St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Music notes : Missa in tempore belli ("Paukenmesse")

E-mail Print PDF


SUNDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2009 at 10.30am



- Franz Joseph Haydn
1732 - 1809

Haydn's eighth mass, the Missa Cellensis or “Mariazeller mass“, which we heard at Easter this year, was the last of the masses Haydn wrote before his London sojourn. He had no occasion to write any further orchestral masses after 1782, since the liturgical reforms introduced by the Emperor Joseph II in the years 1782-1785 placed severe restrictions on the use of orchestral instruments in worship.

However, the Josephinian reforms did not long outlive their author’s death in 1790; and by the time that Prince Nicholas II acceded to the Esterhazy title in 1794 and requested Haydn to return to the princely court at Eisenstadt and resume his position as Kapellmeister, the full orchestral mass had returned to use for the Solemn Mass within the Empire.

Indeed, Haydn’s only fixed compositional obligation was to provide a new mass each year for the name day of Princess Maria Hermenegild, the Prince’s Liechtenstein-born wife. The result was the body of six great masses, written between 1796 and 1802. But that statement must immediately be qualified: there is considerable debate about the order of composition of the first two masses written by Haydn after his return, since the Missa Sancti Bernardi de Offida (the “Heilig Mass”) and today’s Missa in tempore belli were both written in 1796. It appears that the catalogue numbering is incorrect and that today’s mass is, in fact, the composer’s tenth. It was first performed in 1796 on the Feast of Stephen in the Piarist Church in Vienna and given its first performance at Eisenstadt on 29 September 1797, the Feast of St Michael.

The title of the work (“Mass in time of War”), which was Haydn’s own designation, refers to the gathering war clouds on the Austrian crown lands, as the young Napoleon fought his way ever deeper into Austrian territory in northern Italy while other Austrian troops were assisting in defending the southern Rhine crossings against French invasion. These ominous developments find full expression in the significant use of trumpets and timpani in the mass.

But the work also resonates with this particular feast and its associated reading from the Book of Revelation: “There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon...” Which surely explains why the first performance of the mass at Eisenstadt occurred on this feast, rather than earlier in September on the princess’s name day.

The orchestration is generous (oboes and bassoons, trumpets and timpani as well as a full string band and continuo) and there are additional optional parts for flute, clarinets and horns. The writing is undeniably symphonic, not merely in scale but in the employment of many formal characteristics. The opening Kyrie, for example, follows a typical Haydn first movement format with a slow introduction followed by an exposition, a brief development and a recapitulation.

The work is a splendid vehicle for soloists, chorus and orchestra and, together with the five companion masses of Haydn’s late period, is part of the single most distinguished body of liturgical writing from the Classical period.

The soloist today are Beverley Chiat, Violina Anguelov, Willem Bester and Barend van der Westhuizen. The orchestra is led by Patrick Goodwin and the cello solos are played by Kristiyan Chernev.

The motet is Factum est silentium by the English composer Richard Dering. (ca.1580 - 1630), which was published in Antwerp in 1618 in the composer’s Cantica sacra for six voices. He was at the time organist of the English Convent in Brussels. In 1625 he returned to England as organist to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, a post he held until his death.

Factum est silentium in caelo. dum committeret bellum draco cum Michaele Archangelo. Audita est vox, milia milium, dicentium: Salus, honor et virtus omnipotenti Deo. Alleluia.

(There was silence in heaven whilst the dragon joined battle with the Archangel Michael. A cry was heard - thousands of thousands proclaiming: ‘Salvation and honour and power be to Almighty God’. Alleluia.)



January 2021 February 2021
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Upcoming Events