Nelson Mass

Almost every year between 1796 and 1802 Joseph Haydn composed a high mass for the name day of Maria Josepha, wife of Prince Nicholas

Esterházy II. Composed in 1798, the year Creation was premi?red, the mass appears as ‘Missa in Angustiis’ or ‘Mass for Troubled Times’ in Haydn’s autograph list of works. The curious title refers to the Napoleonic wars that were threatening Europe at the time. The work takes its nickname from the British Admiral Lord Nelson who, together with Lady Hamilton, visited Haydn in Vienna in 1800. On this occasion the composer organised a performance of the mass, which had been composed at the time of the Admiral’s victory at Aboukir Bay in 1798. From that time onwards the mass was referred to as ‘Nelson Mass’.
The D-minor movements (Kyrie and Benedictus) emphasise the ominous character indicated in the original title, while the fast-moving, brilliant D-major movements counterbalance the sombre sonority with power and light. The two movements with the longest text, the Gloria and the Credo, are each divided into three large, slow–fast–slow sections. The Sanctus begins with slow, subtly harmonised music, and the starting section of Agnus Dei, performed by the quartet of the soloists, serves as a slow introduction. A vigorous, brilliant chorus closes what is probably Haydn’s most popular mass – ‘Dona nobis pacem’ (‘Grant us peace’).