Haydn’s Missa Sancti Joannis de Deo
seems to have been composed in the mid-1770s for the chapel at Eisenstadt of the Brothers of Mercy – the order founded in the sixteenth century by St John of God. It uses the ‘church trio’ scoring, and has the nickname ‘Kleine Orgelmesse’ (‘Small Organ Mass’) because there is a charming organ solo in the Benedictus – a device often used at the time in small-scale church music to compensate for the lack of woodwind instruments. The work is also a typical ‘Missa Brevis’ in that the four voice parts sometimes sing several different sets of words at the same time in the Gloria and Credo. This odd practice, devised to reduce the length of the long movements of the Mass, was frowned upon later in the century, and a number of attempts were made to elongate the Gloria, including one by Haydn’s brother Michael. The Mass evidently retained its popularity into the nineteenth century, for Johann Georg Albrechtsberger wrote a new Benedictus for it, replacing the old-fashioned organ solo, and the whole work was eventually given parts for clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets for performance at Eisenstadt. It is not hard to see why so much trouble should have been taken to update it, for it has, in the words of H C Robbins Landon, a ‘quiet spirit of devotion, even of mysticism, that is most appealing’.
from notes by Peter Holman © 1991