Sunday, July 26, 2015

Haydn and nobility

Today at church we got to sing Haydn's "O Esca Viatorum." It must have something to do with this Mass this week although as usual I am too lame-brained to figure that out. I do know because of my other Web log that we sang it a couple of years ago in this same week.

"O Esca Viatorum" is listed in our Cantate Omnes choir book as "Traditional." I realized some time ago it was by Haydn. Singing it today got me remembering what tipped me off.

Well, I did not know at first it was by Haydn. But as we sang it, it kind of gives you a thrill, because the melody is so beautiful, so noble. Today it kind of gave me shivers the way it always does.

I remember thinking, there is something about the architecture of this piece, I would bet it is the work of a master. Beautiful as many traditional melodies are, this had a different cast. It is like identifying a painting. You look and say: ah, that has to be Rembrandt. Listening to "O Esca Viatorum," trying to sing it well, I thought, I would not be surprised if it were Mozart. But it was not quite Mozart. It was a little different.

Haydn! I did a search on YouTube and sure enough.

Haydn has that noble streak that Mozart, for all his greatness, does not quite have. It is a strange thing about Haydn, he knew Mozart was superior. He said so, with touching humility, toward the end of his life. But he did have this special something that was uniquely his. The St. Anthony Chorale that inspired Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," that is that nobility. And of course the Kaiser hymn that became the German national anthem.

Here is "O Esca Viatorum," sung beautifully by a choir that, alas, is not ours.

Mozart does have a kind of similar nobility in a few pieces I could name and one of these days I will have to get to quoting them. But it is not quite the same.



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