St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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The Haydn Project

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FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
(1732 - 1809)

The year 2009 marks the bicentenary of the death of Joseph Haydn on 31 May, 1809 at his home in the Viennese parish of Gumpendorf.

The composer of an incomparable body of 104 symphonies, he is almost as celebrated for the thirteen orchestral masses which have survived, many having been written for the name day celebrations of his patrons, Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy and - in the years following his return from his London sojourn - Princess Maria Hermenegild Esterhazy.

In the century and a half following Haydn’s death, the liturgical use of his masses fell into disfavour, the Viennese Classical style in which they were written being regarded as too "secular" for church usage. However, the ever increasing banality of most contemporary liturgical music has led us to appreciate the elevated style of these compositions anew and see in them the sincere expression of faith of a devout Christian composer, one who commenced most of his manuscripts (regardless of genre) with the ascription "In nomine Domini" and concluded them with a grateful "Laus Deo". Indeed, Haydn lavished on these masses every element of artistry and beauty of which he was capable, as being the only offering worthy of the Creator God who had invested him with so many gifts.

To celebrate his life and achievements, therefore, we hope to perform all but the last three of his masses (which are simply too large to mount liturgically in St Michael’s) during this liturgical year. Whether we manage all will depend on the success of our fundraising activities, but we commenced the series, in faith, on Advent Sunday 2008 the high mass being sung to the little Missa Rorate coeli desuper, the earliest known work of the composer, being given its first South African performance..

The next of the masses to be sung was the much loved Missa Sancti Nicolai, written for Prince Nicolaus’ name day (6th December), probably in the year 1772, which was sung at the high mass on Christmas morning. The soloists were Magdalene Minnaar, Violina Anguelov, Willem Bester and Paul de Thierry.

On the 8th February, being the Sunday within the octave of the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas), the high mass was sung to the Missa brevis in F (Jugendmesse), another youthful work, written for two soprano soloists and chorus. The soloists were Magdalene Minnaar and Violina Anguelov.

The glorious Easter high mass featured the equally glorious - even grand -  Missa Cellensis ("Mariazeller-Messe"), a work commissioned in 1782 and intended as a votive offering to the celebrated pigrimage church at Zell, in Styria. It is a large scale composition, presaging the symphonic character of the late masses, and is notable for its ebullient fugal writing. The soloists were Magdalene Minnaar, Janelle Visagie, Willem Bester and Njabulo Mthimkulu. As far as could be established, this was the first South African performance of this work.

The 31st May 2009, the actual bicentenary of the composer's death, was fortuitously also the Feast of Whitsunday, the annual commemoration of the outpouring on the Church of the Holy Ghost, the Inspirer. The high mass was sung to the elegantly crafted Missa Sancti Joannis de Deo (Kleine Orgelmesse). The work derives its sobriquet from the extensive duet of the Benedictus, in which the soprano solo (sung by Magdalene Minnaar) is paired with a glittering organ obligato (played by the Organ Scholar, Gareth Baard).

After a slight mid-year break, the series continued on Sunday, the 16th of August with what is believed to be another first South African performance: the Missa in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae, commonly known as the Grosse Orgelmesse. It is not an "organ mass" of course, having an extensive orchestral score which, unusually, includes a pair of cor anglais. The nickname refers to the concertante solo writing given to the organ; a part altogether more virtuosic than the equivalent in the M. Sti. Joannis de Deo, which explains the latter's designation as the "Little" and the former's as the "Great" Organ Mass. The soloists were Beverley Chiat, Violina Anguelov, Willem Bester and Njabulo Mthimkulu and the glittering organ part was played by Grant Brasler.

On the Sunday in the Octave of Michaelmas, 4th October, we continued the celebration of the parish Patronal Festival with a High Mass sung to the Missa in tempore belli ("Mass in time of War"), nicknamed the Paukenmesse because of its prominent use of timpani. Fr Duncan Mclea from Christ Church, Kenilworth was the guest preacher and a capacity congregation experienced a worthy account of the splendid score, with Beverley Chiat, Violina Anguelov, Willem Bester and Barend van der Westhuizen as soloists. The motet was Richard Dering's superb Factum est silentium. Depicting the battle in which Michael overcomes the Dragon, it served to underscore why this setting - in tempore belli  - is so appropriate for this feast and might well explain why the first performance at Eisenstadt took place on the Feast of St Michael. 

We intend to conclude the series with the Missa Sancti Bernardi de Offida (Heiligmesse), which will be sung at the high mass on 22nd Nov 2009, the Feast of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the church's year.

A separate choir, The Choir of the Haydn Project, has been formed for this purpose. This group, which is distinct from the church choir (although it does have members in common) will practice on Tuesday nights between 7.30pm and 9.00pm. It is hoped that this time will prove especially convenient to parents with young children. Persons interested in auditioning for this choir are invited to contact the organist, Deon Irish, at the email address given below or through the parish office.

Members of the choir are: Karen Williams, Lorna Maneveld, Katherine Moon, Melanie Frye, Catherine Hall, Sarah Archer, Pamela Kierman, Joyce Francis, Linda Farlam, Chris Woolnough, Merlin McDonald, Chris Everett, Theo Rousseau, Stephen Philps, Richard Pimm, Kevin Rorke, Sean Kierman. 

Most importantly, we cannot successfully complete this project without raising considerable funding. If you are in a position to assist in this regard, any contribution would be most gratefully received. Please contact either the Organist or the Rector in this regard.

The contact details for the Rector appear in the Information section of this site. The organist may be reached on +27-21-4231228 (work) or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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