Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mass), H XXII:11
Sanctus and Benedictus
Joseph Haydn spent the last fourteen years of his life in Vienna, in a house which he had bought with the proceeds of his two visits to London. He continued to hold the title of Kapellmeister, or director of music, to the Esterházy family, which had employed him for so long. But in his last years this was purely honorary, except that his Prince gave him a pension which allowed him a comfortable retirement. And even before that, although he had to spend some time at the family’s old palace at Eisenstadt, he was never required to travel to the massive summer palace of Eszterháza in the wilds of Hungary. The principal task which his position entailed was to compose and direct a new Mass each year to celebrate the name-day (the saint’s day corresponding to a person’s Christian name) of his patron’s wife Princess Marie Hermenegild. This duty he discharged in a series of six masterpieces composed every year except one between 1796 and 1802.
These late Masses are 'symphonic' in construction: instead of being divided into separate numbers as in Bach’s B minor Mass (and Mozart’s 'Unfinished' Mass in C minor), the five sections (with Kyrie and Christe combined, and also Sanctus and Benedictus) are treated as large-scale continuous entities. By the same token, the four soloists are not allocated separate arias, but emerge from the four-part chorus in short passages of solo and ensemble writing.
For the most part the music of these Masses reflects Haydn’s sincere, untroubled faith: a contemporary recorded him as defending their cheerfulness by saying that "at the thought of God his heart leapt for joy, and he could not help his music’s doing the same". But there is a greater seriousness and urgency about much of the third Mass in the series. It is the only one of Haydn’s late Masses in a minor key, D minor; and even its major-key music is often unusually stark – as in the first section of the Credo, with its orchestral introduction in octaves and its extended two-part canon in the voices.
The reason for this austerity – and for the title of Missa in Angustiis, or “Mass in time of peril” – lies in the date of the work’s composition. It was written during July and August 1798, for performance at the parish church in Eisenstadt in September. This was a time at which the Allies’ war against Revolutionary France was going badly, and much of Austria was occupied by the French. According to one contemporary account (which has been called into question by recent scholarship), the war also impinged on the work in a more specific way. Haydn, it is said, was at work on it when a courier arrived with the news of Admiral Nelson’s victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile (on 3 August 1798), and the announcement became translated into musical terms as the stirring trumpet fanfare at the end of the Benedictus section. The nickname of 'Nelson' Mass, however, stems not from this moment, but from a visit which Nelson, together with Sir William and Lady Hamilton, paid to Eisenstadt in September 1800 – a visit which is traditionally supposed to have included a performance of the Mass.
Haydn’s own scoring of the 'Nelson' Mass was for three trumpets, timpani, strings and organ – alternating between its traditional function as continuo accompanist and a written-out solo part. The organ in this obbligato role seems to have been no more than a makeshift replacement for woodwind and horns, which at that time had been removed from the Esterházy payroll in a wartime economy drive. Later – most probably for the 1800 performance – Haydn’s assistant and successor at Eisenstadt, Johann Nepomuk Fuchs (1766–1839), added parts for a wind section of flute, oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoon, which take over the organ’s solo passages and allow it to revert to its usual accompanying role. It is in this version, presumably authorised and supervised by Haydn himself, that the Mass will be performed this evening.
© Anthony Burton
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Scena di Berenice (H.XVIIa:10)
Haydn’s compositions for his two triumphant visits to London included not only his last twelve symphonies, but also an opera and a number of smaller pieces both for instruments and for voice. Among them is this Scena, one of his finest vocal works, which was first performed at his final benefit concert on 4 May 1795. (The so-called 'London' Symphony, No 104, had its premiere in the same programme.) The piece was written for the celebrated prima donna Brigida Giorgi Banti, and her performance at the concert was generally admired – though Haydn wrote in his diary, in his delightful English (or perhaps recording a London witticism), that Signora Banti had sung "very scanty".
The text of Scena di Berenice is from Antigono, by the great librettist of baroque opera, Pietro Metastasio. The heroine, Berenice, has fallen in love with Demetrius, the son (by a previous marriage) of her husband Antigonus. Demetrius has decided to abandon Berenice and commit suicide, rather than dishonour the family name. Berenice struggles with her conflicting emotions, imagines her lover departing for the underworld, and calls on the gods to bring her life to an end.
Haydn set this text as a large-scale operatic scene, with a brilliant solo part, and a prominent role for the wind section of flute, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns in the accompanying orchestra. A striking and forward-looking feature of the work is its lack of a consistent key-centre, reflecting the heroine’s increasingly distracted state of mind. The opening recitative roves restlessly from key to key, though at Aspetta, anima bella it settles for a moment in C major for an oboe and bassoon melody of Gluck-like calm. The slow first aria, Non partir, bell’idol mio, in E major, breaks off for a further passage of recitative, leading to the fiery concluding aria, Perchè, se tanti siete, in F minor.
© Anthony Burton
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No 101 in D major 'The Clock' (1794)
Adagio - Presto
Long before he left rural Esterháza, where he was musical director for 24 years, Haydn’s services were in wide demand. His Seven Last Words from the Cross had been commissioned by Spain, his 'Paris' symphonies by France. His Op 50 quartets were composed for the King of Prussia, and even the fickle Viennese had their eye on him. Though he was now almost sixty, inspiration still flowed. In 1790, belatedly resident in Vienna, he was called upon in his rooms by an impresario who announced himself with famous words: “I am Salomon of England,” said the visitor, “and I have come to take you to London.” Far from showing Salomon the door, Haydn agreed to a commission for the series of masterpieces we know as the London symphonies, the performances of which he was to direct in person.
Between 1791 and 1795, Haydn travelled twice to London, taking more than a fortnight to get there and lingering a year and a half on each occasion. For a senior composer who had lived a mostly sheltered life, these journeys through Germany and France and across the Channel seemed greatly perilous. Before setting off the first time, he bade an emotional farewell to his dear friend and disciple, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who with uncanny premonition expressed the fear that they would never meet again – though in fact it was young Mozart who would die at home in Vienna and old Haydn who would prosper.
The 'Clock' symphony, launched during his second London visit, is a work with all the advantages – an attractive nickname, a wealth of melody, a constant sense of surprise, a Beethovenian assertiveness, and a stupendous finale, one of Haydn’s very best. The slow introduction, in the "wrong" key, holds things in suspense until the Allegro arrives in the 'right' key. The slow movement underpins its adorable theme with ticking bassoons and pizzicato strings, later replaced by battering and by no means comic brass. The Menuet has grandeur, except in the trio section where the players emulate a rustic band. But it is the finale, complete with an audaciously sotto voce double fugue, that forms the symphony's explicit destination. It shows what Salomon expected of Haydn, and Haydn of Salomon’s London orchestra.
© Conrad Wilson
Every year the SCO brings the world’s finest musicians, yet it is still a special thrill when an artist of the stature of Adam Fischer makes his debut with the Orchestra. Haydn is his passion: he created both a festival and an orchestra to perform the great man’s work. He comes to Scotland with a blockbuster programme to show Haydn in symphonic, operatic and grand styles.