COMPOSERS: Michael Haydn
WORKS: Mass for St Aloysius in the Feast of the Innocents, KL I/12; Mass for St Leopold in the Feast of the Innocents, KL I/24; Vespers for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, KL IV/5
PERFORMER: Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Richard Marlow
CATALOGUE NO: CDCF 220 DDD
E.T.A Hoffmann considered that ‘as a composer of sacred music Michael Haydn ranks among the finest artists of any age. In this field he is fully his brother’s equal; in fact, by the seriousness of his approach he often far surpasses him.’ Few people would probably agree with that judgement today, particularly as Joseph Haydn’s great symphonic Masses are now almost as well known as Mozart’s, but Hoffmann’s comparison is instructive. Michael Haydn spent the bulk of his composing life at the ecclesiastical court in Salzburg (where his colleagues included both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart), and though he wrote in a wide range of musical forms, about two-thirds of his output is liturgical.
The seriousness Hoffmann describes indicates the restraint and devotional gentleness that Michael Haydn employed, which are evident in these pieces for the Feast of the Innocents. They are written for choirboys, and the relatively modest demands made on chorus and soloists create their own kind of warm pathos, if little excitement. The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, under Marlow, brings a freshness to these works, though they sometimes seem to want vigour. The small instrumental forces provide much of the texture of the music, with some lovely horn playing. William Humphreys-Jones