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Miscellaneous Notes

Missa "in tempore belli" - Paukenmesse

Franz Josef Haydn

Haydn’s last six masses were written annually for the name day celebrations of the wife of Prince Nicolas II. Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War) was composed in 1796. The subtitle Paukenmesse (Kettledrum Mass) refers to the prominent role of the timpani, especially in unexpected parts like the Agnus Dei. The Missa in tempore belli belongs to that same expansive compositional period as his late symphonies and The Creation, and it is truly symphonic in concept and scale.

The Missa in tempore belli opens like a symphony, with a slow introduction in the Kyrie (and the first appearance of the timpani) before moving on to the main theme. The music does not reflect the three-part structure of the Kyrie text; Haydn disposes of the second line, “Christe eleison”, in a mere four measures. The Gloria is divided into three parts, allegro-adagio-allegro, like a miniature Italian symphony. The middle section features a beautifully lyric cello line. The Credo is divided into sections that generally reflect the text, but again Haydn is more concerned with the larger musical structure. At the opening, as each voice part enters, it takes a different line of text. Haydn introduces a truncated fugue at the last line, but rather than continue the fugue to the end as might be expected, he instead constructs an elaborate coda with the quartet of soloists and the chorus alternating in an antiphonal manner.

The Sanctus and Agnus Dei contain the most strikingly unusual music of this mass. The Sanctus opens slowly, but builds to a rather ominous forte on the text “pleni sunt coeli” before moving to a brief but more genial Hosanna. The Benedictus is set largely for the solo quartet, with the three lower voices supporting the soprano melody with detached notes like pizzicato strings. The sense of foreboding continues into the Agnus Dei, which opens in a minor key, with the timpani sounding ominously underneath. The music brightens with trumpet fanfares, ending with an unexpectedly dance-like “dona nobis pacem.”

France had been at war with Austria almost continuously since the French Revolution, which had greatly traumatized Austria. Marie Antoinette, who was executed in 1793, was the sister of Emperor Joseph II. Napoleon was commander-in-chief of the French armies and was at that time systematically defeating Austrian armies at every turn and despoiling Austria of its Italian possessions. Haydn composed the Missa in tempore belli in 1796 while Austria was mobilizing its troops again after an ineffectual peace accord, and some people hear the distant thunder of cannons in the persistent timpani of the mass. If the upbeat ending reflects Haydn’s faith in the Austrian army, Haydn was sadly mistaken. The Austrians endured a series of defeats by the French, and Napoleon’s armies occupied Vienna in 1805 and again in 1809. Ironically, the French revered Haydn far more than his native Austrians ever did, and set an honor guard around his house to make sure he was not disturbed.

© Michael Moore