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Cat. No. CHAN 0645 Price: £10.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 0645 - Haydn: Heiligmesse · Nikolaimesse
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Available From: 21 October 1999
On his return to Vienna from London in 1795 Haydn resumed his duties as Kapellmeisterto the Esterházy family. The new Prince, Nikolaus II, stimulated the musical life of the court which had been at a low ebb since 1790. In this he was encouraged by his wife, Princess Marie Hermenegild, who was particularly fond of Haydn and his music. It was for her nameday celebrations in 1796 that Haydn worked upon the first in a sequence of six masses. As was often the custom, the work was given a title that featured a saint’s name: Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida (Heiligmesse).

Haydn had no composed a mass for fourteen years, and this work has the unmistakable feeling of a composer connecting with his roots. As the opening of the Kyrie suggests, this is the most openly tuneful of Haydn’s late masses. At the beginning of the Sanctus he wrote in the margin next to the tenor line ‘Heilig’, drawing gentle attention to a well-known hymn tune ‘Heilig, Heilig’ (Holy, Holy) which is concealed in the middle of the texture. It is a reference that led to the nickname ‘Heiligmesse’.

A more familiar saint is commemorated ion the Missa Sancti Nicolai from 1772 and the work was probably performed to celebrate the nameday of the then Prince Esterházy, Nikolaus – grandfather of Nikolaus II. The work belongs to a distinct type of mass associated with Advent, often separately catalogued in eighteenth-century sources as missae pastorale (pastoral masses). Gently lilting metres, simple melodies and a propensity for the top of the texture to move down – deferentially – in thirds, conjure up images of the ecclesiastical season. Even the choice of G major was to distinguish them in sonority from the large number of masses in C.

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