J Haydn – Nelson Mass & W A Mozart – Coronation Mass

Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809): Austrian composer. He was accepted at age eight into the choir at St. Stephen’sCathedral, Vienna, where he learned violin and keyboard. On leaving the choir, he began supporting himself by teaching and playing violin, while undertaking a rigorous study of counterpoint and harmony. In Vienna he became factotum to the composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons. He gained entry to aristocratic circles and in 1761 he became head of the musical establishment at the great palace of the Esterházy family, who would support him for most of his career. In this position of artistic isolation but with excellent resources, Haydn was able to experiment, and his music became original. One of the principal shapers of the Classical style, he exerted major influence on composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Missa in angustiis (Mass in Time of Fear) aka Nelson Mass, was originally written to be performed on the name day of the Princess. However on the day of the first performance, information reached Vienna that Admiral Nelson had cornered the French fleet at Alexandria and blown it to smithereens. Haydn could not have known about the victory as he was writing the mass, but from the first performance it was referred to as ‘Nelson Missa’. Napoleon’s defeat changed the way the mass was experienced; the menacing opening leading into the drama that followed became a depiction of danger and agitation supplanted by triumphant victory. The orchestra available to Haydn was reduced to a string ensemble plus organ. Haydn brought in timpani and natural trumpets in D which combined to create a stark and powerful sound world.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791): Austrian composer. Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, Mozart was engaged as a musician at the Salzburg court but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his early death at the age of 35. The circumstances of his death have been much mythologized. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence is profound on subsequent Western art music. Joseph Haydn wrote: “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years”.

The Coronation Mass is one of Mozart’s best known and most popular sacred works. In 1779 Mozart took up a position in the archbishop’s service in Salzburg. He was to “unbegrudgingly and with great diligence discharge his duties both in the cathedral and at court and in the chapel house, and as occasion presents, to provide the court and church with new compositions of his own creation”. At the first opportunity Mozart fulfilled this demand, composing the mass for the Easter Day service on 4th April 1779. The musical style of the piece corresponds to the hybrid form that was preferred by the archbishop: its use of wind instruments suggests a “Solemn Mass”, and its length suggests a “Short Mass”. Mozart himself described his task in a letter: “Our church music is very different to that of Italy, all the more so since a mass with all its movements, even for the most solemn occasions when the sovereign himself reads the mass [e.g. Easter Day], must not last more than 3 quarters of an hour. One needs a special training for this kind type of composition, and it must also be a mass with all instruments – war trumpets, tympani etc.” It therefore had to be a grand ceremonial setting, but the mass also needed to have a compact structure. Mozart therefore omits formal closing fugues for the Gloria and Credo, the Credo with its problematic, vast text is in a tight rondo form, and the Dona nobis pacem recalls the music of the Kyrie.

Soloists: Brittany Smith – soprano, Monica Mhangwana – alto, Phenye Modiane – tenor, Hendré van Zyl – bass

Conducted by Richard Cock.

February 5, 2023 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Linder Auditorium