Concert Notes January 2020


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756–1791
Mass No. 15 in C major, “Coronation Mass", K. .317

Franz Joseph Haydn 1732–1809
Missa in Angustiis in D minor, “Lord Nelson Mass", Hob. XXII/11


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a staggering number of pieces (626 cataloged works) in just 35 years, and was known during his lifetime for his prodigious skill on the keyboard. Mozart’s father, Leopold, a violinist and minor composer, identified and nurtured young Wolfgang’s interest in the keyboard and his proclivity for musicianship. By age 5, Mozart was composing original works at the clavier. Hoping to capitalize on the talents of his Wunderkind beyond their home in Salzburg, Leopold organized two international tours— the first through Germany, France, and England, and the second around Italy. These tours brought Mozart into contact with composers versed in various styles who encouraged him to experiment across genres. On their return home, Leopold secured a position for his son as court organist and composer under the patronage of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus von Colloredo. This was a time of frustration for Mozart. Discontented with his low salary, wrestling with the desire to write operas but without the local resources to produce them, and harboring the aspiration to work in a central music hub had him searching for employment in cities such as Paris or Vienna. Though his heart yearned for a life outside of Salzburg, Mozart did not compromise his compositional standards as he focused on symphonies, chamber music, and liturgical works.

The Mass No. 15 in C major was the penultimate of 16 completed Mass settings Mozart would write—all composed during his years in Salzburg. The work was completed in March 1779 and most likely intended to premiere during an Easter service that April. In the years after its completion, the Mass was most prominently programed in 1792 for the coronation of Francis II as Holy Roman Emperor. Furthermore, it became the favored Mass setting of the imperial court in Vienna during the 19th century for royal or imperial coronations and related services. Due to its popularity for regal proceedings, the Mass setting became known for its nickname: Krönungsmesse, or Coronation Mass.

Approximately 25 minutes in length, the Coronation Mass is considered a missa brevis, or a Short Mass. The first measure of the Kyrie exudes majesty and grandeur with Mozart’s use of dotted rhythms (historically used as a motif for royalty) and “terraced dynamics” (dynamics that change suddenly, in this case from forte to piano). From this first movement, one can hear why this Mass was programmed for regal matters. The Credo movement, characteristically difficult to compose in a concise and coherent manner due to the length of text, takes a rondo form, where the opening musical theme returns periodically as new themes and sections are introduced. In the final section of the Agnus Dei, the Dona nobis pacem, Mozart recalls the solo melodies from the opening Kyrie movement.


The same year that Mozart completed the Coronation, Franz Joseph Haydn was granted an advantage that changed the course of his career: he renegotiated his contract with his long-term patrons, the Esterházy family. Since Haydn’s appointment as Kapellmeister in 1761, the influential Hungarian noble family owned the rights to use and perform any of the composer’s works completed under their patronage. However in 1779, the Esterházys permitted Haydn to compose for other interested parties and to publish his works for private income. As a result, Haydn partnered with various publishing houses to distribute his compositions. This allowed his celebrity to grow throughout Europe, despite his continued residency at the Esterházy estate in Eisenstadt. Haydn even credits this cultural isolation as a contributing factor in his success as a composer: “I was cut off from the world . . . and so I was forced to become original.”

A period of unrest spread throughout Europe in the early 1790s in response to the French Revolution and the resulting wars. In the spirit of frugality in a time of uncertainty, the presiding Esterházy prince dismissed the court musicians. Out of respect for Haydn’s great service to the family, the prince maintained the composer’s appointment. As he was of little use without musicians to write for or direct, Haydn was allowed to travel. In the years following, he moved to Vienna and traveled to London for two successful concert seasons. When he settled back into Vienna, Haydn reconnected with the newly appointed Esterházy prince, Nikolaus II. Under a light contract, his principal yearly duty was to compose a Mass setting for the name day of the princess, Maria Hermenegild. His 1798 offering, the third of six Great Masses he composed during this era, was Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times). “Troubled times” referred to the havoc Napoleon wreaked across Europe, and reflects the weight and turmoil of these years. However, unbeknownst to the composer at the time of completion, Napoleon had just suffered a staggering defeat at the Battle of the Nile by Admiral Horatio Nelson’s British naval forces. News of the admiral’s victory reached the public around the time of the Mass’s premiere, thus establishing a new moniker for the work: Lord Nelson Mass. In 1800, Lord Nelson visited the Palais Esterházy and may have heard a performance of the work, solidifying the colloquial name in the history books.

As the Esterházys had dismissed the wind octet from their orchestra at this time, the Nelson Mass was characteristically composed for strings, mixed chorus, SATB soloists, organ, timpani, and clarion (a period trumpet). The timpani and trumpet (instruments paired together to accompany armies of note into battle) lend the Mass an imposing color, particularly with their powerful rhythmic declarations in the Kyrie. The Gloria is buoyant, light, and in every way a complete contrast to the weight and power of the first movement; it ends in a glorious and thrilling fugue on the text in gloria Dei Patris, amen (“in the glory of God the Father, Amen”). Utilizing a canon for the Credo, Haydn highlights the duality of the text of the Creed (“God from God, light from light, true God from true God . . .”). Additionally, the text of the Gloria and Credo are each set in three sections: the first written in a fast tempo (allegro), the second at a slow tempo (adagio), and the third at a fast tempo (allegro or vivace). Interestingly, this form mirrors the classical symphonic form on a much smaller scale. It makes sense that Haydn, considered the “Father of the Symphony,” would utilize his compositional expertise and mix various musical forms to heighten the musical expression and consumption of the text.

— JULIA MORRIS, Assistant Conductor

Concert Notes January 2020 | Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra

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