumpets, timpani and organ-but he attenuates the ascerbic impact of this combination somewhat by playing down the brass and percussion. - Nalen Anthoni, Gramophone, August 2000