The regulars of Wratislavia Cantans know that Giovanni Antonini is not only a great ‘director’ arranging the drama of the festival programme, but also one of the most appreciated interpreters of Baroque and Classical music. Maestro will not let us down this time – as every year he will lead his orchestra of historical instruments Il Giardino Armonico. For the joint performance of one of the most popular masses by Joseph Haydn, he invited the NFM Choir, a Fryderyk prize-winner.
While subtitles and nicknames are often given to works by audiences or editors with marketing intentions, in the case of Mass in C major we are sure that Haydn with his hand wrote "In tempore belli" ("During the war”) on the score in 1796. At that time, Austria was surrounded by French troops, and Napoleon was approaching, bringing off one victory after another along the way, and the Viennese took fright at the thought of the city being invaded by the French. Universal mobilization was announced on a warm August day, when Haydn, despite the tension growing around, tried to work on a mass commissioned for the name-day of his protector’s wife, Princess Esterháza. The elderly composer was excluded from the mobilization, so he could finish work on the first of six outstanding musical settings of the liturgy, each to be composed for the name-day celebrations of Marie Josephine.
‘In tempore belli’ is by no means a music for joyful celebration, as if everything was all right. Haydn ordered that in Agnus Dei – part of the mass containing the request ‘Give us peace’ – the sinister timpani sound ‘like an enemy army approaching from a distance’, and persistent fanfare played on wind instruments announced victory. The audience in no time grasped musical allusions and called the new composition ‘Paukenmesse’ (‘Mass with drums’). However, the work that quickly became popular, does not leave the listener in fear. Haydn, a deeply religious man, trusted in the sense of praying for peace. The Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, called the Prince of Peace, and the composer communicates his hope in a very joyful Gloria and in other sections full of catchy melodies, lively tempos, dramatic twists and almost theatrical arias. Contemporaries criticized all of Haydn's masses, thinking they lacked piety– they seemed too cheerful. ‘Paukenmesse’ is above all a reflection on the value and the need for peace.
Such a work full of energy is a repertoire in which the musicians of Il Giardino Armonico and their conductor feel the best. They are undisputed specialists in Haydn's work – they are taking part in the seemingly unrealistic yet successful Haydn2032 project, which aims to record all the hundred and seventy symphonies of the Viennese Classicist. Their craftsmanship in Haydn's interpretations is confirmed by the prestigious Gramophone Award 2017, bestowed on them ‘for the exemplary performance’.