Haydn's first and his last major compositions both were settings of the Mass. The two works span a compositional career of 52 years, with the first work composed in 1749 when Haydn was 17 and the second work composed in 1802, seven years before his death. Both works are included in this recent individual Naxos CD featuring the Trinity Choir and REBEL Baroque Orchestra of Wall Street. The CD is also available as part of an 8 CD set of the complete Haydn Masses Haydn: Complete Masses [Box Set] released in 2009. The Masses are performed on period instruments with a small choir. Recording of the works was a long-term project began by J. Owen Burdick. After Burdick left Trinity, his successor, Jane Glover, completed the project.
The early Haydn mass is the Missa brevis in F major, Hob. XXII:1 composed in 1749 while the composer was still in the choir of St. Stephen's. It is a short work of under 12 minutes featuring two soprano solos. J. Owen Burdick conducts the choir and orchestra in a recording dating from 2001 when the series began.
We don't usually think of Haydn as a youthful composer, but this mass is distinctively his. The mass is written in a bright style which, due to its brevity, does not linger long over the text of the mass. The work is lightly scored for chorus, two soprano soloists, strings, and organ. The mass features a great deal of interplay between orchestra, chorus, and the two sopranos, especially in the opening Kyrie and in the Credo and Benedictus sections. Both the Gloria and the Credo are introduced by a chant-like phrase from a solo bass. The organ has a prominent role especially in the Gloria and the Benedictus. The mass is a melodic, vigorous work with a lovely moment of solemnity in the chorale during the Agnus Dei section. When Haydn remembered this work of his youth after 50 years, he aptly remarked that he admired "the melody and a certain youthful fire." In its eclat and vigor, the Missa Brevis is a joy to discover.
The late Haydn mass is the "Harmoniemesse" in B-flat major, Hob. XXII:14 of 1802, Haydn's final mass and final major composition. In contrast to the lightly-scored Missa Brevis, the Harmoniemesse is scored for big forces, including chorus, a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass quartet, two additional soloists for a sextet in the Credo section of the mass, strings, flute, oboe, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, tympani, and organ. The extensive choir of winds, featured prominently throughout, gives the work its name. The work was the last of a series of six masses that Haydn composed annually for nameday festivities at the Esterhazy court. Haydn composed the work with difficulty and suffered from burnout and exhaustion shortly upon its completion. The recording dates from 2008 and is conducted by Jane Glover.
The Harmoniemesse is a large-scale glorious work of approximately 40 minutes with masterful orchestration and fully integrated writing for instruments and voice. The work is of a symphonic character with shifts of mood from the joyful to the reflective and somber. The massive Kyrie which opens the work begins with an extended orchestral introduction which glides almost imperceptibly into the chorus. The chorale sections alternate with solos for the bass and for the soprano. This is a highly powerful opening movement. The Gloria begins with a joyful solo for the soprano followed by full passages for chorus and orchestra, including flourishing trumpets and an ever-present tympani. The section of the Gloria beginning with the text "Gratias agimus tibi" changes character by featuring extensive solos for alto, sproano, tenor, and bass entering in turn. The music shifts again in the "Quoniam tu solus sanctus" section of the Gloria to feature a trumpet fanfare and bold choral passages.
The contrast of moods and characters continues in the Credo. Slow, meditative mystical writing in the middle section of this movement, to the words "et incarnatus est" is surrounded by large-scale vigorous, massive writing for orchestra and chorus. The final section of the Credo,setting the text "et vitam venturi" features an extensive vocal sextet and a large fugue. The Sanctus movement is a slow, chorale while the Benedictus is surprisingly light, virtually dance-like. The meditative mood, introduced by an extensive wind band, returns in the Agnus Dei, but it is interrupted by a trumpet call to lead to the triumphal concluding section of a masterful work.
Many listeners who love Haydn's instrumental music and the oratorios will be unfamiliar with the masses. I have been deepening my love of Haydn in exploring this series. This CD offers the rare opportunity to get to know both the first and the last of Haydn.
Total time: 52:28