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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Quoniam tu solus Sanctus from Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mass), 1798


First performed in September 1798 at the Berfkirche, Eisenstadt, the country estate belonging to the ruling monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, the mass's composition occurred at a time when Europe was ravaged by war, chiefly the result of the French Revolution's need for self-perpetuation. The curious title Missa in Angustiis, can be freely translated as Mass in the Time of Fear (although a more literal translation in fact means 'narrow' or 'constricted'); two years previously, Haydn had already produced a Mass in the Time of War at the time when the French were invading Austria, but one could, without too much stretch of the imagination, view this similarly: it was composed between 10 July and 31 August, a period in which historic the naval battle, in which Lord Nelson emerged as victor over the French. However, Haydn could not have possibly heard of the battle since news of it did not reach Vienna for another several weeks and its Nelson epithet, by which it was to become known in Austria and Southern Germany, was appended after its performance during the naval hero's visit to Esterházy in 1800. Curiously, in England, it was known as theImperial Mass since an early French source noted that it was written for the coronation of Joseph II ('Cette Messe a été composée pour le couronnoment de Joseph II') – a wild inaccuracy, since Joseph had been crowned some thirty years before the mass had been written.

Like his five other late masses, written from 1796 to 1802, it was composed to celebrate the Name Day of the Princess of Esterházy. Their orchestration, dependent on which instruments Haydn had at his disposal, varies considerably from work to work: Mass in the Time of War and the Missa Sti Berndadi de Offida, written in 1796 and 1797, use large woodwind forces, including clarinets, whereas, apart from the usual strings and organ, the Nelson Mass, uses only timpani and three trumpets, providing the music with a harsh-edged austerity that is not found in any of the other settings. The organ part alternates basso continuo with a considerable amount of obbligato writing, perhaps, where necessary, to augment the missing woodwind forces.

Although such symphonic masses are synonymous with Joseph Haydn, the tradition began with his brother Michael and with Mozart, both of whom worked in Salzburg. It was initiated in response to Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, who said that services should last only forty-five minutes. Hence, symphonic masses are concise and resourceful, including a full range of textures within a short space, with both solos and ensembles, and building on the classical style initiated by composers such as Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783). Hasse provides the link between the relative simplicity of early Mozart and the complex counterpoint of Bach. The mass was written in a typically 'classical' style – counterpoint is used as a local device rather than a all-pervading style.

If one compares the movement with its correspondent in Mozart's Mass in c minor, one finds a largely homophonic texture with a short, imitative section for the Amen. In comparison with Haydn, Mozart is employing textural contrasts that descend from the soprano line to the bass part, and the conclusion of the phrase comes not through the superimposition of imitative entries (stretto) but through tonal progress to the subdominant. Mozart finds interesting chromatic routes between chords, as his counterpoint would not entertain the ear on its own. Haydn's work includes Mozart's development of the classical harmonic idiom begun in the aftermath of Bach, but includes much longer freely-imitative sections.

There are two textures apparent in this extract: the opening pits the soloist against a homophonic choral texture, perhaps recalling the practices of Gabrieli nearly two hundred years previously. Bar 20 introduces imitative writing, initially resembling a fugue because of the consistency of the countermelody, but becoming less strict. This 'point of imitation' continues until bar 63, concluding with a dominant pedal point (bar 55), before a contrasting imitative section delivers the final Amen in the tonic.

Translated, the words, from the end of the Gloria , mean:

Quoniam tu solus sanctus
Tu solus Dominus
Tu solus altissimus
Jesu Christe
In Gloria Dei Patris, Amen
For Thou only art holy,
Thou only art the Lord,
Thou only the most high,
Jesus Christ,
In the glory of God the Father, Amen

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