“Papa Haydn” (1732-1809), as he came to be known, lived a long life – and he was a disciplined and prolific composer of music that is very accessible to all listeners. Haydn was deeply religious. Even though he produced reams of secular music in addition to sacred output, he ended every work he composed with the words, “Praise be to God.”

On Sunday evening, trumpeter Mary Bowden will open our spring concert with the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. In brief, this concerto is unique because it was the first major work to be written for the newly-invented keyed trumpet – successor to the natural trumpet and the predecessor of the modern trumpet with valves. Ms. Bowden has just returned from concerts in Europe, and she will be continuing her current tour with concerts in Northern Virginia later next week.

The Mass in a Time of War was written late in the summer of 1796. Austria was in a state of preparation for the looming French invasion, and Haydn’s mass reflects the distress of a troubled Austrian people. The drumbeats that can be heard throughout the mass (hence its other title “Kettledrum Mass”) could be interpreted either as signals of the coming invasion or as a call to arms. It is significant that composers such as Haydn were able to make impressive and meaningful musical statements that could move people to a more complete understanding of the world around them.

Here is some interesting information about the Te Deum that you will also hear during this Sunday’s Chancel Choir concert. Many thanks to the Aylesbury Choral Society for allowing me to use their program notes in this blog.

This magnificent choral drama in three parts was a commission from Empress Marie Therese, the wife of Franz I of Austria. Haydn was a frequent visitor to the imperial palace in Vienna. The Empress had a good voice; Haydn once accompanied her on a private performance of the soprano part of The Creation. The Empress repeatedly used to ask Haydn for some specially-composed church music, but Prince Esterhazy was reluctant to allow his famous employee to write for anyone but himself.

Evidently, however, Marie Therese finally got her way – we know not how! The Te Deum was composed around 1799, but its first recorded performance was not until 1800 at Eisenstadt, the home of the Esterhazy family, to celebrate Lord Nelson’s (and, inevitably, Lady Hamilton’s) arrival there.

The Te Deum is a choral work throughout, without the solo sections that are heard in Haydn’s masses and other sacred works. Two lengthy Allegro passages surround a central Adagio, effectively making the work a concerto for chorus and orchestra. For those with a serious Catholic upbringing, Haydn uses the Gregorian Te Deum plainchant from the eighth psalm-tone.

© Aylesbury Choral Society, December 2003

“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”
– Martin Luther

See you on Sunday evening!