Movement 1: Introitus: Requiem aeternam – Kyrie eleison
Movement 2: Sequenz: Dies irae
Movement 3: Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe
Movement 4: Versus: Hostias et preces tibi
Movement 5a: Sanctus et Benedictus. Sanctus
Movement 5b: Sanctus et Benedictus. Benedictus
Movement 6a: Agnus Dei et Communio. Agnus Dei – Lux aeterna
Movement 6b: Agnus Dei et Communio. Cum sanctis tuis
Movement 7: Requiem aeternam: Requiem aeternam – Cum sanctis tuis
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.
from notes by Robert King © 2005