A "Mass" Analysis

An Analysis of
Haydn’s “Missa in angustiis” in D Minor
Mozart’s “Große Messe” in C Minor, K.427

Throughout the eighteenth century, there were great restrictions placed on the use of instruments in church. The Austrian government felt it necessary to pass these laws to preserve tradition1; however this was during the time of the creation of works such as Mozart’s “Große Messe” in C Minor, K.427 and Joseph Haydn’s “Missa in angustiis” in D Minor. Luckily, these works survived to present day, however not completely intact. They both also have mysteries surrounding their creation. Mozart never completed his work, and Haydn was unable to use the instrumentation he desired. Some of the solos were rewritten after the initial writing, due to the level of musicianship and range required to correctly perform the solos. Lastly, Haydn’s Nelsonmesse was not accepted by the church due to its “theatrical” nature.2 I plan to discuss styles, forms, and history of these two works.

Haydn’s Mass in D Minor was written in 1798 for one of the namedays of Princess Maria Josefa Hermenegild Esterházy, the wife of Prince Nikolaus II and daughter-in-law of his employer from 1750 until his death. There is, however, conflicting information concerning the title. Haydn listed this work in his Entwurf-Katalog as Missa in angustiis, which roughly translated means “mass in time of constraint or anxiety.”3 There are two implications by Haydn’s brief title; he may have named it simply due to the short amount of time it took him to write it, which was only fifty-three days, or he may have written it in reaction to the political unrest that existed. At this particular moment in history, Napoleon was attempting to take over many areas of Europe. The nickname of “Nelson Missa” was added at a later date and is found written “in an unknown hand”.4 Admiral Nelson had fought Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Abukir where, it was thought, Napoleon had finally been defeated. This battle took place between August 1 and 3 of 1798, after Haydn began writing the mass, which was sometime around July 10 of that year. A few years later, the Admiral visited Vienna and was introduced to Haydn. Nelson’s reputation had preceded him, for upon their meeting they became fast friends.5 It is due to this admiration of Nelson and the friendship that developed between them that it is thought the nickname was generated.

The original instrumentation is for three trumpets, timpani, strings, and organ. The lack of woodwind instruments was due to Prince Esterházy’s dismissal of players from his court after the war began to create a financial pinch. These parts were given to the organ as an obbligato line. From Haydn’s biographer, Georg August Griesinger, there is the implication that Haydn planned to eventually write parts for these instruments, when personnel would allow;6 however he never did.

The Kyrie opens with a powerful introduction that creates a feeling of confusion and anger. This is unusual, as the text, which translated means “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,” is considered a solemn request of God. The strings begin with a D minor arpeggiation and give way to a trumpet and timpani theme that recurs again later in this movement.

At m.16, the chorus sings the “Kyrie” in unison. As the piece transitions to the relative major, a soprano solo enters, repeating the unison chorus line. The next tonal center is F major and occurs with the soprano solo and the beginning of the “Christe” text of the mass. Gradually there is addition of an alto, tenor, and bass soloist creating a quartet until the beginning of the Development at m.54. At this point, there is a return of the “Kyrie Eleison” text in the choral line; this first served as transitional material in the first theme, and it now serves to push the development along.7 Example 1a and 1b below show the similarity in these two lines.

Example 1a: Haydn, Missa in angustiis, Kyrie: soprano, mm.22-23

Example 1b: Haydn, Missa in angustiis, Qui Tollis: bass, mm.54-55

At the recapitulation at m.99, we have the choral “Kyrie” returning, but Haydn included above it a striking soprano solo line. This soprano solo is one of the lines Haydn revisited after the premiere in 1798. He appeared to have changed this soprano and later tenor solos, watering them down. Even though later printers included these revisions as original due to Haydn having made these edits, the British catalog includes no recordings of these “inferior” lines.8

The Gloria is quite opposite in feeling from the Kyrie. Not only does it open in the parallel major, but we get a feeling of joy from the quick and light string lines that dance around the chorus. It is through this movement that we finally get a taste of the joyful writing we expect from Haydn. The soprano soloist is featured again in this movement, and the other three soloists are given a more prominent role this time. There is a ritornello form about this piece, with the constant return of the main theme in various keys. There are elements of sonata form here as well, as the bass and tenor duet lends itself as developmental material before returning to the main theme for the last time (recapitulation).

The Qui Tollis begins with a pedal B-flat in the strings which gives way to a bass solo and gentle B-flat major chords in the strings. The bass passes the solo to the soprano as the choir accompanies. There is modulation to the relative minor, and the bass and choir finish the movement on a dominant chord, depriving the listener of a sense of closure. It is interesting to note that, in this movement, Haydn includes a short segment that was heard in the soprano and bass parts of the Kyrie (compare to example 1):

Example 2: Haydn, Missa in angustiis, Qui Tollis: bass, mm.159-160

The Quoniam gives us a return to the melody from the Gloria, opening almost exactly the same as the Gloria with a slight variation in turns between the soprano and chorus. This movement is very fugue-like, beginning with the basses singing “in gloria Dei Patris” and passing it on to the tenors, altos, then sopranos. The bass/tenor duet returns at m.232, however it is changed. There is more presence from the soprano and inclusion of an alto line this time. Before ending, this movement briefly returns to D minor, reminding us of the principal key of the piece. It then ends with a resounding “A-men” with the highest note being the third of the chord, giving us a sense of closure.

The Credo is a canon form with pairings between the soprano/tenor lines and alto/bass lines. The strings and trumpets are given a chance to be more ornamental in this movement, and their colors come through quite clearly here. This movement, though short, moves forward steadily, preparing us for the slow smoothness of the Et Incarnatus Est.

Et Incarnatus Est opens with strings in G major, then gently a soprano enters above them. Author Lawrence Schenbeck describes this movement as a manger scene,9 referring to very gentle and sweet music that could serve as somewhat of a soundtrack to the moment of Jesus’ birth. As the movement modulates to G minor, there is a return of the trumpet fanfare from the Kyrie.

The Et Resurrexit begins in B minor and gives us the impression that we may stay in this key. There is motion to D major, but the movement to D minor at m.164 is abrupt with no transition other than the sharing of a dominant chord. From there the movement graduates to A-flat major, D minor, then A minor, and modulates back to D major to end the piece. It is interesting to note Haydn’s use of “et” in this movement; he is constantly emphasizing this syllable, giving it more meaning throughout, until we arrive finally at D major. It seems Haydn did not feel he could continue the Et Resurrexit without developmental material until the return to D major. Eric A. Johnson, author of “Franz Joseph Haydn’s Late Masses: An Examination of the Symphonic Mass Form,” speculates: “Was this a joyful rearticulation of ‘et’ celebrating the many facts of the Christian creed or a humorous poke at the length of text required to be set within the Credo, etc.?”10 It seems fitting, with what we know of Haydn, that he could have been leaning more towards the latter.

The Sanctus has a choral opening which, as the strings and choir have gentle chords. An example is included below:

Example 3: Haydn, Missa in angustiis, Sanctus: trumpet, timpani, chorus, mm.1-2

The trumpets and timpani enter on count three with a ‘thud’ interrupting the smoothness.11 This gentle opening in the chorus gives way to a lively through-composed melody in D major.

In the Benedictus, we are reminded of the primary key, D minor. Again there is the sense of a sonata form being implemented, with a soprano and choir trading off lines. The recapitulation ends suddenly at m.122, just before the trumpet fanfare returns. In the words of noted Haydn expert Robbins Landon:

The music plunges into B flat for what must be called the boldest and most powerful music in the whole of Haydn. The trumpets hammer out a fanfare on unison D and the chorus also sings its text on the note D, its message interrupted by the “clash of arms and the horrid sublimity” that is war.12

The Agnus Dei begins with only strings, who prepare the way for a dark and rich alto solo. As the soloist continues, the strings are given scale passages that soar around the soloist. The tension returns with the entry of the soprano solo, only to shortly return to the solemnity of the beginning. Duet gives way to quartet as the movement modulates and ends on a V chord.

The Dona Nobis Pacem begins in D major and presents us with a fugue in the chorus, while the strings are again given scale passages. There is very little modulation, compared to the other movements; there is modulation to A major which is rather short-lived before returning to D major. The timpani is given one last fanfare before the chorus repeats “pacem” to close the mass.

After viewing this mass, it can be seen that Haydn could have had more of a symphonic style rather than a church mass in mind when writing this work. Through his use of not only a strong introduction but the sonata-form which is standard for first movements of symphonies, there is a definite impression that one is listening to a symphony. American musicologist Martin Chusid has proposed that this piece is so symphonic that it could be divided into three individual “vocal” symphonies: the Kyrie-Gloria (containing four movements: Allegro in d, Allegro in D, Adagio in B-flat, and Allegro in D), the Credo (containing three movements: Allegro in D, Largo in G, and Allegro in D), and the Sanctus-Benedictus-Agnus Dei (also containing four movements: Adagio/Allegro in D, Allegretto/Allegro in d/D, and Adagio/Vivace in G/D).13 Though this work is of course a mass, it was after Haydn’s death that criticism concerning its “theatrical qualities” began to surface, as a desire to return to traditional mass began to surface.

Next we move on to the Mozart Mass in C Minor. This work was written between 1782 and 1783 in honor of his wedding to Constanze. It was to be performed in Salzburg while they were intending to visit Mozart’s father, Leopold, but it was still unfinished. One of the soprano solos was even written for and sung by Constanze. The information that I have found states that Mozart wrote a mass in honor of the time he and Constanze had spent going to mass and confession together.

Mozart never finished this mass, and over the years it seems even more of the mass has been misplaced. Some movements, such as the Kyrie and Gloria, have been found and completed by various music historians, while the Credo only contains fragments of the “Credo in unum Deum” and “Et incarnatus est”. The Sanctus and Benedictus are missing one each of their double choruses.14 The version used for this paper is an edition by H. C. Robbins Landon, published in 1956 by Eulenburg in Zürich.

The instrumentation includes woodwinds and more brass than the Haydn mass: two oboes, two bassoons, two horns in C, two trumpets in C, timpani, strings, choir, and organ. The horns tend to reinforce the low choral lines, while the trumpets and timpani add fanfare to the mass, which is a similarity the Haydn mass shares.

The Kyrie opens solemnly, as one would expect for this movement of a mass. The choice of C minor, a key in which only one other mass was written, and the polyphony in which he chose to write reflects the change in the classical style during the late 18th century.15 This movement is a sonata form, with the modulation to the relative major and back to the minor, but it is also very fugue-like with the melody beginning in the sopranos, passing through the altos and on into the tenor and bass line in turn. The brass and low strings continue this melody line as well. With the entry of the soprano solo at “Christe eleison”, there is a modulation to E-flat major, which is a similar modulation used at the same moment in Haydn’s Kyrie. It is interesting to note the range in which the solos were written.  Example 4 gives a sample of this range.

Example 4: Mozart, Mass in C Minor K.427, Kyrie: soprano, orchestra reduction, mm.51-53

This is an example of the impressive leaps Mozart included throughout the E-flat section. Throughout this same section, there is a return of the fugue in this new key. The orchestra then keeps the original fugue accompaniment used at the beginning while the chorus introduces new material and at m.77 modulates back to C minor, to end with the same solemn feeling we were given at the beginning.

The Gloria’s “in excelsis” opens with an appropriately glorious statement in C major by the chorus and is doubled in the whole orchestra. Mozart then begins his fugue style again, repeating “in excelsis” before the choir changes to a softer style for the text, “et interra pax hominibus.” Around m. 28 we begin to sense that the movement may modulate to C minor, but instead we are presented with the chorus’s C major statement that was heard at the beginning. “Et interra pax hominibus” returns, again the modulation follows, and we stay in C major but end softly with only orchestra.

The Laudamus Te is entirely a soprano solo. The introduction is orchestra alone in F major presenting the first theme, which is then repeated by the soprano. As C is the dominant and the main theme returns at the end, the movement can be classified as sonata form with the main theme creating the recapitulation at m.145.

The Gratias opens with a series of diminished chords, creating a lack of tonal center and making it difficult for the listener to relax. It isn’t until this movement is almost finished that we feel a movement from dominant to tonic, finally indicating that the movement is in A minor.

The Domine is written in D minor and 3/4 meter. Two soprano soloists are called for, with the first entering during the D minor opening and the second entering after a modulation to F major. After a modulation back to D minor, the two soprano soloists weave a line back and forth, occasionally passing the same note one to the other:

Example 5: Mozart, Mass in C Minor K.427, Gloria Domine: soprano, orchestra reduction, mm.297-300

One can also see Mozart’s use of one single line to create rich harmony, as it first appears in the cellos, then violas, and on up through the violins.

The Qui Tollis opens with another orchestra introduction, this time in G minor. The rhythm used in this section continues throughout the movement. This is also the first use of a double-choir in this mass, and at first the choirs take turns singing the text of the Qui Tollis. There is gradual overlapping of the text, until the choirs are singing different sections at the same time. There is no modulation out of G minor, but the first theme returns creating a sense of recapitulation at m.347. The movement ends on what could be considered either the dominant of C minor or G major, depending on how it is analyzed. Upon listening, however, one could sense a final movement to a major key, especially when viewing the next movement beginning in E minor, which can be considered starting in the relative minor of the Qui Tollis.

The Quoniam puts us back in a duple meter and quickly modulates keys seemingly every two measures, going from E minor, B minor, D minor, A minor, and finally back to E minor with the entry of a soprano solo. The solo quickly turns into a trio with another soprano and a tenor. The style is again fugue-like, with each solo entry being a repeat of the previous entry. There is modulation to G major and another fugue begins. Instead of beginning the recapitulation with orchestra (see m.480), the soloists sing what the orchestra previously played.

The Jesu Christe opens slowly yet powerfully in C major with an orchestra chord followed immediately by full chorus. The introduction ends on a dominant seventh, giving way to the Cum Sancto Spiritu sung in fugue style, beginning with the male voices. The brass is featured more prominently in this movement, doubling the tenor and bass lines. The beginning of the fugue returns multiple times in various keys, until finally the chorus unites at the end to sing “A-men” repeatedly moving from V to I.

The Credo contains a horn fanfare in the introduction, accompanied by oboes and framed on either sides by strings.

Example 6: Mozart, Mass in C Minor K.427, Credo: oboes, bassoon, horns, strings, mm.1-3

The orchestra repeats part of the opening when the chorus enters, however there is a modulation to G major. After the second theme, we find ourselves in A minor. The development goes through several key changes until finally arriving back at C major. The chorus continues a fugue style until arriving and singing in unison the text, “descendit de coelis,” which means ”down from heaven.” This section of the text is repeated and appropriately the melody line moves downward. This text is also the closing of the movement, however there is a return of the harmonization in C major.

The Et Incarnatus Est is very slow and tender, in triple meter, opening with strings. It shortly turns to a flute and oboe duet, which is then supported by a bass line in the bassoon; these are the only wind instruments called for in this movement. Again, here is another example of Mozart using one line and repeating it a fifth below the previous line to create harmony.

Example 7: Mozart, Mass in C Minor K.427, Credo, Et incarnatus est: flute, oboe, bassoon, mm.123-126

This line in the woodwind trio, shown above, is passed to the soprano and later serves as short episodic material between themes. The movement ends with a cadenza including the woodwind trio and the soprano, singing more as an instrument by only using the “a” vowel instead of actual text. There are slight changes in the chord progressions upon return of the introduction material, yet it still allows for a I-V-I ending in F major. This particular solo soprano was written for his wife to sing; Constanze was the soprano soloist in the first performance. It “bears a marked resemblance to ‘Se il padre perdei’ from Idomeneo, an aria that Mozart especially loved to hear his wife sing.”16

Similar to the Jesu Christe, the Sanctus has a very powerful opening, even sharing the same key of C major. The brass plays a major role in the opening as well. The mood quickly changes as the double choirs sing softly, while the strings busily repeat a sixteenth note passage, creating a sense of urgency.

In the Osanna, we hear the basses and tenors enter, with both lines doubled in the horns and bassoons. Again, Mozart has made the brass presence very important in this movement. The fugue becomes so thick that the text seems unimportant, placing emphasis on the harmony. The movement ends with the chorus finally coming together to sing “in excelsis” going repeatedly from dominant to tonic and ending with the third of the chord being the highest note sung. This particular device is shared with Haydn’s Quoniam movement.

Finally, we come to the Benedictus. The movement begins in A minor, and there is a return of a trill figure that was used previously in the soprano solos of the Quoniam:

Example 8a: Mozart, Mass in C Minor K.427, Benedictus: violin, mm.1-2

Example 8b: Mozart, Mass in C Minor K.427, Quoniam: soprano 1, mm.479-483

As you can see, this trill becomes an important ornament, as it is passed from the violins to the vocal lines. The instrumentation for this movement calls for the full orchestra, two soprano solos, tenor solo, bass solo, and double choir. The two sopranos alternate duets with the tenor and bass duet. Each soloist is then given a turn singing the Benedictus text creating the fugue Mozart has used throughout. There is modulation to C major and the introduction of the second theme beginning as a fugue and ending as two duets (the reverse of the first theme). The first theme returns as two duets, however this time it is in C major and immediately begins to modulate back to A minor. Each soloist is again given a turn with the text, this time beginning with the tenor. There is development that occurs after the return to the minor key. The orchestra creates the modulation to C major at which point the double choirs enter, singing “Osanna in excelsis.” while the strings and woodwinds have moving sixteenth lines that help to drive the music. The movement, and the mass, end with timpani and the whole of the orchestra and chorus moving back and forth from V to I, finally ending with the highest sung note on the third of the chord.

Mozart did not actually finish this mass, but after examining what Mozart did write for this mass, it can be considered finished if one looks at it as a symphonic work rather than taking into account what parts of the mass were omitted. One could say that it is actually finished, despite the lack of major portions of the Mass text.17

Both of these works have survived to present day despite the criticisms from the Catholic Church and from critics of the early 19th century. A critic from 1844 had this to say concerning the Nelsonmesse:

…formidable, excellent and a work of genius in musical aspects, but from the churchly standpoint hardly to be tolerated. I must openly confess that after hearing this mass, I well understand old Werner’s objection, for Jos. Haydn took the worldly (operatic) music of his period, put it in the church and made almost a concert hall out of the house of God.18

It also could be speculated that Mozart’s work might have created more of a stir in the church simply due to the number of instrumentalists needed. Furthermore, since Mozart’s mass was performed a few years before Haydn finished the Nelsonmesse, one could wonder if it was due to works like the Mozart Mass in C Minor that the church desired a return to more traditional music.

It can be concluded that Haydn’s Nelsonmesse and Mozart’s Mass in C Minor are examples of where church music was headed at that time. The merging of styles caused interest in the expansion of instrumentation for church music, and it was possibly a test to see just how far the Church was willing to let composers go. Both of these works are considered unfinished, though for different reasons, however one can still appreciate the grandeur and glory that each of these masses achieved.



1 Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1998), 366.

2 Denis McCaldin, “Haydn’s ‘Nelson’ Mass: Its Decline and Rise.” South African Journal of Musicology 15 (1995): 25.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 27.

5 H. C. Robbins Landon, “Haydn’s Masses,” in Essays on the Viennese Classical Style (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970), 75.

6 McCaldin, 27.

7 Lawrence Schenbeck, “Missa in Angustiis by Joseph “Haydn.” Choral Journal 25:9 (May 1985): 25.

8 McCaldin, 30-31.

9 Schenbeck, 26.

10 E. A. Johnson, “Franz Joseph Haydn’s Late Masses: An Examination of the Symphonic Mass Form.” Choral Journal 42 (February 2002): 22.

11 H. C. Robbins Landon, “Haydn: The Years of The Creation: 1796-1800,” in Haydn: Chronicle and Works, vol. IV (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1977), 441-442.

12 Landon, “Haydn: The Years of the Creation, 1796-1800,” 442.

13 Martin Chusid, ”Some Observations on Liturgy, Text and Structure in Haydn’s Late Masses,” in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Music: A Tribute to Karl Geiringer on his Seventieth Birthday, H.C. Robbins Landon in collaboration with Roger E. Chapman, ed. (London: Allen & Unwin, 1970), 132.

14 H. C. Robbins Landon, “Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, K.427.” Studies in musical sources and styles: Essays in honor of Jan LaRue Madison. Eugene K. Wolf and Edward H. Roesner, ed. (Madison, WI: A-R Editions, 1990), 420.

15 Brady Allred, “Legacy and Challenge: Mozart’s C Minor Mass.” American Choral Review 33:1 (Winter/Spring 1991), 12.

16 Nerina Medici di Marignano, A Mozart Pilgrimage: Being the Travel Diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello in the Year 1829, Rosemary Hughes, ed. (London: Eulenburg, 1975), p.94.

17 Allred, 12.

18 McCaldin, 28.



Allred, Brady. “Legacy and Challenge: Mozart’s C Minor Mass.” American Choral Review 33:1 (Winter/Spring 1991): 5-13.

Chusid, Martin. “Some Observations on Liturgy, Text and Structure in Haydn’s Late Masses.” In Studies in Eighteenth-Century Music: A Tribute to Karl Geiringer on his Seventieth Birthday, 125-135. Edited by H.C. Robbins Landon in collaboration with Roger E. Chapman. London: Allen & Unwin, 1970.

Johnson, E. A. “Franz Joseph Haydn’s Late Masses: An Examination of the Symphonic Mass Form.” Choral Journal 42 (February 2002): 19-24.

McCaldin, Denis. “Haydn’s ‘Nelson’ Mass: Its Decline and Rise.” South African Journal of Musicology 15 (1995): 25-32.

Landon, H. C. Robbins. “Haydn’s Masses.” In Essays on the Viennese Classical Style, 68-76. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970.

___. “Haydn: The Years of The Creation: 1796-1800.” In Haydn: Chronicle and Works, vol. IV. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1977.

___. “Haydn: The Late Years.” In Haydn: Chronicle and Works, vol. V. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1977.

___. “Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, K.427.” Studies in musical sources and styles: Essays in honor of Jan LaRue Madison. Edited by Eugene K. Wolf and Edward H. Roesner, 419-423. Madison, WI: A-R Editions, 1990.

di Marignano, Nerina Medici. A Mozart Pilgrimage: Being the Travel Diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello in the year 1829. Edited by Rosemary Hughes. London: Eulenburg, 1975.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1998.

Schenbeck, Lawrence. “Missa in Angustiis by Joseph Haydn.” Choral Journal 25:9 (May 1985): 19, 25-30.

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