Haydn was, perhaps, a more contented person than either his
elder brother Franz Josef or his younger contemporary Mozart.
After all he spent forty three years in the service of just
two Archbishops of Salzburg. The court of the Prince-Archbishop
had a long history of music-making. Muffat and Biber had held
positions at court. When Michael Haydn was appointed composer
and konzertmeister to Archbishop Siegmund Christoph, Count of
Schrattenbach, in 1762, he had a luxurious musical establishment
numbering around one hundred. Archbishop Siegmund introduced
a number of liturgical reforms into services, including German
hymns in all church services and shortening the Mass settings
used. Michael Haydn was an enthusiastic participant in these
it is all the more surprising that he was amicable with Archbishop
Siegmund’s resident wunderkind, one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Mozart eventually left the Archbishop’s service, chafing at
the musical restrictions he was placed under. Though Mozart
was never Haydn’s pupil, they enjoyed a warm relationship and
the presence of Michael Haydn’s works in manuscripts in the
young Mozart’s hand has managed to confuse musicologists in
the past. On a later visit to Salzburg, Mozart even wrote some pieces which
he passed off as Haydn’s, finding the composer too ill to complete
a commission from the Archbishop.
1771 Haydn’s daughter Aloysia Josepha died just before her first
birthday, then on December 16th of that year his
patron Archbishop Siegmund died. In a remarkably rapid time
he had completed the Requiem pro defuncto Archiepiscopo
Sigismundo to be performed on December 31st.
Though ostensibly written for his patron, this highly passionate
work must reflect his emotional turmoil at the death of his
and his father had returned to Salzburg
the day before the Archbishop died and Mozart was undoubtedly
present in the city whilst Haydn was writing the mass. The young
prodigy (he was 15 at the time) had a remarkably retentive memory.
Even if we have no written record of the impression the mass
made on him, we can be sure it did make a strong impression
because twenty years later, when he came to write his own Requiem,
the influence of Michael Haydn’s Requiem is everywhere. There
is a similarity of musical motifs in the two works and in various
individual sections, Mozart’s response seems to have been coloured
by his memories of Haydn’s work. But more than that, the two
works seem to share the same sombre, neo-classical atmosphere.
orchestra uses four trumpets (two playing high, two playing
low) and three trombones, doubling the chorus, as was customary,
(no flutes, oboes or clarinets). From the piece’s very opening
he creates a dark atmosphere with a strong depth of feeling;
an atmosphere that Mozart was to reproduce in his own way in
his Requiem. There are innumerable little points of similarity
between the works and Robert King’s article in the CD booklet
details some of them with admirable clarity. But what we must
do is try and listen to Michael Haydn’s Requiem as a work in
its own right.
King’s recorded catalogue includes very little music by Haydn
and his contemporaries, but he shows fine commitment to this
music. He and the orchestra perform in well-shaped phrases and
King’s speeds seem admirable.
choir (mixed voices with women and men on the alto line) produces
a focused well modulated sound; they phrase the music naturally
and flexibly. Though sounding rather English in their choral
sound (not necessarily a bad thing) they use Germanic pronunciation
for the Latin, which is wholly laudable. Haydn uses the soloists
more as a semi-chorus rather than chopping the text up into
arias. King’s team (Carolyn Sampson, Hilary Summers, James Gilchrist
and Peter Harvey) are beautifully blended and well balanced.
I was particularly taken with Hilary Summers’ gloriously dark,
focused tone, but all four sing with admirable flexibility.
is an astonishing work; Michael Haydn was notable for his equably
serene temperament and grief seems to have temporarily channelled
his talent into something deeper and more significant. Robert
King and his forces have given the piece a wonderful performance
and I only hope it spurs other groups on to performing it.
can only imagine that when preparing the disc, the plan was
to use Michael Haydn’s later mass in honour of St. Ursula as
a filler. In the event it seems to have been just too long and
they have spread the works onto two discs for the price of one.
in Honorem Sancti Ursulae was
written in 1793 (two years after Mozart’s Requiem and over twenty
years after Michael Haydn’s own Requiem) for performance at
the Benedictine Convent on an island in the Bavarian Chiemsee.
Michael Haydn wrote around three dozen masses and this is a
fine, substantial example of his late style. To an untutored
ear, perhaps, it has rather more in common with his brother’s
late style than it does with Mozart’s later masses. In the Benedictus
Michael Haydn writes for soprano solo alone and Carolyn Sampson
gets an opportunity to shine, which she does admirably.
and his forces give the Mass a satisfyingly spirited performance,
but these discs are memorable for their fine recording of Michael
Haydn’s astonishing Requiem. This must be one of my records
of the year and I do urge you to buy it.