F.J. Haydn’sMissa in Angustiisin D minor, or as it is more commonly known, the Lord Nelson Mass, is recognized by many musical historians to be Haydn’s greatest composition. Missa in Angustiis translates as “Mass for Troubled Times,” and that certainly fits what was happening in the world when Haydn wrote this masterpiece in 1798. It was a time of great concern for Europeans as they watched Napoleon rise in power. It was also then that the British Lord Horatio Nelson defeated Napoleon’s fleet in the Battle of the Nile. Although Napoleon was not stopped by this defeat, Haydn was impressed enough with the victory that he renamed his work the Lord Nelson Mass.
The work is unique in that it is scored for an orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, strings, and organ, but no woodwinds. Budgetary restraints because of the war had required to dismiss his woodwinds and have the organ play what they would normally have played. However, rather than diminish the piece, this instrumentation, along with superb choral writing and virtuosic vocal solos combines to create one of the most impressive musical creations of its time.