The ensemble's concerts of the Lord Nelson Mass have received rave reviews, with the Boston Globe praising the ensemble's ‘magnificent performance.' The distinctive and memorable Lord Nelson Mass, arguably Haydn's greatest single composition, stirs powerful emotions, ranging from solemnity and torment to joyous celebration.
Boston Baroque's performance follows the leaner, original orchestration of Haydn's manuscript including the original vocal lines (made simpler in a later edition).
Creation soloists Keith Jameson tenor and Kevin Deas bass-baritone return for this recording, having won acclaim for their previous performances. They are joined by Mary Wilson soprano and Abigail Fischer mezzo-soprano.
The Mass is partnered on this recording by Symphony No. 102, the most powerful, brilliant and interesting of Haydn's London symphonies, giving centre stage to the ensemble's talented musicians.
Lord Nelson Mass
In the summer of 1798, Joseph Haydn suffered from extreme exhaustion after having completed and premiered his great oratorio The Creation. On his doctor's orders, he was confined to his room, but confinement for Haydn meant that he had time to compose the mass that he needed to write for the name day of the Princess Esterházy, the wife of his patron. And thus, instead of the three months that it normally took him to write a mass, he was able to stay home and complete this work, one of his greatest compositions, in a little over one month. It is remarkable that a composer in his mid-60s, then considered an advanced age, could immediately follow a brilliant oratorio with a mass on an equally high level of inspiration.
Haydn called his mass Missa in Angustiis (Mass in a Time of Anxiety). In the previous year, Napoleon had defeated the Austrian armies and threatened Vienna, and then, in the summer of 1798, he had broken through the allied naval blockade and appeared ready to conquer Egypt. It was a tense and uncertain time, but in mid-September, about a week before Haydn's new mass was to be performed, word reached Vienna that the British Admiral Horatio Nelson had destroyed Napoleon's fleet in a brilliant victory at Aboukir. Exactly how or when Haydn's Missa in Angustiis became popularly known as the Lord Nelson Mass is something that no one even at that time was able to say for certain, but surely the first listeners would have associated the terrifying trumpets and timpani of the opening ‘Kyrie' and the jubilant, dramatic music that followed with the political turmoil - and now the military victory - that was on everyone's minds. Two years later, Haydn performed this work before the conquering hero himself during his visit to the Esterházy palace at Eisenstadt.
Composing masses for the name day of the princess was among the few obligations remaining to the aging Capellmeister in his later years. By this time, Haydn, who was widely celebrated as the greatest living composer, was no longer writing symphonies, piano sonatas or trios. Rather, he had entered a period that represented not only the pinnacle of his achievement as a composer but also a new direction, a period devoted mainly to a series of vocal masterworks. The Lord Nelson Mass, written immediately after his oratorio The Creation, is the third of his six great masses written during this time.
Its orchestration is unusual and striking. In an effort to save money, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy had recently dismissed his woodwind players and horns, and Haydn was able to hire only trumpets and timpani to supplement his string ensemble. Occasionally, the organ - which Haydn himself played at the premiere - is given a brief solo passage, as if to compensate for the missing woodwinds. But out of this limited orchestration, Haydn created the stark, memorable sound that makes this mass so distinctive and powerful.
The strong, rhythmic D minor opening of the ‘Kyrie' establishes the tense tone of a work written ‘in angustiis,' in a time of anxiety. In the ‘Benedictus', we particularly feel this tension, when the trumpets and timpani repeat a powerful military rhythm, as the chorus intones its text on one note, an effect that conjures thoughts of the Last Judgment. However, much of the rest of the work is in a more joyful and brilliant D Major. Throughout, Haydn creates a fascinating mix of Baroque-style counterpoint, still older Gregorian chant, and modern virtuosic writing in the lively string parts. For the opening of the ‘Credo', the chorus sings a strict canon with the two voice parts (sung in octaves) imitating each other at the interval of a fifth; the rigidity of a canon, meaning literally ‘rule' or
‘law,' seems particularly apt for this strong declaration of faith. In the 'Et resurrexit', the chorus ‘speaks' a portion of its lengthy text, declaiming it on one repeated note. Here Haydn, who set his mass texts from memory, has apparently inadvertently omitted the words, ‘qui ex Patre Filioque procedit' (indicated by an ellipsis of three dots in the text on the following pages).
Despite the distinctive sonority of this mass, there were attempts made to ‘normalize' its orchestration by adding woodwinds and horns. Indeed Haydn made some suggestions to editors about how they might do this, but he did not supervise their work. An early edition published by Breitkopf during Haydn's lifetime, which was based on a pirated version that was full of errors, not only added a full complement of winds but also eliminated the organ solos and simplified the trumpet parts. In that form, the mass became extremely popular. Although it is still often heard in this ‘normalized' version, our performance follows the leaner, original orchestration of Haydn's manuscript.
Not long after the premiere of this mass, Haydn simplified - and some say weakened - several passages in the solo vocal parts, evidently in order to make them easier to sing for less accomplished soloists. In places, this involved lowering high notes and thus changing the contours of some of the melodic lines. This performance uses the original vocal lines.
Symphony No. 102
Haydn wrote his Symphony No. 102 in 1794, during his second triumphant visit to London. Many writers have considered this the most powerful, brilliant and interesting of Haydn's late symphonies, but it is not as well-known or frequently performed as some of the other symphonies that he wrote for London. Perhaps it has suffered from being the only one of the last five not to have a nickname. (The ‘Military,' ‘Clock,' ‘Drum Roll,' and ‘London' symphonies are its companions.) In actual fact, it was defrauded of the best name of all. The story is told that, at the premiere, a large and heavy chandelier fell from the ceiling during the finale, but because the audience had pressed forward to watch Haydn more closely, the middle of the hall was empty and no one was hurt. However, the incident was later confused with the premiere of Haydn's Symphony No. 96, which had taken place four years earlier, and that symphony is now known as the ‘Miracle,' while our Symphony No. 102 remains nameless.
The work is dense with musical motives. Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon has called it ‘Haydn's loudest and most aggressive Symphony, at least in the outer movements.' The first movement opens with a beautifully expressive slow introduction, which bursts into a brilliant and boisterous ‘vivace'. The ‘adagio' that follows is a subtle and extraordinary movement, with slow, sustained melodic lines over a gently flowing sextuplet accompaniment, often played by a solo cello. When he later revised this movement, Haydn added mutes for the trumpets (18th-century wooden mutes in this performance) and for the timpani. Haydn seems to have had a particular fondness for this ‘adagio', for he used it again as the slow movement of his great Trio in F-sharp minor. Following a wonderful foot-stomping, peasant-like ‘menuetto', the symphony concludes with one of Haydn's many ‘joke finales', which continually teases us with unexpected returns of the main theme, false beginnings of the theme, and sudden changes of character. The whole symphony is a kaleidoscope, which Robbins Landon has likened to the contemporary description of the composer that describes ‘his lightning-swift facial changes'. © Martin Pearlman, 2013
A reflection about this recording
During our first rehearsal of the two pieces on this recording, the city of Boston was jolted by the news of the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon. After the wild swing of events during the ensuing days, our first performance was cancelled, due to a lock-down of the entire city. To be involved during that time in the music that Haydn called Missa in Angustiis (translated variously as ‘Mass in difficult, uncertain or anxious times') took on unexpected meaning for our musicians, as well as for our audience. Performing and recording this particular mass - as well as the jubilant Symphony No. 102 - provided comfort and release to all of us and made us thankful once again for the greatness and universality of Haydn's genius.