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Joseph Haydn, Nelsonmesse

November 26, 2017 @ 10:00 am

Mass No. 11 in D Minor,“Missa in Angustiis(‘Mass in Time of Anxiety),“Nelsonmesse”(Nelson Mass), H. XXII:11 (1798)

This Mass, composed by Joseph Haydn (b.Rohrau,1732; d.Vienna,1809) in 1798, has several names; Mass III (third of the six “Esterhazy” Masses); Imperial Nelson Mass; Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Time of Anxiety); and most commonly, the Nelsonmesse (Nelson Mass).  Haydn called it by its Latin title, Missa in Angustiis – a possible dual reference to the dire state of affairs between the Emperor of the French and the Emperor of the Romans, as well as Haydn’s personal difficulty in working as Kapellmeister for his patron at the time, Prince Nikolaus II Esterhazy (reigned 1794-1833). The prince had dismissed the Feldharmonie, or wind band octet, shortly before Haydn composed this Mass for the annual name day celebration (September 12 – Most Holy Name of Mary) for Nikolaus’ wife, Princess Maria Hermenegild (1768–1845). The Nelson nickname may have originated when news reached Vienna of British naval vice-admiral Horatio Lord Nelson’s defeat of the French fleet in the Bay of Aboukir (Battle of the Nile) in August 1798.  The nickname was fueled by the martial-sounding trumpets, soprano “fireworks” and jubilant finale – a style Haydn had cultivated while in residence in London in the early half of the decade, as evidenced in his “London” symphonies (nos. 93-104).  While in England, Haydn enjoyed great success, both professionally and financially.  Lord Nelson, with his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton and her husband Sir William Hamilton, attended the Nelson Mass conducted by Haydn himself, when Nelson visited Prince Nikolaus at the Esterhazy palace in Eisenstadt, during the summer of 1800*.  By the time of the admiral’s death, five years later during the Battle of Trafalgar, the nickname Nelsonmesse had taken hold permanently. The Nelsonmesse is the third of the last six Haydn Masses and the only one written in the minor key, at least for the opening movement. The orchestration the Chorale & Orchestra uses calls for strings, three trumpets, woodwinds, timpani and organ – although the original presentations of the Mass did not utilize woodwinds, because Prince Nikolaus had disbanded the Feldharmonie. The Kyrie brings the soprano soloist to the upper portion of her range with a flourish of 16th notes. This exciting beginning sets the stage for the rest of the drama that unfolds in later movements. The Credo begins with the sopranos and tenors of the Chorale singing in unison, and is later answered by the altos and basses for a beautiful duet, which continues until the Et incarnatus est.  The Nelson Mass ends with a peaceful and memorable Dona nobis pacem.  Listen for the calming influence of this movement after the dramatic moments earlier in this Mass. The Nelson Mass is probably the most well-known of Haydn’s last Masses and the most frequently performed.  The brilliance of the choral and solo work is reason enough for the Nelsonmesse’s popularity, and it is less difficult to perform than either the Schöpfungsmesse (Mass No. 13 in B flat, H.XXII:13) or the Harmoniemesse (Mass No. 14 in B flat, H.XXII:14), which followed it in 1801 and 1802, respectively. Coming from the years of the oratorios and the last symphonies, it climaxes 50 years of Haydn’s musical life. All six of Haydn’s last Masses are in the repertory of the Chorale.                                                                                                                                        (37:59)

Haydn’s Nelsonmesse is conducted by the Chorale and Orchestra director Dr. Robert L. Peterson. Mary E. LeVoir is the organist. Soloists are Patricia Kent, soprano; Jocelyn Kalajian, contralto; John deCausmeaker, tenor; and Jon Nordstrom, bass. The Schola Cantorum is directed by Paul W. LeVoir. The Nelsonmesse was first presented by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale & Orchestra as part of its 1978-1979 season. The Chorale & Orchestra last presented this Mass on January 17, 2016.


Recommended Listening:

  • Haydn: Nelsonmesse, Schöpfungsmesse / Rilling: Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra / 2007 / Haenssler QBYE9G
  • Haydn: Masses, Vol. 3, Nikolaimesse & Nelsonmesse / Burdick: REBEL Baroque Orchestra / 2010 / Naxos 8.572123
  • Haydn: 4 Masses (Nos. 7, 10, 11, & 12) / Marriner: Staatskapelle Dresden / 1995 / EMI
  • Complete Mozart Edition, Vol 21: Organ Sonatas & Solos / Chorzempa: Deutsche Bachsolisten / 2006 / Phillips 464 6602

Vice-Admiral of the White Horatio Lord Nelson



Vice-Admiral of the White Horatio Lord Nelson**

1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, Knight of the Bath

By Lemuel Francis Abbott (1800)

National Maritime Museum

(Visible on his cocked hat is the aigrette presented by the Ottoman Sultan as a reward for the victory at the Nile.)

The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale is a non-profit corporation, financially independent of the Church of Saint Agnes and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis, which depends solely on the generosity of its patrons.  For contribution options, and the current schedule of Masses, visit www.catholicchorale.org.  Compact discs of music recorded by the Chorale & Orchestra are available from the Leaflet Missal Co. at www.leafletonline.com.

 *Lord Nelson had been recalled to England from his posting at Naples due to his entanglement on the side of the monarchy in the Neopolitan uprising of 1800.  Rather than sail back to England he chose to travel overland, taking the longest possible route by way of Central Europe, with his mistress Lady Hamilton, who was a close personal friend of the Queen of Naples, and the Lady’s husband, Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples, who also had been recalled.  Lady Hamilton was an accomplished actress, model, and singer.  She was said to have been a devotee of Joseph Haydn’s music and to have on occasion presented solo parts for the Nelson Mass.  Nelson, the Hamiltons, and several other British travelers left Leghorn/Livorno (G.D. of Tuscany) for Florence (G.D. of Tuscany) on July 13, 1800. They made stops at Trieste (Austrian Empire) and Vienna (Austrian Empire), spending three weeks in the latter where they were entertained by the local nobility and attended a presentation of Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis.  By September they were in Prague (K. of Bohemia), and later traveled to Dresden (K. of Prussia), Dessau (K. of Prussia), and Hamburg (Imperial City), from where they caught a packet ship to Great Yarmouth (England), on the Norfolk County coast, arriving on November 6, 1800.


**Lord Nelson was age 42 when he sat for this portrait.  By that time he had lost most of his teeth, had suffered from two debilitating war wounds – an amputated right arm and a blinded left eye – and was afflicted by coughing spells.  Because no photographs exist of him, the effects of these imperfections on Admiral Nelson’s appearance cannot be validated.  In any case, the story goes that in the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Nelson was ordered by way of signal flags to break off an attack.  He thereupon lifted his telescope up to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal.”  Hence the British idiom “turning a blind eye.”


Twin Cities Catholic Chorale


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Saint Paul, MN 55103 United States
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