St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Music notes : Missa Sancti Nicolai

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HIGH MASS FOR
THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD


MISSA SANCTI NICOLAI
H XXII 6

- Frans Joseph Haydn
1732 - 1809


This morning's setting of the Ordinary of the Mass is the Missa Sancti Nicolai (Mass of St Nicholas), composed in 1772 by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) to celebrate the name-day of his patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy. The feast is kept on 6 December.

The princely court spent the majority of the year at the magnificent Esterhaza Palace in Hungary, returning to the Viennese residence of the family, Eisenstadt, only for the winter. In 1772, the hunting and weather were particularly favourable and the prince delayed the return to Vienna to the chagrin of the court musicians, who were keen to get back to their own families. Haydn composed the celebrated "Farewell Symphony" as a gentle hint to the prince that it was time to leave; and so the first performance of this mass setting took place at Eisenstadt on the Prince's name day a few weeks later. Indeed, it is not too fanciful to see in it some expression of thanks.

The work is written for four soloists, four-part chorus and an orchestra consisting of two oboes, two horns, and the customary strings and continuo. It is the product of a composer who had attained his full stature as a musical craftsman, even if the greatest products of his genius, the extraordinary late symphonies and masses, lay some years in the future. The work is characterized by a light-hearted lyricism which is entirely appropriate for a nameday celebration, as also for the feast of the "children's saint". It has become a favoured setting for the Christmass masses in the great Viennese and Bavarian churches.

 

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