'Few artists enjoyed such success and acquired such a remarkable
reputation as Hasse; few have been forgotten more completely
than he is now'. These words were written in 1844 by one of the
fathers of musicology, François Joseph Fétis, in
his monumental Biographie universelle des musiciens.
opinion is, alas, just as valid today: little of Hasse's music
is performed and even less is recorded." These are the first
sentences in the programme notes of this recording, written by
Denis Morrier. But that was 1992, the year this disc was first
released. Since then there has been a growing interest in Hasse's
music, maybe even as a result of this production - who knows?
Fact is that today there are a number of discs on the market
which shed light on the oeuvre of one of the most prolific composers
of around 1750. Hasse was born in Bergedorf, near Hamburg, in
a musical family. He was educated as a singer, and from an early
age he was especially interested in opera. The Neapolitan opera
was the fashion of the day, so he went to Naples to listen and
learn. He was given lessons by Alessandro Scarlatti, and soon
started to compose, especially serenatas and intermezzi. He quickly
received the reputation of being able to compose at high speed,
and as a result his output is huge. As so often, this has probably
worked against him, suggesting that his compositions lack depth
In Naples he converted to Catholicism and in Venice he married
Faustina Bordoni, one of the most celebrated opera singers of
her time. In 1730 Hasse was granted the title of Kapellmeister
the court in Dresden, and in the next decades he spent much time
there, although he also was active elsewhere, in particular in
Venice and Vienna. In Dresden his opera Cleofide was performed
in 1731, and Johann Sebastian Bach and his eldest son Wilhelm
Friedemann attended the premiere. It was a great success, and
today this opera is available in a splendid recording under the
direction of William Christie (Capriccio).
On 5 October 1763 Prince Augustus II died. His successor was
facing a financial ruin, because of war expenditures and his
father's generosity to a number of beneficiaries. Among them
were Hasse and his wife, whose salaries were unequalled. The
Hasse's were unceremoniously dumped, without even being granted
a pension. They left Dresden for Vienna, where they were received
with much respect.
On the occasion of Prince Augustus's death Hasse composed his
Requiem in C, the main work on this disc. It reflects both the
splendour of Dresden's court and its chapel and the operatic
style of Hasse. The scoring is lavish, and bears witness to the
virtually unlimited possibilities court composers in Dresden
had at their disposal. Apart from strings and basso continuo
the orchestra contains pairs of transverse flutes, oboes, bassoons,
horns and trumpets plus timpani. In particular the use of trumpets
and timpani is unusual; one rather expects them in a piece like
a Te Deum. But this Requiem is probably more a celebration of
Augustus's life and reign than a commemoration of his death.
The opening movement is especially telling in this respect. The
character indication, 'non troppo lento, ma maestoso', can be
taken quite literally here - majestic.
In his Requiem Hasse is also unashamedly operatic: many solo
episodes are treated like opera arias, and include virtuosic
coloraturas and sometimes even cadenzas. Examples are 'Exaudi
orationem meam' (Introitus), 'Mors stupebit' and 'Quaerens me'
(Dies irae). This doesn't mean there are no passages which breathe
the sphere of a Requiem Mass. The alto aria 'Recordare, Jesu
pie' (Dies irae) is one of the most moving and expressive episodes
of this work. In the same section the alto solo 'Inter oves'
suddenly changes in character on the words "In supplication
and prostrate before Thee, with broken heart and turned to ashes,
I beg Thee to take care of my last hour". The last words
just fade away on the repetition of a single note.
The other work is in minor key, something one would expect in
a piece with a text like 'Miserere mei, Deus' - "Have mercy
upon me, O God", one of the penitential psalms. But even
here there are coloraturas and cadenzas. In the doxology, for
instance, the word "sancto" gets extended coloraturas
and a cadenza, first in the voice, then in the orchestra. In
the first section of this work the text is expressed with great
eloquence, partly thanks to an effective use of crescendi in
the orchestra. Great expression can be found in the solo sections
in 'Ecce enim in iniquitatibus'. This section ends with a lively
episode on the words "O give me the comfort of thy help
again (...) then shall I teach thy ways to the wicked (...)".
Very introverted is the second half of 'Libera me de sanguinibus': "Open
thou my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise".
This disc impressively demonstrates the quality of Hasse's sacred
music as well as the qualities of Dresden's chapel. Not without
reason it was considered the best orchestra of Europe. Il Fondamento
leaves nothing to be desired; the orchestral score is brilliantly
executed. No less impressive is the choir which is powerful and
transparent. It shines in the more dramatic passages as well
as in the episodes where Hasse makes use of the stile antico
Although there are four main solo parts the Requiem contains
some passages for two altos or two tenors. The second voices
are sung by Vincent Grégoire (alto) and Neil Johnson (tenor),
both members of the choir. The bulk of the solo parts goes to
the alto, and with the Argentine Susanna Moncayo von Hase this
part is ideally cast. She has a nice and warm timbre and her
low register is quite strong. No less impressive is Greta De
Reyghere who in particular shines in 'Quoniam si voluisses' (Miserere).
I have always had some trouble with Ian Honeyman whom I am tempted
to compare with an unguided missile. I have heard him singing
very beautifully, but also horribly. Sometimes his singing is
a bit wild, but there is no doubt about his expressive capabilities.
Dirk Snellings hasn't that much to do, but he sings his small
Considering the quality of music and performance one can only
be happy that this recording is available again. It delivers
a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with Hasse's music. I
invite the reader to try this disc, and I wouldn't be surprised
if it would encourage him to look for other recordings of Hasse's
Johan van Veen