Feature: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Mass in B flat major(Hob. XXII:12) ‘Theresienmesse’

July 13, 2014

Haydn's Mass in B flat major (Hob. XXII:12) is generally referred to as the 'Theresienmesse' after the Empress Marie Therese of Austria (1778 –1851). It gets this nickname from the fact that the Empress was an enthusiastic follower of Haydn's music and ordered it to added to her collection once she became aware of its existence. But in fact the nickname is misleading as it wasn't composed for the Empress. It's the fourth in a series of six Masses that Haydn composed for performance at the local Bergkirche between 1796 and 1802 in honour of the birthday of Princess Maria Hermenegild (1768 – 1845) the wife of Haydn's employer Nikolaus II, Prince Esterházy (1765 – 1833). It's a typically Austrian piece of music whose structure and decoration Haydn intended to be the musical equivalent of the stunning interiors found in Central European Baroque and Rococo churches. Coupled to this traditionalism was a desire – entirely typical of the very devout Haydn, to create a joyful and forward-looking piece of music. From my viewpoint he not only succeeded in that aim he also created a piece of music that sounds fresh and vigorous to this day.

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Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676): Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

May 7, 2014

I like Knüpfer's music a lot, he was one of those polymaths that the renaissance and baroque eras seem to have produced in such numbers he's often dismissed in a sentence as just another one of Bach's predecessors as Thomaskantor but to do so is to miss the point. Yes he predeceded Bach as Thomaskantor far more importantly it was Knüpfer who set the standard as Thomaskantor that Bach had to meet.  (I've a brief biography and introduction to his music in my posting here: Sebastian Knüpfer (1633-1676): Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her | Saturday Chorale – mfi). His chorale cantata Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (Jesus Christ, our saviour) is a wonderful piece of music that sets a somewhat adapted poem by Martin Luther to a pre-Reformation melody using five voices and five instruments . Its structure is both elaborate and symetrical. Knüpfer scored the two outer movements for full ensemble, with the chorale melody being subjected to imitation, the third verse mirrors the first while the middle verse recalls a concerto both in its structure and scoring and is enclosed within a dance-like ritornello. Enjoy :-)


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BBC Documentary – Bach: A Passionate Life – John Eliot Gardiner

May 4, 2014

John Eliot Gardiner goes in search of Bach the man and the musician.

The famous portrait of Bach portrays a grumpy 62-year-old man in a wig and formal coat, yet his greatest works were composed 20 years earlier in an almost unrivalled blaze of creativity.

We reveal a complex and passionate artist; a warm and convivial family man at the same time a rebellious spirit struggling with the hierarchies of state and church who wrote timeless music that is today known world-wide. Gardiner undertakes a 'Bach Tour' of Germany, and sifts the relatively few clues we have - some newly-found.

Most of all, he uses the music to reveal the real Bach.

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5th Sunday of Lent 2014 Robert Fayrfax (1464 1521): Magnificat & Missa O bone Ihesu

April 6, 2014

The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were a time of great musical innovation and achievement. One of the most important of the achievements was the development of the so-called cyclic Mass. (A cyclic Mass is a Mass setting whose components are united by a common musical theme).

Perhaps because it was in many ways a logical development of the great English tradition of the Festal Mass English composers – in particular Robert Fayrfax and Nicholas Ludford were at the forefront of this musical innovation. Missa O bone Ihesu epitomises this form of the Mass and takes it further. It is unusual amongst Fayrfax's Masses in three ways:

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Feature: Johannes Ockeghem (1410-1497) – Missa L’homme armé

February 19, 2014

Clerks Group 325x302 captionedIn common with other composers of his era Johannes Ockeghem (1410-1497) composed a setting of the Mass using the catchy popular song L'homme armé (The armed man) as a cantus firmus underpinning the structure. Unlike many of his contemporaries in Ockeghem's setting you can clearly hear it right throughout the work. In the playlist below you can hear it sung first in a version by Robert Mouton, combined with a rondeau Il sera pour vous which was one of its earliest polyphonic settings. Followed by the Mass. I particularly love how in the Agnus Dei it appears, oh so slowly, in the bass, taken down to low G to stunning effect. Enjoy :-).


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