Joseph Haydn’s Nelsonmesse

Mass No. 11 in D Minor, “Missa in Angustiis (‘Mass in Time of Anguish), “Nelsonmesse”, 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 Anguish); 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 Esterházy (r.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). So, the initial presentations of the Mass did not utilize woodwinds. 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 by his “London” symphonies (nos. 93-104). While in England, Haydn enjoyed great success, both professionally and financially. Lord Nelson, with his mistress soprano Lady Emma Hamilton and her husband ambassador Sir William Hamilton, attended the Nelson Mass conducted by Haydn himself when they visited Prince Nikolaus at the Eszterháza in Eisenstadt, during the summer of 1800. Lord Nelson and Sir William, having both been “recalled” from their respective posts in Italy, were taking their return trip to England at a “leisurely” pace by land, rather than by sea. 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 a minor key for the opening movement. The orchestration the Chorale & Orchestra uses calls for strings, three trumpets, woodwinds, timpani and organ. 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 Gloria and Credo both end with complex contrapuntal fugues, similar to those found in renaissance polyphony. The celebratory Gloria evokes the figure of Handel, whose music Haydn had become acquainted with while in London. A lovely and peaceful Qui tollis peccata mundi is at the heart of the Gloria, in which the bass soloist is supported by the chorus and a gentle decoration from the organ. The Quoniam tu solus sanctus is especially beautiful, with the bass and soprano soloists echoing the final Amen. 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 joyful 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 the most well-known of Haydn’s last Masses and the most frequently presented. The brilliance of the choral and solo work is reason enough for the Nelsonmesse’s popularity, and it is less difficult to present than either the Schöpfungsmesse or the Harmoniemesse which followed it in 1801 and 1802, respectively. All of Haydn’s last six Masses are in the repertory of the Chorale & Orchestra, two of which will be presented this season – the Theresienmesse on January 13, 2019 and the Heiligmesse on June 9, 2019. Coming from the years of the oratorios and the last symphonies, the Nelsonmesse climaxes the final years of Haydn’s 50 year musical life.  (37:59)

Haydn’s Nelsonmesse is conducted by Chorale music director Dr. Marc Jaros. 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.

Recommended Listening:

  • Haydn: Masses, Vol. 3, Nikolaimesse & Nelsonmesse / Burdick: REBEL Baroque Orchestra / 2010 / Naxos 8.572123
  • Haydn: Nelsonmesse, Schöpfungsmesse / Rilling: Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra / 2007 / Haenssler QBYE9G
  • Haydn: 4 Masses (Nos. 7, 10, 11, & 12) / Marriner: Staatskapelle Dresden / 1995 / EMI



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