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Michael HAYDN (1737-1806)
Missa Sancti Nicolai Tolentini, MH 109 (1768) [36:40]
Vesperae Pro Festo Sancti Innocentium (1774-87) [36:05]
Anima Nostra, MH 452 (1787) [5:56]
Jenni Harper, Emily Owen (soprano), Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Marko Sever (organ)
St. Albans Cathedral Girls’ Choir, Lawes Baroque Players/Tom Winpenny.
rec. July 23-24, 2019; St. Saviour’s Church, St. Albans, UK
Latin texts and English translations included.
NAXOS 8.574163 [78:54]

On some 12 or 15 occasions, mostly in the 1990s and 2000s I went, in autumn, to an academic conference organized by the Department of English of the University of Salzburg. Each year I gave a paper (usually on a poet or some aspect of poetics), talked to friends new and old over some local wine, went to a concert or two and made efforts to visit the small museum devoted to Michael Haydn, attached to the Abbey of St. Peter in the centre of the city where the composer spent much of his working life, and where he and his wife are buried. I say ‘efforts’ because in all those years I never managed to get inside the museum; I always found it closed. I was aware that it had limited opening hours, details of which appeared in the museum window. However, timing my trips to coincide with the hours when the museum was supposedly open did me no good. I still found it closed every time!

There is a similar frustration in reading about Johann Michael Haydn (to give him his full name). Most of the important work on him is in German and my German is too basic for me to learn much from my attempts to read the relevant German scholarship. Some years ago I struggled through the book which effectively kick-started the revival of interest in Michael Haydn and his works, Hans Jancik’s Michael Haydn, ein vergessener Meister (Zurich, 1952) – described by the great Haydn scholar Karl Geiringer (Notes, Second series, 9:4, 1952, p. 619) as “a valuable addition to our knowledge of music and cultured life at Salzburg in the 18th century” – and learned from it, amongst other things, that Schubert admired Haydn’s 20 deutsche Lieder. Fortunately, there is by now some significant work available in English, such as the Chronological Thematic Catalogue of his work by Charles H. Sherman and T. Donley Thomas (1993) and several dissertations such as those by Jeffrey Thomas Poland, Michael Haydn’s Masses and Requiem Mass (University of Cincinnati, 1984), G.T. Hellenbrand, Michael Haydn’s Symphonies: A Chronological Perspective (University of Illinois, 2005) and Erick Arenas, Johann Michael Haydn and the Orchestral Solemn Mass in Eighteenth-Century Vienna and Salzburg (Stanford University, 2013).

At least I can listen to some of the younger Haydn’s music (he was born five years after Franz Joseph). In doing so – although my acquaintance with his work is, I confess, partial and patchy – I can see why he was so well thought of by many of his contemporaries (including Mozart fils). One needs, of course, to resist the temptation to exaggerate his importance or his achievements. I remember once having a conversation with a member of one of Salzburg’s several excellent choirs, who insisted that Michael was a better choral composer than Franz Joseph was, (an opinion which Franz Joseph seems to have shared!) but I think that my interlocutor’s opinion was largely the product of an excess of local pride: Michael Haydn seems to have been adopted as an honorary citizen of Salzburg. But without making any excessive claims for Michael Haydn’s music, I find it easy to agree with an observation made by Rick Anderson (in Notes, 2nd series, 63:12, 2006, p.419) in which he suggests that “it seems likely that if he [i.e. Michael Haydn] had been born with a different last name, he could have become almost as much of a household name as his older brother is today.”

This new CD offers evidence to justify such a claim (while remembering Anderson’s use of the qualifier “almost”). The major work here is the Missa Sancti Nicolai Tolentini. Alongside it we hear a sequence, Vesperae Pro Festo Sancti Innocentium, compiled from the works of Michael Haydn by Nicholas Lang (1772-1837), who, as a cleric at the Cathedral in Salzburg appears, in the words of Tom Winpenny’s booklet notes “to have worked closely with Haydn, assisting as copyist (and later cataloguer)”. The sequence is made up of eight pieces, written between 1774 and 1787. In the order of Lang’s compilation they are ‘Deus in adjutorium meum’ (MH 454), ‘Dixit Dominus’ (MH 294), ‘Confiteor tibi’ (MH 304), ‘Beatus Vir’ (MH 304), ‘De profundis clamavi’ (MH 304), ‘Memento Domine David’ (MH 200), ‘Salvete flores martyrum’ (MH 307) and ‘Magnificat’ (MH 294). Here, as elsewhere the MH numbers refer to the Chronological Thematic Catalogue by Sherman and Thomas of 1993 (see above). Winpenny’s notes tell is that the order of Lang’s sequence corresponds precisely with “the movements of another vespers setting for the same feast (MH 348)” in a manuscript also written by Lang. The disc closes with a setting of the offertory text for Holy Innocents Day – ‘Anima nostra’.

Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (c.1245-1305) was an Italian Augustinian friar and mystic. Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai Tolentini was written for the Augustinian house in Salzburg, which was in the district known as Muellin – now more famous for the Augustiner Braustubl, a brewery and beer hall. The score requires a choir of high voices, a small orchestra and two soprano soloists. The Augustinian house in Salzburg had no associated school and it seems unlikely that it would have been home to boy singers accomplished enough to take the two soprano parts. Winpenny plausibly suggests that the mass may have been written for a special occasion such as the visit of the bishop, or the abbot of St. Peter’s. For such an ‘event’ musicians and singers might have been brought in from elsewhere in the city. It is at least possible that one of the sopranos might have been Maria Magdalena Lipp, daughter of the assistant organist at the Salzburg court, who became the wife of Michael Haydn in the very year that that this mass was written, i.e. 1768.

The female voices on this recording bring beautiful radiance to the opening of the ‘Kyrie eleison’ and the writing for soprano and choir interweaves soloist and choir delightfully. In the setting of the words ‘Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison’ there isn’t, it has to be admitted, the petitionary weight one hears in the very greatest settings of the mass, but that isn’t to say that Haydn trivializes the text in any way. This setting is undoubtedly beautiful, even if there are others that have greater power. In Haydn’s setting of the ‘Gloria’ there is some especially attractive use of the violins and the trumpet. Indeed, movement after movement is musically rewarding and, within the terms of Haydn’s idiom, spiritually rich. In the ‘Quoniam’ the interplay of the two violins and the two soprano soloists is a fine piece of sacred music in an essentially galant style which avoids the inherent danger of sounding merely secular. The ‘Credo’, to take another example, is full of joyously affirmative rhythms, creating a genuine sense of celebration, with trumpet and violin again prominent. The setting of ‘Et incarnatus est’ involves a further gorgeous dialogue between the two violins and the two sopranos. The closing movements of this Missa Sancti Nicolai Tolentini bring the work to an attractive conclusion. The ‘Sanctus’ achieves a degree of solemnity one doesn’t always find in sacred works written for upper voices only. The setting of the ‘Benedictus’ has grace and elegance, while the ‘Agnus Dei’ has a movingly poetic sense of reflection. The work closes, in the ‘Dona nobis pacem’, with some exhilarating scalar writing. While this is not one of the greatest or most memorable settings of the mass, it is a finely crafted piece of work, attractively varied within a consistent idiom, balancing its own kind of power with real elegance. A choir of boys would, no doubt, be more ‘authentic’, but the St. Albans Cathedral Girls’ Choir (made up of 24 girls between the ages of 8 and 14) do, very competently, all that is asked of them and I found their sound thoroughly prepossessing and persuasive.

Both the remaining works on this disc, the Vesperae Pro Festo Sancti Innocentium, compiled by Nikolaus Lang, and the Anima Nostra, were written for use on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (i.e. December 28th), remembering the young children killed on Herod’s orders. Only boy choristers sang on this feast day; thus these works, like the Missa Sancti Nicolai Tolentini, are for upper voices only. (The manuscript compilation by Lang has been edited by Tom Winpenny). Among the most striking movements in this sequence are the ‘Dixit Dominus’, the ‘Beatus Vir’ and ‘De profundis clamavis’. The ‘Dixit Dominus’ begins in lively fashion and Haydn goes on to make effective and expressive use of word-painting. On the evidence both of this recording and of other recordings of his sacred music which I have heard, Michael Haydn seems always to have thought hard about the texts he was setting and been concerned to give effective musical expression to their meanings. The same interest and skill are evident in the ‘Beatus Vir’, where mezzo Helen Charlston is the soloist – as she is in the ‘De profundis clamavis’, where she does full justice to the intense poignancy of the opening of Haydn’s setting. Tom Winpenny writes (very aptly) of this movement that “Haydn’s lyricism reigns supreme in the movement’s expansive phrases of gestural economy”. In the hymn ‘Salvete flores martyrum’ (the text of which is the work of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, whose poem the Psychomachia was a major influence on the poetry of mediaeval Europe), Haydn’s setting balances expressiveness and elegance perfectly, not least in the way it makes use of the organ.

No great claims need be made for Michael Haydn’s setting of the ‘Anima Nostra’, the offertory text, from verse 7 of Psalm 123, for the Festival of Holy Innocents. Though this is an assured and interesting piece, up to the high standards Michael Haydn very largely maintained, the argument for welcoming this CD has already been made, very conclusively, by the two larger works preceding it.

The performances throughout this disc are pleasing and intelligently perceptive. Tom Winpenny certainly deserves praise for the skill and sensitivity with which he has evidently prepared and directed this music. He is well served by the Girls’ Choir of St. Albans Cathedral – who sing with impeccable intonation and with a freshness and youthfulness which are especially fitting in the two works intended for use on Holy Innocents Day – as well as by his soloists. Though I am unable to identify which of the two sopranos sings on individual tracks, I am happy to report that both acquit themselves very well. The six instrumentalists who make up the Lawes Baroque Players also contribute valuably – especially the two violinists (Kati Debretzeni and Miles Golding) and the two trumpeters (Thomas Hewitt and Ellie Lovegrove); cellist Henrik Persson and double bassist Peter McCarthy help to articulate that rhythmic vitality which is one of the significant characteristics of Michael Haydn’s sacred music.

The music of Michael Haydn was certainly well regarded in his lifetime (even though he chose never to publish any of his work). The esteem is evidenced by the number of manuscripts of his sacred music which survive in libraries right across Central Europe, as well as by the fact that, according to Hans Jancik (see above), he received a commission from as far away as Seville and an award from Stockholm. The younger Mozart certainly respected Michael Haydn and his music, and it has been plausibly argued that Michael Haydn’s Requiem of 1772, which Leopold and Wolfgang certainly heard, was a significant influence on Wolfgang’s own Requiem – see Christoph Wolff, Mozart’s Requiem: historical and analytical studies, documents, score (1998). There is also interesting material on the relationship between Michael Haydn and Wolfgang Mozart in the dissertation (University of California, 2012) by Alison Elaine Spieth, A Matter of Taste: Duos for Violin and Viola by Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
One of the best brief accounts of Michael Haydn that I know is to be found in Richard Wigmore’s Haydn, in the series of Faber Pocket Guides (2009). Of his subject’s younger brother, Wigmore writes (pp. 91-92) that he “was a gifted but unambitious composer who, in contrast to Mozart, was happy to spend most of his working life (from 1763) in the service of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. Mozart father and son both remarked on Michael’s drinking, Leopold with stern disapproval, Wolfgang with amusement. The Haydn brothers probably did not meet between the 1760s and 1798, when Michael spent some time in Vienna. During another visit in 1801 Michael, renowned above all for his church music, was offered the post of Esterházy vice-Kapellmeister but eventually refused.” That Michael Haydn was unambitious - Wigmore is not the only modern writer to come to that conclusion about him - that he was (over)fond of a drink and that he chose not to publish his work, none of these things, alone or together, show that he didn’t take his art seriously or was a lazy, casual musician. To listen to more than a little of his music is to become convinced that he was very certainly a careful, thoughtful, occasionally ‘inspired’ composer, whose craftsmanship is evident in almost everything he wrote.

After his general neglect during most of the Nineteenth Century and the first half of the Twentieth Century, recent decades have seen a revival of interest in Michael Haydn, in terms both of scholarship and recordings. Labels such as CPO, Hyperion and Hungaroton have made available important works by the composer. Naxos has previously released two CDs of Michael Haydn’s symphonies, played by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic, conducted by Patrick Gallois (review ~ review). With this new disc, Naxos have made another very worthwhile addition to the Michael Haydn discography.

Glyn Pursglove

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