Thursday, November 19, 2009

Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" Part II

This is part two of a two-part essay on Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis." Part I.

8) Sanctus

The Sanctus is comprised of two parts, the first being an adagio of Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabbaoth. Haydn here achieves a gentle majesty for this most solemn part of the liturgy. A forzando, crescendo, and decrescendo on the first two repetitions of Sanctus create breadth and, starting on the third repetition, the strings pulsing out eighth notes on the beat creates an aura of stateliness. The third repetition is forte but the chorus quickly retreats to piano. The overall impression of this adagio is of an exuberance restrained by awe, a balance difficult to achieve, to say the least. Stephen Town is quite right to say:
The tempo here requires a very poised, deliberate pace, so that the three choral Sanctus invocations may unfold fully, and the ensuing orchestral material may attain its appropriate espressivo character. [1]
In D major and in 3/4 time the following allegro is of an exuberance far less restrained, although it retains a certain regalness. The text, pleni sunt coeli et terra, gloria tua, is repeated only twice before the chorus erupts into a flurry of Hosannas, dynamically contrasted with forte and piano markings.

9) Sanctus: Benedictus

This movement begins with just over 30 bars of orchestral prelude. Also in D minor, it brings back the martial quality of the Kyrie. Strophic in construction, the movement proceeds with the text (broken into two units: benedictus qui venit and in nomine domini), traded back and forth between a soloist and the tutti. The phrases take on different characters in their repetitions, forceful in its first appearance in the solo soprano, then quite gentle. In the third repetition, the alto soprano takes up the phrase, but the tension increases as the other soloists make their entrances on different measures. The fourth repetition is the same as the first, though the half-notes in the tutti on the Do- of Domini are replaced by rising and falling eight note figures in all but the tenors. The last repetition is a mix of the two sentiments with a preparation of the return of the martial atmosphere with the three-note trumpet figure. The tutti enters forte, followed by a heart-stopping chord forte from the orchestra, and an equally strong final repetition of in nomine domine from the tutti.

10) Sanctus: Osanna

This Osanna is contains the same material from the Osanna following the Sanctus.

11) Agnus Dei

The similarities between parts of this movement and other portions of this mass are significant and not due to any lack of originality. Rather the congruities serve to unify the parts of the mass by quoting its elements and focusing them around the concepts of Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, and miserere nobis. 

12) Agnus Dei: Dona nobis

Where the last movement ends with only the soloists completing the personal plea dona nobis, here the chorus joyfully takes it up. As if being catapulted up, we hear a note on the timpani and then the altos enter forte in D, followed by the tenors, basses, and sopranos for a glorious choral fugue and finale.

III. Conclusion

Overshadowed by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven's grand sacred pieces, I think the Missa in Angustiis is still relatively overlooked despite its conception in Haydn's prime. I have passed through several phrases in my opinion regarding this mass. I had much enjoyed it before studying it, grew to see it as in imperfect synthesis of classical era taste and the sacred tradition, and finally, now, enjoy a more nuanced appreciation. For example, no, the Kyrie does not call forth the supernatural, elemental forces that Mozart's do, and the terror of such things, but it does recall an earthly terror, perhaps that of a man who knew a besieged homeland and a war-torn Europe. The celebratory movements, e.g. the Gloria, Osanna, and Dona nobis balance an overflow of praise and enthusiasm with a wonder of that which is being praised.

To conclude our discussions as to whether this piece is a good mass as well as good music, we perhaps must draw one more distinction, that between creating a setting of a text, i.e. creating musical analogues for the words, and creating a text for liturgical use. Tovey noted this distinction comparing Bach's B Minor Mass and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. [2] In the Missa in Angustiis, despite some particular themes I consider misplaced, we largely have a structure largely appropriate to a mass. It does not introduce the problem of scale that the Missa Solemnis presents us with, nor does it possess a movement, like the Sanctus of Bach's B minor mass, which is more of a setting than a liturgically-usable expression of the text. Overall, I think Rosen exaggerates in condemnation. Wherever classical era playfulness or Haydn's exuberance might have undesirably crept in, the Missa in Angustiis, with its turns terrifying, solemn, and exulting, is a glorious mass.

[1] Town, Stephen. Sacred Music. "Joseph Haydn's Missa in Angustiis" Volume 11, Number 2 (Summer) 1983.

[2] Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis Vol. V Vocal Music. "Essay CCVIII. Missa Solemnis, Op. 123." Oxford University Press. London. 1937.

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