(Johann) Michael Haydn
Requiem in C Minor

Baptized: 14 September 1737 in Rohrau, Austria
Died: 10 August 1806 in Salzburg

{Background} {Biography} {Requiem} {A Personal Note}

A Little Background

First, we need to establish just which Michael Haydn Requiem in C minor we are talking about.

After I first sang this piece, in 2017, I wanted to buy a recording of the work.  Online I found a CD of Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor, breathlessly described as a “world premiere recording.”  I purchased the CD, it arrived, I put in on to listen to, and went “Whoa!  That’s not what we sang!”  It turns out that the recording was of a piece with the catalogue number MH 559, whereas the piece I had sung was MH 155.  The CD booklet hypothesized that Michael Haydn (who will sometimes be referred to below as MH) had composed it to mark Mozart’s death—not an impossible supposition, after all, given the ways that MH and Mozart intertwined professionally and compositionally (more on that below).  As it turns out, though, the “Michael Haydn” C minor Requiem 559 isn’t by Michael Haydn at all.  It’s by the little-known Georg von Pasterwitz, whose main claim to fame (such as it is) is that he was one of the teachers of Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who completed Mozart’s unfinished Requiem (and who also studied with Mozart).  MH did begin a second Requiem (MH 838), but, like Mozart’s, this was left unfinished at his death.

So do not buy the “World Premiere Recording” of MH 559 if you are looking for Michael Haydn’s C minor Requiem.  There’s a recording of the real work on Hyperion (Choir of the King’s Consort, directed by Robert King).  But my favorite performance is certainly the YouTube one by the Helsinki Chamber Choir and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andres Mustonen.  As I say in the Joseph Haydn entry, “It’s a very artsy video in what looks like an abandoned industrial warehouse; there’s funky lighting and some kind of video projection going on; the chorus appears to be wearing prison jumpsuits.  But what a performance!  And the choir is singing by heart, not a vocal score in sight.”



But back to MH.  The younger brother of the much more famous Joseph Haydn, he followed his older brother to Vienna to sing in St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  As an adult, he eventually (1763) joined the musical establishment of Salzburg Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach, becoming the colleague of Leopold Mozart (and later, Wolfgang).  In 1767 the younger Mozart joined MH and Anton Adlgasser in the composition of the oratorio Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots; each composer contributed one act (yes, Mozart was 11!)  Later on Mozart wrote two violin/viola duets to add to four that MH had written.

Although MH had an opportunity to work for the Esterházy family, like his brother, Michael remained in Salzburg for the remainder of his career, picking up additional gigs there as well (organist of the Dreifaltigkeitskirche from 1777, beating out Mozart for the position; organist of the Salzburg Cathedral from 1782, succeeding Mozart).  He had several pupils over the years, the most famous being the young Carl Maria von Weber.  He was a prolific composer, writing both vocal and instrumental music, but sacred music is most prominent in his output.  Church reforms in the 1780s meant that his later sacred music tends to be simpler in style, but fortunately for us the Requiem precedes the reforms and is thus nicely complex.


The c minor Requiem was prompted by the death of Archbishop von Schrattenbach on 16 December 1771.  MH wrote swiftly, completing the piece on 31 December in time for the funeral on 2 January 1772.  Since MH’s only child, a daughter, had died earlier in 1771, at less than a year old, there’s some speculation that he already had some funeral music ready.  Mozart took part in the performance, and was influenced by it when he was composing his own Requiem two decades later (Mozart also modelled his Te deum K. 141 on MH’s Te deum of 1760).

The work is written for SATB chorus and soloists, four trumpets (including two high “clarino” trumpets), two trombones (often doubling the A and T lines), timpani, first and second violins, and an organ continuo.  A third trombone is typically added, to double the bass line, and the continuo is likewise often filled out with cello, double bass, bassoon, or some combination thereof.  The predominantly low timbres are appropriate for a work of mourning, and Mozart’s orchestration is similarly subdued.

The basic layout of the piece is as follows:

Introit/Kyriec minorCAdagio
Dies iraec minor¾Andante maestoso
—Domine Jesu Christeg minorCAndante maestoso
—Quam olim abrahaeg minor¢Vivace
—Hostias/Quam olim abrahaeg minorCAndante
—Sanctusc minor¾Andante
—BenedictusEb Major¾Allegretto
Agnus Deic minorCAdagio
Communion: Cum sanctis tuisc minor¢Allegretto

MH begins his Introit with a Baroque-style walking bass in a stately rhythm; since the strings will eventually be swirling around in 32nd notes, it’s a good idea not to go too fast at the start.  The orchestral introduction includes delicious suspensions that the choir will soon pick up on.  The trumpets also have a repested fanfare-figure—three shorter notes and then one longer one—that will remind listeners of the identical figure in the trombones in Mozart’s Benedictus (a section written by Süssmayr, however).

Once the voices enter, the strings move to a syncopated figure; Mozart does the same with his opening.  The imitative opening uses a figure that begins with a rising second and then returns to the opening pitch; Mozart’s imitative opening uses a figure that begins with a falling second before returning to the opening pitch.  Once the initial imitative opening has appeared in the order BTAS (the same order Mozart uses), the chorus then sings “et lux perpetua” in a homorhythmic syllabic setting; Mozart does the same thing.  For the Introit verse, “Te decet hymnus,” MH switches to major and places the Gregorian chant in soprano and alto, moving to a swirling orchestral accompaniment when tenor and bass join us.  Mozart likewise moves to major and uses the chant for “Te decet hymnus,” giving it now to the solo soprano.

The return of the Introit text (Requiem aeternam) is given to the solo voices; the chorus then brings back the initial imitative material, but this time with the Kyrie text.  While Mozart “joins” the Introit and Kyrie, there is a distinct break between his two sections, unlike MH’s treatment.  MH gives the Christe text to the soloists (with some brief choral comments), and the chorus concludes with the final Kyrie that uses both imitative and homorhythmic treatment.  MH concludes this movement with a picardy-third cadence, while Mozart contrasts this strongly with his haunting open fifth.

Although Mozart’s Introit borrows heavily from Michael Haydn’s, the two Dies irae settings are quite different.  Mozart divided the lengthy text into six sharply contrasting sections.  MH, on the other hand, set the entire text in one non-stop movement with unchanging meter (but with some harmonic changes, e.g. Bb for Juste judex, Eb for Preces meae).  The Dies irae, the most famous of all medieval sequences, is built on a recurring metrical pattern throughout, and MH takes advantage of this by making frequent re-use of the opening material.  The “Dies irae” music comes back for the sections “Quantus tremor,” “Rex tremendae,” “Quaerens me,” and “Huic ergo;” it also inspires various other portions of the movement.  The eighth-note motives of the “Tuba mirum” section also pop up elsewhere.

The layout below shows the various verses of the Dies irae text and who gets to sing them. Each of the soloists gets a substantial section, in SATB order, although the tenor gets three verses while the others only receive two.  Mozart likewise uses solo voices for the Mors stupebit through Quid sum miser verses, though he begins the solo treatment with Tuba mirum.  In another similarity, Mozart’s rhythm for his “lacrimosa” is akin to Michael Haydn’s.  Mozart also planned to end the sequence with a large Amen fugue, like MH does, but Süssmayr was clearly not up to it and instead closed with a simple plagal cadence.  MH throws in another picardy third cadence to conclude the movement.

Dies iraechorus
Quantus tremorchorus
Tuba mirumchorus
Mors stupebitsoprano solo
Liber scriptussoprano solo
Judex ergoalto solo
Quid sum miseralto solo
Rex tremendaechorus
Quaerens mechorus
Juste judextenor solo
Ingemiscotenor solo
Qui Mariamtenor solo
Preces meaebass solo
Inter ovesbass solo
Oro supplexSATB soloists
Huic ergochorus
Amenchorus with SATB soloists

The text of the Offertory in a Requiem mass consists of the refrain,which begins “Domine Jesu Christe.”  The latter part of the refrain, known as the repetendum, uses the text “Quam olim Abrahae.”  This is followed by the verse (Hostias et preces) and then a repeat of the repetendum.  MH separates the refrain and the repetendum; the refrain mingles solos and chorus, while the repetendum is a choral fugue, as is traditional.  MH then combines the Hostias verse (for ATB solos, with a modulation to Bb) and the literal return of the repetendum, back to Vivace tempo and ending with yet another picardy third.  Once again Mozart looks to Michael Haydn in the Offertory, using the initial rhythm of Domine Jesu Christ as well as the rhythm of the Quam olim abrahae fugue; similarities can also be found for “Rex gloriae,” “et de profundo lacu,” and “de ore leonis.”

The Sanctus follows a choral / solo / choral layout and a move to Eb for the solos at “Osanna.”  The Benedictus begins with solo voices (as is a frequent practice) and starts in a sweet Eb major the nicely matches the “blessed” text.  The chorus comes back for the concluding Osanna to lead us to a C major cadence.  We are back in c minor for the Agnus Dei, where again solo and chorus alternate.  The movement ends on an unresolved dominant triad to lead us, attaca, into the excellent closing Cum sanctis fugue—entirely choral except for a brief solo quartet interlude beginning at “Rex aeternum,” which is followed by a return of the “et lux perpetua” choral writing from the first movement before we repeat the Cum sanctis fugue.  As with the opening movement, this closing movement is again undergirded by a walking bass.  And like previous movements (with the exception of the Agnus), MH closes with a major triad.  His Requiem is one where, in the end, the positive triumphs over the mournful.

A Personal Note

Probably everyone who’s sung the Michael Haydn Requiem has also sung the Mozart Requiem (given the ubiquity of performances of the latter), but there is a distinct possibility that I am the only person ever to sing both pieces within a ten-day period, and it’s been a fascinating juxtaposition.  I owe my first peformance of Michael Haydn’s Requiem to Michael Ruhling and his professional Perihipsous Ensemble.  Ruhling, an expert in the music of Michael Haydn, has written a richly detailed study of the issues in doing a performance that takes into account issues of historical practice: Performing Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor, MH155. His study is also remarkable for the generous tribute he pays to Charles Sherman, Ruhling’s mentor and editor of the Carus-Verlag Edition used by pretty much everyone these days.

My second performance is coming up on Palm Sunday 2023, with a Presbyterian church choir.  Choral conductors, I imagine, must ask themselves a series of questions any time they are contemplating the performance of a piece slightly out of the mainstream.  How well do the members of the chorus sight-read? (it varies).  Will they work on the music on their own? (probably not, despite good intentions).  Will everyone attend all rehearsals? (certainly not).  Will there be enough rehearsal time to do the piece justice?  (there is never enough time).  And then they balance that against other questions.  Will the singers grow and stretch their musical skills as they learn the piece?  Will they be exposed to terrific music that they didn’t know before?  Will each rehearsal bring the music more deeply into their psyches?  Will they be looking forward to each rehearsal, a pause in everyday existence to work together towards the common goal of the best performance possible in a limited time?  Will the music exist as a subconscious background as they go about their daily lives, bubbling underneath like a silver stream of magic?  Will they wake up on the day of performance filled with excitement, whether subdued or blatant, and dress in concert attire with mounting anticipation?  Will the listeners be treated to sounds and sensations that answer needs unspoken and not even known?  Will the performance be something whose memory is treasured and savored, even if the concert is not flawless?

Choral conductors know that the answer to all of these questions is yes.  I am so grateful to them for continuing to bring good music, both famous and little-known, into my life and that of my fellow singers and our audiences.

March 2023