By Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Marymount University
After the completion in 1801 of his vast oratorio, The Seasons, Joseph Haydn remarked that its composition had "broken his back." Nevertheless in 1802 he undertook the composition of what proved to be his last large work, the superb Harmoniemesse (Mass in B Flat). He did not, to quote H.C. Robbins Landon, "make things easy for himself." As with the previous five masterly settings composed between 1796 and 1801, this Mass served to celebrate the birthday of Princess Marie Hermenegild, wife of his fourth patron, Nicholas II Esterhazy.
The Harmoniemesse under Haydn's direction was sung at Mass on September 8, 1802, the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the spacious choir loft of the Bergkirche (Mountain Church) situated atop a small hill a short distance from the grandiose fsterhazy palace in Eisenstadt.
The Austrian Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Prince Starhemberg, reflected glowingly in his Diary on the occasion. "On September 8, the Princess's birthday, at ten in the morning we with a great procession of Esterhazy attendants clad in the princely livery proceeded to Mass. Superb Mass! New excellent music by the famous Haydn, and directed by him! Nothing could have been more beautiful and better executed!" The Ambassador likewise highlighted Haydn's distinguished European stature when he noted that, unlike the much earlier servile condition at the princely court, Haydn sitting among the dignitaries at the birthday dinner table was the object of affection and adulation. Prince Nicholas at last recognizing the genius of his Kapellmeister provided in simple and touching tribute that in perpetuity Haydn should annually receive six Eimer of princely table wine.
The Harmoniemesse, although the first of Haydn's Masses to be published in the twentieth century and commanding, as it always has, great respect, was not as frequently performed in Austria as the Mariazeller or Nelson Masses because of the amplitude of its instrumentation. The renewed Esterhazy orchestra in 1802 permitted Haydn to score it with large wind band, whence it derives its name. Moreover he used the key of B Flat, the key of four other Masses, as Robbins Landon notes, for a number of technical reasons.
"At the opposite poles of the vocal range there is low F in the bass line and top B flat for the sopranos, which gives a composer a solid dominant in the bass if he wants one ... while the very end of the Mass shows to what brilliant effect Haydn puts his top choral B flat in the sopranos. The sound of the trumpets and drums in B flat is also particularly suitable for church music; they take on a silvery sheen in piano and the low notes have a fascinating color of their own . . . the entire color of B flat is highly suitable for wind instruments, and especially the clarinets, instruments to which Haydn turned only late in life."
The entire Mass can be divided into three vocal/orchestral symphonies each embracing four movements, the first being Kyrie, Gloria, Gratias, and Quoniam. The second symphony includes the four movements of the Creed - Credo, Et incarnatus est, Et resurrexit, and Et Vitam venturi. The third symphony comprises the four movements of the Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Dona nobis.
While the Harmoniemesse clearly demonstrates the integration of chorus, soloists, and orchestra based on Haydn's previous symphonic development of sonata-form principles, all his masses assimilated effortlessly the Baroque within this high classical achievement making them so satisfying to us. Haydn is the last great composer who could with masterly ease elaborate those great Baroque fugues which customarily end the Gloria and Credo in a blaze of contrapuntal fanfare.
The Harmoniemesse commences with an enormous slow movement "A surging Adagio which rolls like a mighty river." It sets the tone of the whole composition. The Mass glows with majesty, bright joy, with stately and extraordinarily effective harmonic modulations coupled with a solemn rapt grandeur fostered by Haydn's consummate use of trumpets and drums. It is a Mass of spirited movements, radiant coloristic touches through his deft use of the glorious sound of clarinets, of poignant emotion, and exquisite word painting. The Agnus Dei, a gentle plea for mercy, resembles that of Mozart's Coronation Mass, a Rococo showpiece for the soloists which then culminates with the stunning entrance of the Chorus in its dramatic transition to the Dona nobis pacem, an aggressive demand for peace.
Some time after the first successful performance of this Mass Haydn in a letter summed up his life's work:
Often when struggling against the obstacles of every sort, which oppose my labors; often when the powers of mind and body weakened, and it was difficult for me to continue in the course I had entered on - a secret voice whispered to me: "There are so few happy and contented peoples here below; grief and sorrow are always their lot; perhaps your labors will once be a source from which the care-worn, or the man burdened with affairs, can derive a few moments of rest and refreshment." This was indeed a powerful motive to press onwards, and this is why I now look back with cheerful satisfaction on the labors expended on this art, to which I have devoted so many long years of uninterrupted effort and exertion.
During 1808 Beethoven's ever-present concern to insure his financial security reached a climax when Court Councillor Joseph Hartl as a sort of reward for his participation in several previous charity concerts granted him use of the Theater-ander-Wien on December 22 for an Akademie or benefit concert. Beethoven's advertisement of December 17 in the Wiener Zeitung promised that "all the pieces are of his composition, entirely new and not yet heard in public." The audience which appeared at 6:30 p.m. that Thursday evening was treated as they shivered in the bitterly cold auditorium to an extravaganza of Beethoven's works lasting four hours.
The program featured the Pastoral Symphony in F, the scene and aria Ah Perfido, a hymn with Latin text "composed in the church style," and the Fourth Piano Concerto in G, played by Beethoven. After the intermission the audience heard the premier public performances of the Fifth Symphony in C, a Fantasia for pianoforte alone, the Sanctus from the Mass in C recently composed for Princess Esterhazy's birthday, and "a Fantasia for pianoforte which ends with the gradual entrance of the entire orchestra and the introduction of choruses as a finale" Beethoven's own succinct and adequate description of our Choral Fantasia, Opus 80.
The Choral Fantasia "was thrown together" at the last moment since Beethoven felt this benefit concert required a "grand" finale. Having a chorus already available he brought his Fantasia to a radiant climax of three stirring minutes featuring all elements, pianoforte, orchestra and chorus.
He chose as the Fantasia's theme a simple song melody which he had written in the 1790's and which he would later vastly elaborate in the Finale of the Ninth Symphony.
So rapidly was the Choral Fantasia composed that it could not be adequately rehearsed. The performers received their parts still wet with the copyists' ink. Even granting the known inability of contemporary orchestras to cope with the demands of his music, Beethoven's recent quarrels with the musicians resulted in a number of mishaps during the concert. One such in the performance of the Choral Fantasia to use Beethoven's words “would have led to the most horrible dissonances." He had to stop the playing, point out the mistake and recommence in the middle of the work. Thus under-rehearsed the Choral Fantasia was received as a mixed success.
Solidly within Beethoven's second period of compositional development, the Choral Fantasia falls between Opus 61, the Violin Concerto and Opus 73, the Fifth Piano Concerto. At the first performance Beethoven magically improvised at the piano since the notation for the solo part was not completed until the following year, 1809. The work was dedicated to King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria.
Tchaikovsky composed the Solemn Overture 1812 between October 12 and November 19, 1880 in a period of slackened creativity during his life. It falls among his important compositions between the Fourth Symphony of 1878 and the Manfred Symphony of 1885. He created it to celebrate the Moscow Exhibition. It was first performed by a gigantic orchestra assembled in the great public square of Moscow on August 20, 1882, one hundred years ago.
Tchaikovsky exhibited little enthusiasm for the Overture, doubting its value when it was completed. As an occasional work it has been dubbed the "world's worst and noisiest overture." Nevertheless its powerful and melodramatic popularity coupled with its unrivaled orchestral color has never waned depending as it does for its effectiveness on its sonorities.
The 1812 Overture celebrated the defeat of Napoleon's Grand Army through the retreat forced on it by the strategically withdrawing Russian forces after the bloody Battle of Borodino. This forced retreat the Russians have always viewed as their great victory over the Corsican General.
Commencing with the solemn introduction of the Russian hymn, God Preserve Thy People, the music builds to a fervid and bombastic depiction of the Battle illustrated through the intermixing of the Marseillaise and the Czarist Anthem God Save the Czar. Russian victory emerges as the Anthem triumphs above an orchestral clamor of magnificent sonority. Bells accompany the victory celebration in the square of Moscow.