Hayden’s prayer for peace will be showcased tonight
April 5, 2002
When Joseph Hayden wrote his Missa en angustiis – what has come to be known as the “Lord Nelson Mass” – the composer saw a need for a prayer for peace.
Composed in 1798, just after a stunning victory by the British naval officer Lord Horatio Nelson over Napoleon’s forces at the mouth of the Nile River, the work was intended as a response to the war and violence that was consuming Europe.
When Aspen Choral Society director and conductor Ray Adams was thinking about the program for the Choral Society’s spring concert, he, too, felt a need for some kind of prayer for peace. The attacks of Sept. 11 fresh in his mind, Adams listened as NPR played pieces meant as healing music: Brahms’ German Requiem, Barber’s Adagio for Strings and the “Lord Nelson Mass.” Quickly, Adams settled on the Hayden composition as the centerpiece for the annual spring concert.
“This mass, it truly was meant by Hayden as a supplication for peace,” said Adams, who will conduct the Aspen Choral Society in performances at Harris Hall today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. “It ends with ‘Dona nobis pacem’ – ‘God grant us peace.’ Most masses don’t end like that. This ends with a plea for peace, which takes things out of a strict liturgical order.”
Hayden’s original title, Missa en angustiis, is most often translated as “mass in time of fear.” Other translations have had it as “mass in despair,” or “mass in anxiety.” Whatever the translation, Adams sees it as a most appropriate message for these times.
“In 1798, when he wrote it, here was this guy making a supplication for peace,” said Adams, noting the work was Hayden’s only mass written in a minor key. “And here we are, a few hundred years later, and we’re still searching for the same thing. It is almost as if Hayden knew the peace he wrote about would prove to be elusive even to this day.”
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Despite the purpose behind Hayden’s music, Adams finds the piece uplifting and exciting. “There are moments that are great pieces of orchestral music,” said Adams, who will be conducting an eight-voice choir and 35-piece orchestra. “There are parts that are obviously gentle, beautiful passages.”
Also on the program is the Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1. Adams said it has no thematic relation to the Hayden piece. Instead, it fits in with Adams’ goal of allowing his best and steadiest orchestra members a turn to take center stage as soloists. The Horn Concerto will feature on French horn Californian Douglas Lyons, a member of the Aspen Choral Society Orchestra for four years who has made the Strauss piece a signature work.