Haydn’s Dire Straits Mass

No, it’s not liturgical music by Mark Knopfler & Co. “Dire Straits Mass” is my translation of the title of Haydn’s Missa in angustiis, written during one of the bleakest years of Napoleon’s war on the Germans (abetted by other Germans).

I’ve been listening appreciatively to the recording by the American Bach Soloists out of New York, available from Magnatune: Haydn Masses by American Bach Soloists. (The page includes a Flash player and audio streams for browsers that don’t like Flash.)

I think you should at least hear the opening “Kyrie.” In it, Haydn gives his audience what they expected — formal beauty, fancy singing, music suited to the sumptuous surroundings in which it was performed — while also evoking the fear and anguish of people who felt that the world they knew might be coming to a violent end. It’s quite a feat.

It’s not a mood that Haydn chooses to sustain throughout the mass; the “Gloria” that follows is all sunshine and cathedral spires. I have an old LP of this mass, but this recording is much superior.

The nickname “Lord Nelson Mass” is embarrassing and ought to be retired.

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