Friday, November 13, 2009

Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" Part I

aka The Lord Nelson Mass. Hob. XXII:11

I. Introduction

What makes a good mass? (Musically speaking.) Such is not a question I had pondered until this past summer and a discussion with my esteemed co-blogger. Surely there are many masses (i.e. musical compositions set to the form of a mass) filled with great genius and beautiful music, but how effective are they as masses? Is the music appropriate to the text? I decided to explore this question and, owing to my enthusiasm for it, began studying Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" aka Lord Nelson Mass in the context of this question. I was initially aghast to read Charles Rosen's somewhat strong words on the topic in his excellent book, The Classical Style. He remained quite unconvinced that Haydn and Mozart had successfully reconciled the "classical style" with the liturgical tradition and that to do so "was left to Beethoven." [Rosen. p.373] Without debating that obviously larger point, let us look at this mass in particular and consider "Is this is a good mass as well as a good musical composition?"

II. Ordinary of the Mass

1) Kyrie

The D-minor opening of this movement sets the tone for the Kyrie and this movement most lives up to the theme of angustiis. More specifically than anguished though, this movement has an especially martial character, particularly the opening theme on the timpani and trumpets. The chorus then enters in unison not with a traditionally supplicative manner but rather in a terrifying forte. A brief passage for the soloists is then overtaken by a fugue, frighteningly effective in conveying a multitude of voices crying out for mercy. Here and there a soloist will rise above the grieving chorus only to be swallowed up again. The movement concludes with the first theme on timpani.

2) Gloria: Gloria in excelsis Deo

The music for this section of the Gloria could not be in starker contrast to that of the Kyrie and this movement is certainly free from the theme of angustiis. The suffering of man does not interfere with glorifying God. Joyous music like this is perhaps most characteristic, or most associated with, Haydn and it is especially brilliant here. We begin in D major with a soprano solo of Gloria in excelsis Deo, but she only sings it once before the choir joins her in jubilation. She begins again but this time the choir cuts her off in the middle with more Glorias. She continues solo once more but just before she finishes her phrase again the choir bursts in singing Gloria!

Et in terra pax hominibus is performed almost exclusively by the bass and tenor, with repetitive emphasis on the bonae of bonae voluntatis. The tutti returns with three short phrases with crescendos on the middle of each phrase, suggesting a supplicative bowing:

laudamus te,
benedicimus te
adoramus te

we adore you
we give you thanks
we adore you

while the strings play an urgent four-note phrase over and over creating a sense of nervous urgency as the vocalists try to praise God with mere words. With the same weight of the previous three phrases, the treble voices enter with Glo-ri-fi-ca only to be cut off by the entrance of the bass voices. The chorus finishes Glorificamus te and then repeats the above three-part praise (laudamus te, et cetera) but forzando and with te only in the basses and tenors.

The rest of the Gloria is treated to the same melody and taken up by either the treble or bass soloists, with the subsequent section taken by the tutti. The movment concludes with a Patris from the tutti, but the strings and trumpets finish out the melody.

3) Gloria: Qui Tollis

The jubilant tone of the preceding movement is gently shaken off by the first note in the strings. A beautiful bass solo for Qui tollis peccata mundi follows, but a curious theme comes next. Curious insofar as it seems extraordinarily casual a setting for qui tollis peccata mundi. Rosen wrote that the late 18th century tradition of religious music was relatively incoherent and such incoherence led to "effects of a peculiar irrelevancy." Once again, I was outraged at first reading of that statement, but came to agree. If not wholly in appropriate, this theme certainly is of imperfect relevance to the text. Likewise the theme on the organ after the tutti enter with their first miserere nobis feels similarly out of place. The rest of the movement is effective, with the soloists singing of Christ as sedes ad dexteram Patris while the tutti penitently repeats deprecationem nostram or miserere nobis.

4) Gloria: Quoniam tu solus

The first theme from the Gloria returns at the end, here at the Quoniam.  The movement contains some more expository material of the text, with the solo soprano declaring quoniam tu solus sanctus and the chorus following in reinforcement. In hushed tones the choir announces, cum sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris before the basses burst in forte reinforcing. Allegro again also, this movement moves with a joyous swiftness before ending in a cavalcade of amens and glorias which functions as an act finale.

5) Credo: Credo in unum Deum

The Credo takes the form of a canon with sopranos and tenors entering first, followed by the altos and basses singing same one bar later. The effect of the structure of a canon upon the Credo, by nature a personal statement of faith, is the sense of many simultaneously professing their faith. The canon was also a traditional method of representing the fixedness of the faith, the repetitions emphasizing its timelessness. [Stauffer pp. 101]

Wisely Haydn chose to end the movement at descendit de coelis. He has the voices repeat the phrase many times until he brings them all together on coelis and holding them up there with a fermata until last neatly descending and landing back at D at de coelis, ready to move onto Christ's incarnation.

6) Credo: Et in carnatus est

The atmosphere of this movement is not dissimilar from the same passage in Mozart's C minor mass. They share an aura of great gentleness, sweetness, and purity. This sentiment is in many ways appropriate, but is it entirely? Indeed, what music is appropriate, i.e. what could possibly be appropriate, for such an event?

In the Missa Pange lingua of des Prez, it is sung without affectation of any kind. In Bach's B minor Mass it is spoken with a hushed tone amidst an atmosphere of great mystery. I consider Beethoven's setting the most appropriate but describing it here is beyond the focus of this essay. Let us return to Haydn.

After the instrumental exposition of the melody, the soprano soloist sings
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu sancto, ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est.
and the chorus follows and repeats it. The chorus continues forte describing the crucifixion with surprisingly little adornment other than being doubled by the strings. Emphasizing that Christ died for us, and also perhaps his falling on the road to Calvary, there is a drop of an octave and new five-note figure in the strings on no-bis.

The tutti continues piano, singing sub Pontio Pilato as the timpani plays five times an intimidating five-note figure, recalling both the mass' martial theme and atmosphere of angustiis, and Christ's march to his crucifixion. The solos take over the material now, the bass repeating sub Pontio Pilato and the tenor repeating crucifixus passus passus et sepultus est as the alto repeats, pro nobis, for us.

The movement ends pianissimo, with writing for the bass full of pathos:

and an especially hushed sepultus est recalling Christ being buried in the tomb.

7) Credo: Et resurexit

I do not know that this movement gets off to the best of starts. Perhaps due to some limitation on my part it seems overly harsh for a setting of The Resurrection and the music seems to tumble out of the gate, with everyone singing the initial et then the tenors resurrexit, then the basses and then the altos and sopranos following suit. There also seems to be a great emphasis on many of the "et"s throughout the movement as well. Naturally this is an inherent difficulty of setting this text to music. The choice seems to be to use them as punctuation or to attempt not to draw attention to them. Haydn seems to pursue the former path on most occasions, with the result they seem to entertain an undue distinction a number of times in this movement.

Compared to the dance-like celebration of Bach's B minor Mass and the heart-stopping entry in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis I do not consider this opening especially effective. (I likewise consider the "et Resurrexit" of Haydn's own Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo in B-flat major (Hob.XXII:7) to be more effective.)

The movement quickly finds its way, though, and goes on to establish a joyous, even rollicking, inertia. The entrance of the tenors announces cuius regni non erit finis and the staggered entrances of the rest of the choir and the many repetitions of non erit finis beautifully emphasize the endlessness of God's kingdom and the emphases on non assert the believer's confidence in that fact. Once again the theme after prophetas seems most out of place to me and would be more at home in an opera or serenade. Perhaps it is a certain dullness or stuffiness on my part that finds the theme distracting behind et unam sanctam Catholican et Apostolicam ecclesiam instead of joyfully adorning the text about the Catholic Church. Lastly the soprano ends, announcing et vitam venturi saeculi in quite operatic fashion. It is nonetheless glorious and the entrance functions like a messenger bringing great news, "the life of the world to come." The tutti repeats the verse and concludes with a string of amens and a fluttering tune in the strings balancing a certain regalness  and playfulness that here is most welcome upon hearing the good news.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York, NY. 1971.

Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor. Yale University Press. New Haven. 1997.

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