Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Mass in C major, "in wartime", composed in 1796, was the first Haydn had written for fourteen years. In that year he had returned from his enormous success in London to the service of the fifth Prince Esterhazy—which meant principally the composition of one mass each year for the Bergkirche at Eisenstadt. The C major was given there on September 13, 1796. At the time of its composition Napoleon was threatening Vienna, hence the urgent and disturbed character of the mass and the celebrated use of the drums in the Agnus Dei which gave it the subtitle of "Kettledrum Mass". The Kyrie begins with a slow introduction with strongly contrasted dynamics, this being followed by a strenuous Allegro with the solo soprano leading off with its main, and indeed sole, theme.
Robbins Landon has pointed out that "the late Haydn masses are in their fundamental construction, symphonies for voice and orchestra using the mass text". It is a pity the sleeve-note says so little about this important aspect of the C major. In the mainly chordal Gloria the "qui tollis peccata mundi", sung by the bass soloist, is introduced by a 'cello obbligato that continues throughout this long slow section up to "qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis", chorus and solo tenor joining in during the course of this very beautiful section. In the Credo the setting of "Et incarnatus est", for the solo quartet and chorus, is most moving and one notices here at the choral entry with "et homo factus est" the immediate repetition after a brief pause of the first word. Beethoven made use of the pause after "et", without repetition, in the same section of his D major Mass. The Credo ends with a fine and vigorous "Amen" for soloists and chorus. The Sanctus is not distinguished, but the Benedictus, for solo quartet, has a remarkable and lengthy orchestral introduction of a quiet marchlike character. In his "Salomon" symphonies Haydn had experimented with the use of timpani playing pianissimo: in the G major (No. 100) with a crescendo to fortissimo, in the B flat (No. 102), muffled, in the slow movement, and at the start of the E flat (No. 103, the "Drumroll"). And now in the wonderful and deeply moving Agnus Dei of the mass, so obviously Beethoven's model, Haydn makes a superb use of drums pianissimo to suggest the distant approach of the French forces.
The performance is excellent, with Eishi Kawamura outstanding among the soloists. Elisabeth Thomann begins rather gustily in the Kyrie but improves greatly as the work proceeds. Hans Gillesberger gets the best out of the Vienna Chamber Choir and Orchestra. His direction rightly emphasises the dramatic nature of the mass, but the lyrical sections are sensitively done. The balance favours the soloists too much, though hardly more than is customary in live performances of the Viennese Masses on their native ground, and the recording which is helped by a small top-cut, though not of the quality of Argo's disc of the Nelson Mass (reviewed last December), is reasonably good. In any case one is glad to have this fine work made available again.
-- Gramophone [2/1963]
reviewing the original LP release of the Haydn