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Haydn : Nelson Mass, Dobrinka Tabakova, Grace Williams

Saturday, 05 April 2025,
Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London SW1X 9DQ

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was born in Austria, sent to Hamburg at the age of six for his initial music training then returned to Vienna to train as a chorister at St Stephen's cathedral.   He struggled in his early years as a freelancing musician to establish himself but eventually in his mid-20s began to be recognised as a serious composer.

Written in 1798, the Missa in angustiis (Mass for troubled times) is one of the six masses written near the end of Haydn's life that are seen as a culmination of his composition of liturgical music.  Around this time, Austria had lost several major battles with Napolean Bonaparte and it was a terrifying time in the country - hence the title of the mass.  What Haydn did not know when he wrote the mass, but what he and his audience became aware of (perhaps on September 15, the day of the very first performance), was that on 1 August, Napoleon had been dealt a stunning defeat in the Battle of the Nile by British forces led by Admiral Horatio Nelson.   As a result of this coincidence and timing, the mass gradually acquired the nickname Lord Nelson Mass.

The mass comprises the six typical components of the masses written in this period - Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus & Agnus Dei.

Bulgarian-born Dobrinka Tabakova has been based in London for over 30 years.   Although most of her work is orchestral, there is a sizeable output of choral music.  She won a prize for her anthem written to mark the late HM The Queen's Golden Jubilee.

Around 2005, four new stained-glass windows created by Tom Denny were installed in the Audley Chapel of Hereford Cathedral, each celebrating the philosophy and writings of the local 17th century priest and poet Thomas Traherne. 

Tabakova has taken extracts from his poetry and used each window as the inspiration for her own writing in this specially-commissioned work Centuries of Meditations reflecting (1) a celebration of nature, (2) the importance of faith, (3) a meditation on love, and (4) community, coming to a close with the development of a theme of bells and culminating in a joyous finale.

The concert's programme is completed with an orchestral work, Sea Sketches, by the Welsh composer, Grace Williams (1906-1977).  Generally regarded as Wales's most notable female composer, Williams was also the first British woman to score a feature film.

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