Joseph Haydn wrote 14 masses. The last six were written for the Esterházy family to celebrate the name day of Princess Maria Hermenegild, the wife of Prince Nikolaus II and a friend of the composer. They mark the the last period of Haydn’s enormous musical output and are among the greatest liturgical compositions in Western music.
In my opinion, the finest of these masses is No. 10 in C major: ‘Missa in tempore belli’ (‘Mass in Time of War’), also known as the ‘Paukenmesse’. The Paukenmesse (Kettle Drum Mass) refers to the dramatic use of timpani. Haydn composed the piece in August of 1796 at the Esterházy estate when the Army of Austria was doing poorly in its war with the new French Republic.
The mass is scored for four soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Written in six parts, all put the first (Kyrie) are subdivided. The second part (Gloria) is in four sections the second of which is sung by the baritone – Qui tollis peccata mundi (Who takes away the sins of the world). ‘Who’ refers to God in all His forms according to the Roman Catholic liturgy.
The melody used is likely the most beautiful the composer ever conceived. In fact, it can match the best of any other great melodist. It’s simple, direct, and touches the heart. The Mass was written to aid the listener in a troubled time of conflict. The entire work is a masterpiece of the highest order. The Qui tollis is sung by Hans Sotin under Leonard Bernstein’s direction.
If you wish to listen to the entire work, you can get it here in a 1963 recording conducted by Rafael Kubelik.