Thursday, 16 October 2008

178. Joseph Haydn - Mass in D minor, "Nelson" (1798)


Title: Missa "in Angustiis": "Nelson" Mass, Te Deum
Performers: English Concert & Choir
Director: Trevor Pinnock
Year: 1987
Length: 50 minutes


We haven't been as flush with church music in the recent past as we were during the Baroque, and that is not a bad thing. Sacred music is best digested slowly, when there is too much of it is can kind of meld together. Fortunately for us a small trickle of Sacred Music is very enjoyable, when it is of such high quality it is a great pleasure indeed.

This is a hard-hitting mass. It seems weird to us now that someone would want to go to church to listen to the cutting edge of music... but that is pretty much what people were doing here. This Haydn piece is a showcase of amazing composition both at an orchestral level and at a choral level.

Haydn has a limited orchestra with only strings, trumpets and timpani. He makes the best of a bad situation by infusing the mass with great martial thundering and contrasting it with moments of absolute sweetness. More impressive than that is the sheer horror with which it starts. The Kyrie is an astounding and panicked piece of music. The Benedictus goes into an amazing Martial march, sacred music at some of its most original. Highly recommended.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Though in 1798, when he wrote this Mass, Haydn's reputation was at its peak, his world was in turmoil. Napoleon had won four major battles with Austria in less than a year. The previous year, in early 1797, his armies had crossed the Alps and threatened Vienna itself. In May of 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt to destroy Britain's trade routes to the East.

The summer of 1798 was therefore a terrifying time for Austria, and when Haydn finished this Mass, his own title, in the catalogue of his works, was "Missa in Angustiis" or "Mass in Time of Distress." What Haydn didn't know when he wrote the Mass — but what he and his audience heard (perhaps on the very day of the first performance September 15) was that on Aug. 1, Napoleon had been dealt a stunning defeat in the Battle of the Nile by English forces led by Admiral Horatio Nelson. Because of this coincidence, the Mass gradually acquired the nickname "Lord Nelson Mass." The title became indelible when in 1800, Lord Nelson himself visited the Esterhazys (accompanied by his British mistress, Lady Hamilton), and may have heard the Mass performed.

Vermont Youth Orchestra does the Kyrie:

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