St Michael and All Angels

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Music notes : Missa Sancti Bernardi de Offida ("Heiligmesse")

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SUNDAY, 22 NOVEMBER 2009 at 10.30am


Hob. XXII:10

- 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 Esterhazy succeeded to the title in 1794 and requested Haydn to return to Austria and resume his position as Kapellmeister to the family, the full orchestral mass had returned to use for the Solemn Mass within the Empire.

Indeed, Haydn’s only compositional obligation was to write 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. There is some debate about the order of composition of the first two masses written by Haydn after his return, since today’s mass, Missa Sancti Bernardi de Offida, commonly called the “Heiligmesse”) and Missa in tempore belli (which we heard at Michaelmas) are both dated 1796. Recent scholarship suggests that the catalogue numbering is incorrect and that today’s mass is, in fact, the composer’s ninth, evidently performed in 1796 on the Princess’s name day. (The Paukenmesse was first heard later in the same year on the Feast of Stephen in the Piarist Church in Vienna, and was first sung at Eisenstadt on 29 September 1797, the Feast of St Michael.

Haydn dedicated the work to St Bernard of Offida, a Capuchin monk who was famed for his charitable acts and prophecies. He was canonized in 1795 and Haydn responded to the creation of this new saint with one of his great works. The mass is generally known in Austria as the Heiligmesse (“Holy” mass), since Haydn employed the melody of a well known contemporary German hymn, “Heilig, Heilig, Heilig”, in the incipit of the alto part of the Sanctus.

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 clarinets and horns. The writing is symphonic in character, following the great body of works written for the London concert series. The opening Kyrie, for example, follow s a typical Haydn symphonic first movement format with a slow introduction followed by an exposition, a brief development and a recapitulation.

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

The soloists today are Beverley Chiat, Violina Anguelov, Nick de Jager and Barend van der Westhuizen. The orchestra is led by Jurgen Schwietering and choir and orchestra are conducted by the Titular Organist, Deon Irish.

The anthem after Communion is And the glory of the Lord from Handel’s great oratorio, “Messiah”.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

At the conclusion of the service, the Organ Scholar will play the Con moto maestoso, being the first movement of the Sonata No 3 in A major by Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847), who was born in Hamburg on 3 February, less than four months before Haydn died and who shares this bicentenary year with him.

Today’s is the last mass of the Haydn Project, during which we have sung Missa Rorate coeli desuper (Advent); Missa Sancti Nicolai (Christmas); Missa Brevis in F (“Jugendmesse”) (Candlemas); Missa Cellensis (“Mariazeller-messe”) (Easter); Missa St. Joannis de Deo (“Kleine Orgelmesse”) (Whitsunday, and the actual bicentenary of Haydn’s death); Missa i.h. Beatissimae Virginis Mariae (“Grosse Orgelmesse”) (Assumption); Missa in tempore belli (“Paukenmesse”) (Michaelmass). I should like to express my personal thanks to the choir members, soloists, musicians and donors who, with the enthusiastic support of the Rector and Church Council, have made this possible. It has been a very great privilege to be able to conduct these masterworks to the Glory of God and for the edification of His People; and I have been touched by your kind expressions of continued support.

- Deon Irish



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