Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Missa pro Defunctis by Michael Haydn (1737-1806)

Today I'm going to introduce you to a piece that I only just recently discovered. I've heard a lot of classical music in my life, obviously, but on Monday evening I was introduced to a work I'd never heard before by a composer I don't know much about. That's pretty rare these days.

The composer in question is Michael Haydn, the younger brother of the somewhat more famous Joseph Haydn. It seems that Michael might have had the problem that younger siblings tend to: he followed someone who was great at his craft and while being great himself, was a bit overshadowed by his brother.

Joseph and Michael attended the same singing school when young and it appears that the teachers admired Michael's singing more and found him the brighter student of the two, though it was really Joseph's abilities that paved the way for Michael to be able to pursue music as his career.

Michael Hayden ultimately ended up the music master in Salzburg, a position he held for 43 years (must have been a family thing to have these long-standing positions...Joseph held a position with the Esterhazy family for nearly 30 years).

One of my students actually introduced me to this work. The Missa pro Defunctis, written in 1771, is a Requiem Mass (one of the few I don't know! Shame on me!). In listening to it, the first thing I was struck by was that it had some similarities to Mozart's Requiem, which was written in the 1791. Mozart knew Michael Haydn and was present at the first three performances of the Missa pro Defunctis. It is considered to be an "important model" for Mozart's work.

The work was written for the death of Count Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach. However Michael Haydn had recently lost his infant daughter and many historians believe the real motivation for writing the work was his own personal bereavement.

You can find this work on Youtube. Here are some links to listen to!

I. Requiem aeternam
II. Dies irae (My favourite movement of all Requiems -- here I think Haydn actually gets the right feel for it!)
III. Domine Jesu Christe, IV. Hostias et preces and V. Sanctus
VI. Benedictus and VII. Agnus Dei

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