Haydn’s Nelson Mass features in University choirs concert

The University of Portsmouth Choirs will sing works by legendary Austrian classical composers Haydn and Mozart this Saturday, 23rd March, at 7:30pm in Portsmouth’s St John’s Cathedral.

The programme will feature Haydn’s ‘Nelson’ Mass (Missa in Angustiis) and Mozart’s ‘Vespers’ (Vesperae solennes de confessore) with soprano soloist Rebecca Silverman and accompaniment from the Solent Symphony Orchestra.

Arguably one of the greatest choral works, Haydn’s so-called ‘Nelson’ Mass was written at the end of the 18th Century when Austria was under threat from Napoleon. Haydn’s mass was originally entitled ‘Missa in Angustiis’ (Mass for troubled times) to reflect the wartime atmosphere. As the first performance followed the defeat of Napoleon’s navy in the Battle of the Nile at the hands of British forces led by Horatio Nelson, Haydn’s piece became nicknamed the ‘Nelson Mass’. That gave it a close association with Portsmouth, the home of the British navy.

Haydn’s composition reflects the wartime spirit with an overriding sense of drama and intensity, mixed with a realisation of triumph and joy. Dr George Burrows, director of the university choirs, said: “It is a great privilege to perform this great work with such a connection to our city; not only did Haydn visit Portsmouth, but his music was loved here and, of course, Nelson took his last steps on English soil here before he lost his life in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.”

By contrast, Mozart’s ‘Vespers’ features 6 movements of divine music written for Salzburg cathedral and it includes the beautiful ‘Laudate Dominum’. That luscious, liturgical offering shows Mozart’s great lyrical powers as a composer. However, he was also a great technician and the ‘Laudate Pueri’ movement shows his remarkable skill with long-established techniques for writing church music in which voices are set against one another in strict counterpoint.

Further information is available from music@port.ac.uk. Tickets are £12 regular, £10 concessions and £6 for young people under 16 years old and are available on the night or in advance from the onlinestore.

Ed Tomalin

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