These are the famous opening bars to the Agnus Dei of Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli. At this point in the Mass, the listeners have been entertained, moved, and enraptured by the beauty of this late work (1796). But at this moment we hear the somber choir and the timpani, “an ominous reminder of the threat of war.” (Wolfgang Hochstein) And while we often call this great work the “Paukenmesse” because of the prominent role of the kettledrums, once the Agnus Dei begins we realize how deliberate Haydn was in calling it a “Mass in time of war.” Trumpet fanfares transition us from the threat of war to a dancing, light-filled call for peace (“dona nobis pacem”).
Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna will conclude our program on January 27 – it is an extended meditation on light, drawing imagery from several sources. The central movement is the transcendent “O nata lux et lumine” (“O born light of light”), sung a capella. You can hear it here: O nata lux