St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Music notes : Missa Sancti Joannis de Deo ("Kleine Orgelmesse")

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SUNDAY, 31 MAY, 2009 at 10.30am


Kleine Orgelmesse

- Franz Joseph Haydn
1732 - 1809


Joseph Haydn died on 31 May, 1809 and, to commemorate the bicentenary of his death, the high mass to day is sung to his seventh mass, the “Little Organ Mass”. It is a work of his full maturity, despite it recalling the little Jugendmesse of his youth in terms of its slight orchestration and limited writing for solo voice - in this case, only the soprano solo in the Benedictus.

The work was the mass which the composer wrote next after the celebrated S.Nicolai mass of 1772 (which we sang at the Christmass high mass) and dates from 1778. It is dedicated to St John of God, the patron saint of the Hospitallers, whose Viennese priory had been generous to Haydn in the days following his dismissal from the Stefansdom choir after his voice broke.

The mass was intended for performance in the tiny chapel of the Order at Eisenstadt, the Viennese home of the composer’s patrons, the Esterhazy family. The tiny organ loft of the chapel dictated the work’s dimensions: only parts for two violins and continuo, in the Viennese “Church Trio” tradition.

But the little chapel - despite its size - had a notable Baroque organ (still extant) which doubtless inspired Haydn to provide the relatively lengthy soprano solo of the Benedictus with an elaborate organ obligato part, the source of the work’s Austrian sobriquet, “Kleine Orgelmesse”).

Both the Gloria and Credo movements are of an remarkable brevity, achieved largely through the device of assigning different sections of text to different vocal parts; by way of contrast, the Benedictus and the lovely Agnus Dei are altogether more substantial movements, which on their own would suggest their being part of a far grander overall conception.

The service concludes with Mozart’s ebullient C major setting of the Regina coeli (K108).

As the significant cost of these masses cannot come from our normal operating budget, we request donations from lovers of liturgical music. Please contact either the Organist or the Rector in this regard. In addition, singers who would like to audition for the Choir of the Haydn Project (distinct from the Church Choir) are likewise invited to approach the Organist.



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