Theresienmesse by Joseph Haydn


'''''Theresienmesse''''' (H. 22/12) is a Mass in B flat major written by Joseph Haydn and named after Maria Theresa of the Two Sicilies, empress consort of Francis II. The empress herself was the soprano soloist at private performances of both The Creation and The Seasons in May 1801 at the Viennese Court.[ Program Notes: Somerset Chamber Choir at Wells Cathedral]

The title does not appear on the autograph score, which is labeled simply with the Latin word "Missa".

Between 1796 and 1802, Haydn composed six Masses to celebrate the name-day of Princess Maria Hermenegild (1768-1845), who was the wife of his patron Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy II. The Theresienmesse, written in 1799, belongs in this series.

The work is thought to have been premiered on 8 September 1799.[ John W. Ehrlich program notes] The location was the Bergkirche, near the Esterházy family seat in Eisenstadt, Austria.

The Mass is scored for solo quartet, chorus, strings, two clarinets, two trumpets, timpani and organ continuo. Concerning the paucity of winds (no oboes, bassoons, horns, or flutes) John W. Ehrlich has written:

:''The drastic reduction of the wind choir ... is unusual. We are indebted to [Haydn scholar Carl Maria] Brand for an explanation: a shortage of wind players at Eisenstadt in 1798 and 1799. This is why the Nelsonmesse, in its original version, also lacks winds. But Haydn has turned this lack into a virtue, the ensemble in each case imparting to the work a unique aura or personality that sets it off from its neighbors: in the Nelsonmesse the hard, metallic, fiery brilliance of D trumpets and solo organ; in the Theresienmesse the mellow glow and at times darkish hues of the B-flat instruments.''

While probably not as frequently performed as its companions the "Nelson" mass or the Missa in tempore belli, the Theresienmesse has attracted critical admiration; Ehrlich for instance refers to it as an "extraordinary work." Another commentator writes, "Haydn's choral writing has all the variety, rhythmic energy and contrapuntal skill of a composer at the height of his powers."