Franz Joseph Haydn is the “Father of the Symphony” and the “Father of the Quartet”. A curious historical simplification for a work that includes a huge number of lyric and religious scores. The Creation, one of his oratorios, hardly gained a popularity comparable to the instrumental music. Moreover, the musical climax of Haydn’s works, the ultimate mastery, is not illustrated by instrumental works, but by the impressive series of the solemn masses that he wrote every year for the patronal festival of Princess Marie Hermenégilde Esterhazy at the beginning of September. And, as the crowning glory, the great poem-oratorio - The Seasons.
Right from their creation, Haydn’s last masses were considered his most eminent works, especially the penultimate of them, the M Hob. XXII-13 mass in B flat which was performed for the first time in the Bergkirche at Eisenstadt - to some extent, the Esterhazy family’s official church - on Sunday 13th September, 1801. Just a year after its first performance, Johann Adam Miller wrote on the first copy of the score: Opus summum viri summi J. Haydn, which could be translated as THE masterpiece of one of the greatest composers. From 1804, Breitkopf published the score, which was rare at that time.
Today it is known as the Creation Mass. The recording we present here was the first in the repertoire at the date of its publication (1962). It was given the name “Creation Mass” in the last century (but not by Haydn!) because there is a close-quotation of an air from The Creation celebrating the morning joy (Der tauende Morgen, o, wie ermuntet er) in the Gloria over the words Qui tollis peccata mundi sung by the bass. However, this is not a literal quotation: the tempo and accompaniment differ from those of the corresponding piece in the oratorio. In the mass, Haydn first quotes the tune in an instrumental prelude played by the clarinets and horns before having it sung by the bass soloist.
The Empress Marie-Thérèse was shocked by this quotation and Haydn had to change this piece, regardless of its excellence. Of course, in this recording we have restored the original text of the handwritten score, which had just been published in facsimile at the time. The meaning of this close-quotation is easy to understand. In The Creation, the duet N°32 praises the grandeur of the human couple at the height of the Lord’s works. Theology has always explained that God became Man to restore human dignity or (in St Irénée’s words) to allow Man to become God. The parallel between the Adam and Eve duet and the Qui Tollis (You who have taken on all the evil of the world) thus reflects a deep liturgical symbolism.
The Creation Mass employs a particularly extensive orchestra through which Haydn has brilliantly made full use of all the tones: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets and cymbals join the string chorus. In the Et incarnatus est - a stirring Christmas pastorale - the organ accompanying all the scores becomes concertante and Haydn even wrote down the flute registers to be used. In fact, this is the first symphonic mass in musical history and it opened the way to Beethoven’s and Schubert’s masses through both the monumental breadth of its conception and the completely new unity of its pieces.
In spite of this, Haydn expresses all the nuances of the text with great precision. We could analyse it minutely. Let us at least note the sudden piano, even pianissimo, over the word invisibilium - “the invisible world” - or the astonishing supporting role of the trumpets in passus et sepultus (he suffered his Passion and was entombed) and in the evocation of the Last Judgment in the Credo. There is no doubt that no other concertante mass expressed the “trisagios” or “thrice holy”, at the start of the Sanctus, to such perfection. And the quartet with the Benedictus chorus and its three pieces which let us know that “The one who comes in the name of God” (a quotation of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday) is indeed the symbol of the Trinitarian God.
The magnificent melodic invention, monumental choruses and lavish orchestration combine with unusual contrapuntal skill: the great fugue which ends the Gloria In Gloria Dei Patris, Amen is one of the most impressive of that time. No other of Haydn’s scores achieved such natural mastery of the expressive modulation in the harmonic language. From this point of view, Haydn becomes Mozart’s equal and succeeds in linking apparently far-removed tones most naturally. It must be stressed that all this is wholly dedicated to the truth and force of the musical expression. The Agnus Dei with its deeply moving dramatization never departs from the hieratic framework of liturgical music and its primary function: to lead Man to the threshold of the prayer of the heart and “repose in God”
Carl de NYS