St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Music notes : Missa Rorate coeli desuper

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SUNDAY, 30 NOVEMBER, 2008, 10.30am


Sung to the

- Frans Joseph Haydn
1732 - 1809

This is Haydn's earliest known mass, only rediscovered in the library of an Austrian Abbey in 1957. Its authenticity is established from its inclusion by name, together with a notation of the principal theme, in Haydn's own thematic catalogue. It must have been written prior to 1749, whilst Haydn was still a choirboy of Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Subsequently, other manuscript sources were found, most bearing an attribution to Haydn's teacher, Georg Reutter, who was Kapellmeister of the cathedral; some to Ferdinand Arbesser, the cathedral’s organist. It is assumed - perhaps unjustly, given the contradictory indications of composer - that Reutter helped himself to his talented pupil's early offering and marketed it as his own.

The simple little mass, which is in fact Haydn's earliest known work, is scored for four part chorus, two violins and continuo. It is truly tiny - the entire work, including Gloria and Credo lasting but 8 minutes. The title of the mass, Rorate coeli desuper, is the Vulgate text of Isaiah 45:8 (“Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain justice”) The text is used frequently both at Mass and in the Offices during Advent, as it reflects the long-held yearning of the Prophets for the coming of the Messiah.

This morning’s mass is the first of ten masses by Haydn which we hope to present during this liturgical year, in honour of the composer’s bicentenary. The next in the series will be the Missa Sancti Nicolai, for the Christmass high mass at 10.30am.

As the church clearly cannot meet the significant cost of these masses from its normal operating budget, donations are being requested from lovers of liturgical music to make the series financially possible. A fundraising group is being established in this regard and any person who feels they can assist in this endeavour is invited to contact the Organist. In addition, anyone who would like to audition for the Choir of the Haydn Project (distinct from the Church Choir) is likewise invited to approach the Organist.



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