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California Bach Society
Paul Flight, artistic director
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Program Notes, May 2014
Haydn and Mozart Rediscovered
An early work of Mozart's, his Misericordias Domini (K. 222), was composed at the request of the Elector of Munich in 1775. It is richly contrapuntal and demonstrates Mozart's uncanny ability to produce sophisticated compositions almost at a moment's notice. Mozart himself described the circumstances of its composition in a letter to Padre Giambattista Martini of Bologna: "A few days before my departure the Elector expressed a desire to hear some of my contrapuntal compositions. I was therefore obliged to write this motet in a great hurry, in order to have time to have the score copied for his Highness and to have the parts written out and thus enable it to be performed during the Offertory at High Mass on the following Sunday." Padre Martini replied, "I find in it all that is required by modern music: good harmony, mature modulations, a moderate pace in the violins, a natural connection of the parts and good taste."
Mozart's Missa Brevis in F major (K. 192) is another work of Mozart's youth (written when he was eighteen), and again shows his precocious, fully developed mastery of musical styles, especially his skill in counterpoint. It is shorter than his large-scale Masses, achieved by through-composing the Gloria and Credo rather than breaking out sections into separate movements, hence "missa brevis," of which Mozart wrote several. Yet, this Mass is fully composed, with lyrical solos, duets, trios, and quartets interwoven into the overall choral texture. The Credo is a striking movement: Mozart uses a four-note theme from an old plainchant that dates back at least as far as the Missa Pange Lingua of Josquin des Prez. This four-note theme shows up in several more of Mozart's compositions, in an early symphony and, most notably, in a much later work — the final movement of his Jupiter symphony, with its spectacular five-subject fugal coda.
Johann Michael Haydn is less famous in modern times that his older brother, Franz Joseph Haydn, yet he was an admired and prolific composer in his own era. He worked in Salzburg as court Konzertmeister for a number of years, including those of Mozart's childhood and early youth, and his music may have had a profound effect on the young genius. Among his students were Carl Maria von Weber and Anton Diabelli. Michael Haydn was an extremely versatile composer, who wrote in both the stile antico and in more modern styles. He wrote a significant amount of sacred music. During the late eighteenth century, the Catholic Church, seeing what it believed to be abuses of sacred music, especially the infiltration of more operatic styles, issued edicts against the use of instrumental music and florid solos in liturgical music. For this concert, Dr. Flight has selected three compositions that fully demonstrate Michael Haydn's ability to write strikingly and expressively, while adhering to those reformed guidelines. Stile antico looks backwards to composers such as Palestrina in terms of form and style, although it does not imitate those composers literally; the tonal palette of these motets is most definitely Classical. Eripe me, Domine is a four part setting of two verses from Psalm 17; it is modest in scale and yet dramatic, with imitative passages and tone painting. Ave, Regina Cælorum is written for double choir; the score almost looks like Gabrieli to the eye with its antiphonal passages and duple/triple meter changes, but is absolutely Classical in its harmonic language. The final Michael Haydn motet on the program is Christus factus est, a moving piece that foreshadows Anton Bruckner's dramatic setting of the same text written in 1884, more than a hundred years later.
Franz Joseph Haydn is the composer who, more than any other, represents the aims and achievements of the Classical era. His influence on later composers — such as Beethoven, Schubert, and even Brahms — is well recognized. The choral works in this concert are a rich representation of his output, both sacred and secular, traversing many moods and states of mind.
His Salve Regina in G minor is set for chorus, soloists, strings, and organ. The choruses and the solos feature expressive, brooding, unornamented vocal lines. The piece is divided into several movements, which gives it an almost symphonic feel. At twenty minutes in length, it is a substantial composition.
Haydn's part songs, for three or four voices and piano, are some of his last compositions. As the most famous and sought-after living composer in Europe at this point in his life, he complained that "my duties increase as my years increase." Yet, these songs were written apparently for his own pleasure and not to fulfill an outside commission. A writer on the AllMusic Blog commented: "Indeed, some of them seem to have a very personal quality that is especially remarkable in view of the essentially entertaining nature of the part song as a genre."
Abendlied zu Gott (Evening Song to God) is very personal in its religious feeling. Der Augenblick (The Glance) addresses the demands and frustrations of love. The comic drinking song Die Beredsamkeit (Eloquence) is very characteristic of Haydn's sense of humor, as he turns his mastery of counterpoint to comic ends. This humor is also evident in Die Harmonie in der Ehe (an observation on a harmonious marriage). Der Greis (The Old Man) is a bittersweet and personal observation of his aging; yet at the end, he thanks Heaven that his life's path has been a harmonious song.
Haydn stopped composing in 1803, after which he prefaced his correspondence with a little musical quotation from Der Greis: "Hin ist alle meine Kraft; alt und schwach bin ich" (Gone is all my strength; old and weak am I).
~ Patricia Jennerjohn