BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE AWARD / BEST CHORAL
'Both performances, from Robert King and his Consort and Choir, are outstanding. The playing is beautifully honed, the choral singing at once clear and thrilling, particularly superb in both the hushed, devotional opening of the Requiem and the elation and sweep of the Ursuline Mass. There's a fine quartet of soloists too, with an exceptional contribution from the much undervalued contralto Hilary Summers. The whole thing serves as a welcome reminder that there are still indeed lost masterpieces out there, waiting to be discovered' (The Guardian)
'A good version of the Requiem appeared last year … but this new one has the edge, in the sharpness of the orchestral contribution (the crucial brass register more pungently), the clarity and attack of the choir, and in the quality of the solo quartet, led by the vernal soprano of Carolyn Sampson. In both works Robert King chooses convincing tempos, keeps the rhythms vital and, in the Mass, never tries to drive Haydn's amiable, graceful music too hard. If you love Mozart's and Joseph Haydn's church music, you can hardly fail to enjoy this' (BBC Music Magazine)
'King's performances are as attractive as the music, with fine solos from Carolyn Sampson and Hilary Summers' (Sunday Times)
'Haydn's flair for large-scale choral writing permeates his majestic Requiem, inspiring a suitably sumptuous performance from Robert King and his excellent musicians' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Robert King teases crisp, clean performances of both works from the Choir of The King's Consort, The King's Consort and an appealing team of soloists in Carolyn Sampson, the fruity voiced Hilary Summers, James Gilchrist and Peter Harvey' (Evening Standard)
'a triumph … Hyperion at its best' (Musicweek)
'The booklet note by King covers useful ground. On the music King is very good, making numerous shrewd observations and conveying the enthusiasm that is evident in these outstanding performances. The real achievement is his, in directing readings of blazing intensity which yet entirely lack artificial excitement' (International Record Review)
'The performances of both works stand in little need of detailed comment. They are quite simply breathtaking in their range and scope, conducted by King with all (and more) of the ardor and blazing commitment his words to me would suggest. The big climactic moments, aided by Hyperion's superlative sound, come across with thrilling immediacy and definition, while Haydn's lyricism is treated with loving care and attention to detail. Add to that an outstanding quartet of soloists, and magnificent choral and orchestral work, and you have an self-recommending issue on the highest level of attainment … Make no mistake; this is a truly great recording that I beg every reader to obtain without further ado' (Fanfare, USA)
Movement 1: Kyrie [3'39]
Movement 2: Gloria [8'47]
Movement 4: Sanctus [2'16]
Movement 5: Benedictus [6'56]
The King’s Consort’s latest foray into the studio brings us a thrilling new recording of Michael Haydn’s Requiem, and reveals the little-known ‘St Ursula’ Mass to be a truly exceptional work.
The Requiem was composed in response to tragedy, the death of Haydn’s patron—the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg—providing the official cloak for an outpouring of grief as much inspired by the death of the composer’s infant daughter. In itself the work is a memorable and confident example of the genre, but its deserved fame has been somewhat eclipsed by the many striking similarities between the Haydn and Mozart Requiems; when Wolfgang Amadeus composed what was to be his last—and most famous—work a full twenty years after Haydn’s memorial to the archbishop had been first performed, he doubtless intended it as the highest of praise to his friend that he borrowed melodies, rhythms, scoring, structure … Such points of musicological interest must no longer be allowed to obscure the worth of the Haydn’s original magnum opus.
Some three dozen Mass-settings by Michael Haydn survive. The Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursula (also known as the ‘Chiemsee-Messe’) currently rests in relative obscurity, being performed rarely and hardly touched in the recording studio. And yet Robert King, his choir, soloists and orchestra here demonstrate this to be a work of great beauty and intense power, with a place both in the liturgy and as a showcase for excellent performances.
Other recommended albums
Tausch: Double Clarinet Concertos; Süssmayr: Concerto movement
Helios (Hyperion's budget label)CDH55188
Eighteenth-century Salzburg was, as it had been for centuries, an archiepiscopal establishment, ruled by the archbishops of Salzburg, Princes of the Holy Roman Empire since the thirteenth century. From medieval times, music had always played a key part in life in the city, and by the seventeenth century, when Muffat and Biber held the chief musical positions, a total of seventy-nine musicians were at their disposal for music-making at court and at the Catholic cathedral. The Prince-Archbishop in power when Michael Haydn was appointed as court composer and Konzertmeister in 1762 was Archbishop Siegmund Christoph, Count of Schrattenbach. Like many of his predecessors, Schrattenbach was a great patron of the arts and the last of the Baroque-minded princes. Archbishop from 1753 to 1771, he was succeeded by Hieronymus, Count of Colloredo (1772–1803), who introduced many Enlightenment-based reforms, including the obligatory inclusion of German hymns at all church services and the shortening of liturgical Mass settings. Michael Haydn was instrumental in the latter reform. Haydn, unlike the young Mozart (who left the city in 1781), was largely content with his work at the court in Salzburg, spending forty-three years in the service of the two archbishops in the dual position of court musician and concertmaster. He enjoyed the luxurious musical establishment there, which in 1757 Mozart’s father Leopold numbered at around one hundred. The high regard in which Haydn was held in Salzburg, close personal ties and a less ambitious nature than that of his brother (or of Mozart) combined to keep him there. Life in Salzburg suited Haydn well – as soon as he arrived he found the atmosphere stimulating and absorbing, not least because his particular talent lay in writing vocal music: Salzburg was the perfect breeding-ground for such a talent. He was highly regarded, as Hoffmann recorded: ‘All connoisseurs of music know, and have known for some time, that as a composer of sacred music Michael Haydn ranks amongst the finest of any age or nations … In this field he is fully his brother’s equal; in fact, by the seriousness of his concept he often surpasses him by far.’
Although the relationship between Haydn and the young Mozart might have been difficult – having a prodigy at court certainly caused resentment in some quarters – it appears that the two composers enjoyed a friendly relationship, based on a mutual respect which by no means diminished as Mozart matured. The two maintained contact even after Mozart left for Vienna in 1781; when Mozart returned to Salzburg in 1783 to show his new wife, Constanze, to his less-than-approving father and sister, he visited Haydn and found his old friend unwell but under pressure from the archbishop to deliver some music. Without hesitation, Mozart went away and wrote two string duos (K423 and 424) which were duly passed to Colloredo as Haydn’s own work.
Despite holding teaching posts within the court, there is no evidence of Haydn ever having taught Mozart. In 1767 Mozart, Haydn and Anton Cajetan Adlgasser (first organist at the cathedral and at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche) collaborated to write an act each for the Lenten oratorio Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots. Mozart often studied Haydn’s works – manuscripts in Mozart’s young hand believed to have been written by the prodigy were later proven to be by Haydn, copied out as an exercise by Mozart. There are also many examples of Mozart drawing inspiration from Haydn’s works. For example, Mozart’s divertimentos and the dance movements from the early symphonies are similar to earlier material by Haydn; Mozart’s first string quintet with double violas (K174) appears to have been influenced by a previous work of Haydn’s (indeed, it may well be that Mozart’s fondness for double violas came from Haydn). Such admiration was widespread: Weber became a pupil, and Schubert wrote to his brother that he venerated Haydn’s work, particularly admiring his calmness and clarity.
Requiem for Archbishop Siegmund
Scholars have drawn many parallels and similarities between Michael Haydn’s Requiem and Mozart’s later unfinished masterpiece. Mozart would certainly have been thoroughly familiar with Haydn’s work, and such a retentive mind – one that was able to recall entire pieces after just one hearing – would surely have remembered both the occasion and much of Haydn’s setting. The extent to which Mozart’s work of twenty years later was influenced can never be fully known, but it is hard to ignore some striking musical similarities.
Haydn’s Requiem provides a vivid musical picture of the archbishop’s memorial service in Salzburg’s cathedral. The orchestral sound is magisterial, often quite dense, with the stirring colours of four trumpets (two clarini playing in the higher, Baroque register and two trombe playing lower – indeed, the fourth player rarely moves into the treble stave) enhanced by three trombones (largely doubling the lower chorus parts), timpani and the strong bass sound that was a feature of Salzburg sacred music. The spirit of Austrian rococo is however not entirely absent, emerging from time to time in elegantly florid string-writing, but the overall picture is, for Haydn, unusually sombre, retaining a palpable depth of feeling. The key, C minor, is also an unusually dark one for him.
The opening movement, ‘Requiem aeternam’, demonstrates a remarkable sense of structure and sonority. It is underpinned by a solemn walking bass line which harks back to the Stabat mater of Pergolesi, which had already become the most performed – and most emulated – sacred work of the entire century. The trumpets punctuate this grave orchestral texture first with stark fanfares, then with stabs at the bass line. At the choir’s first fugal entry, the violins turn to a syncopated accompaniment – the same rhythm that Mozart was to use in the violins at his first choral entry twenty years later. Mozart also uses the same melody as Haydn for the bold statement of ‘et lux perpetua’. For ‘Te decet hymnus’ Haydn gives the plainsong chant to the upper chorus voices, over which the violins begin a passacaglia-like triplet rhythm (Mozart also sets that section in quasi-plainchant and gives it to an upper voice, in his case a solo soprano), later modulating to a demisemiquaver pattern which swirls around the choral lines. At the ‘Christe eleison’ choir and soloists enter into antiphonal dialogue before the powerful opening ‘Kyrie’ theme returns, ending with a mighty trumpet tierce de Picardie.
Haydn sets the substantial text of the ‘Sequenz’ as one continuous, though sectionalized, movement. The Day of Judgement is depicted by sforzando daggers and surges of sound, culminating in a splendid trumpet call for the ‘Tuba mirum’, before the soprano and then the alto soloist present a more expressive section, led off by the soprano’s ‘Mors stupebit’ (Mozart also moves to solo voices for this section). Amongst Haydn’s constantly varied and imaginative instrumental accompaniments come some remarkably modern harmonies. The descending ‘Recordare, Jesu pie’ introduces a major-key ‘Juste judex’ for the tenor, complete with a groaning ‘Ingemisco’, and a lyrical ‘Preces meae’ from the bass. Stark accents punctuate the ‘Confutatis maledictis’; ‘Oro supplex’ is smoothly arpeggionic. Another similarity between Haydn and Mozart comes with the rhythm of the ‘Lacrimosa’ motif before an extensive ‘Amen’ closes this, the longest movement of the Requiem.
The tenor opens ‘Domine Jesu’ in optimistic dialogue with the chorus (whose opening rhythm is similar to that later used by Mozart); Haydn’s harmonies and the chorus inexorably slide towards the bottomless pit from which the bass soloist also calls for deliverance; the brass drive the chorus closer towards a possible fall into darkness from which they are rescued by the soprano’s gloriously lyrical ‘Sed signifer sanctus’. The G minor fugue at ‘Quam olim Abrahae’ finds Mozart’s and Haydn’s fugal rhythm to be identical. Haydn’s ‘Hostias’ is lyrical, with a triplet string motif woven amongst solo episodes before an identical repeat of the ‘Abraham’ fugue (Mozart’s own writing of his Requiem comes to a halt at this point).
The ‘Sanctus’ returns to the grandeur of the opening movement, with a wonderfully understated opening to the ‘Osanna’ which builds to a fine climax. The ‘Benedictus’ is more representative of the charming, light style more normally associated with the Austrian rococo, largely scored for the conventional quartet of soloists. Elegant solemnity returns with the ‘Agnus Dei’, with each of the three choral pleas for rest increasing in fervour. The descent into ‘eternal rest’, the solo soprano’s ‘Lux aeterna’ and the supplicatory string-writing are magnificently handled. The sturdy, fugal ‘Cum sanctis tuis’ is optimistic, underpinned by a noble orchestral walking bass; the call for eternal rest brings a poised vision of heaven with a gently stroked string accompaniment before the striding bass line of ‘Cum sanctis tuis’ interrupts, this time with jagged additions from the violins. A merciful God brings redemption and solemn optimism finally prevails.
Setting aside whatever joys musical detectives may find in the work, there is no denying that Haydn’s moving Requiem is an astonishing piece of vocal and instrumental writing. The product of a grief-stricken composer who, until the deaths of his daughter and then his beloved employer, was described as ‘perpetually serene’, its contemporary importance remained great – indeed, thirty-seven years after its first performance, in 1809 (three years after Michael’s own death) it formed the musical centrepiece of the funeral service for his illustrious older brother, Joseph.
Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursulae
Some three dozen Masses by Haydn survive. He described himself as a methodical copyist and indeed his manuscripts are neat and unusually free of errors. The Mass for St Ursula is a substantial work which well represents Haydn’s late style, in which large-scale unity is achieved through the subtle transformation and recall of thematic material between the movements. The scoring is for strings (without violas), two trumpets and timpani, with the lower three vocal parts doubled, as was customary at the time, by trombones.
The ‘Kyrie’ is optimistic, with soloists and chorus answering one another, pinned together by splendidly ornate violin lines. The ‘Gloria’ is one of Haydn’s finest; a cheerful, unison choral opening sets a triumphant tone, against which the violins whirl in elegant flurries of notes. In the middle section Haydn makes use of a favourite colour, that of muted violins, adding melodic inflections and harmonic twists which are reminiscent of writing that was to be produced by Mendelssohn twenty years later: a stylish, sighing motif is skilfully developed. The highlight of the movement is a compelling closing fugue, ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, which finds Haydn at his most uplifting and thrilling.
The ‘Credo’ too opens confidently, with the trumpets eventually provided with an uncommon role, that of representing the descent from heaven. In the intimate middle section, ‘Et incarnatus est’, sighing muted violins accompany the solo quartet, with trumpets and timpani entering to indicate the nails of the crucifixion: the chromatic ending of ‘et sepultus est’ is another fine touch before a triumphant resurrection and an ecstatic ‘Amen’.
Haydn opens the ‘Sanctus’ solemnly and, unusually, quietly, reserving joyfulness instead for the ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ and a brief ‘Osanna’. Unusual too is the scoring of the gentle ‘Benedictus’, where the conventional late-eighteenth-century scoring usually involves all four solo voices: Haydn writes for the soprano alone, punctuated occasionally by the chorus. An orchestral motif (first gently introduced at 0'53") increases in prominence during the movement.
The ‘Agnus Dei’ again makes use of the colour of muted violins, who introduce another Mendelssohnian orchestral motif (three chromatically rising notes followed by a descending fifth) which gently permeates the slow opening section, reaching its development in the extrovert, closing allegro molto. Haydn’s ‘Dona nobis pacem’ is jubilant, though he leaves one final, surprise gesture for the end of this splendid Mass setting.
Robert King © 2005