Haydn's 'Lord Nelson' Mass brings nautical theme to Annapolis

April 08, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) composed some 14 settings of the Catholic Mass in his long, extraordinarily productive career, and the final six, taken as a group, constitute one of the most stunning valedictory addresses in the history of music.

Composed from 1796 to 1802, they are dramatic, consummately crafted, extravagantly tuneful works that cap a lifetime of genius.

The most celebrated of the six, the "Lord Nelson" Mass, originally called the "Missa in angustiis" ("Mass in Time of Need"), was composed over a two-month span in the summer of 1798.

This Mass will be performed Sunday by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club, the Chorale of Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. Dr. John Barry Talley will be on the podium.

Soprano Tamara Crout, mezzo Jeanne Kelly, tenor Richard Turner and bass Robert Kennedy will serve as soloists. The Alumni Hall program will also include Rachmaninoff's "Three Russian Folk Songs" and the Annapolis premiere of Ray Sprenkle's "Overture" for men's chorus and orchestra, a work that includes a musical setting of "Old Ironsides," the Oliver Wendell Holmes ode to Boston's venerable U.S.S. Constitution.

An Annapolis "Lord Nelson Mass" also seems appropriate, for the work is named for the British naval hero who played such a prominent role in the defeat of Napoleon. (In fact, the original title is a reference to Austrian strife amid the Napoleonic struggle.)

Haydn and the admiral admired each other immensely. During one of their visits, the story goes, Nelson asked the composer for the pen he'd used to compose the great Mass. Haydn was thrilled to hand over the souvenir and, before long, the "Missa in angustiis" had become the "Lord Nelson Mass."

It is a magnificent piece. The opening D-minor Kyrie crackles with dramatic energy. There is phenomenal counterpoint everywhere (what a great fugue the "In gloria dei" is!), and the "Et incarnatus est" is the soul of lyricism. The "Dona nobis pacem" ends the Mass on a triumphant note, reminding us that peace and resounding joy go hand in hand.

Long a distinguished presence in the community, Mr. Talley has given us first-rate requiems of Mozart and Brahms in recent years. To say this Haydn is much anticipated is a considerable understatement.

The concert will take place in the Naval Academy's Alumni Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday. For ticket information, call 293-2439.

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