Programme notes

Missa Brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo in Bb maj Hob XXII:7, Joseph Haydn (1732—1809)

Kyrie; Gloria (original version); Credo: Et incarnatus est…Et resurrexit…; Sanctus; Benedictus (Organ and Soprano Solos), Osanna; Agnus Dei.

This brief mass was written around 1775 in Kismarton, Hungarian Kingdom (now Eisenstadt, Austria) for a religious order devoted to providing medical services to the poor, whose founder and patron saint was St. John of God. The Esterhazy family, Haydn’s patron, were generous supporters of the Order. The mass is often known as the 'kleine Orgelmesse' or 'Little Organ Mass' because of the extensive organ solo in the Benedictus.

The setting is divided into six movements and scored for a soprano soloist, chorus, strings and organ. The movements are the conventional parts of the mass: Kyrie; Gloria (original version); Credo: Et incarnatus est…Et resurrexit…; Sanctus; Benedictus (Organ and Soprano Solos), Osanna; Agnus Dei.

As this is a missa brevis, (a ‘short mass’), several clauses of the text in the Gloria and Credo are set simultaneously in different voices—a common characteristic of Austrian masses from the 18th century. The mass was also performed in Salzburg, where the compressing of the text was considered 'unacceptable', so Michael Haydn, the composer’s brother, expanded the Gloria. The Mass evidently retained its popularity into the nineteenth century as Johann Georg Albrechtsberger wrote a new Benedictus for it, replacing the old-fashioned organ solo, and the whole work was eventually given parts for clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets for performance at Eisenstadt.

It is not hard to see why so much trouble should have been taken to update it, for it has, in the words of H C Robbins Landon, a ‘quiet spirit of devotion, even of mysticism, that is most appealing’.

Jack Lovell

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