St. George’s Choral Society returns with its annual fall concert on Nov. 21, 3PM, with a presentation featuring Bach’s Cantata 4, ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ and Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (also known as the ‘Lord Nelson Mass’). For the first time since the pandemic, SGCS has conducted in-person rehearsals.
Composed for Easter Sunday, Cantata 4 is one of Bach’s oldest compositions. He wrote the seven-movement piece in his early twenties, perhaps as young as 22, sometime between 1707 and 1708. Bach would go on to complete hundreds of cantatas throughout his more-than-40-year career as a working church musician, 200 or so of which are extant and display his mastery of the form.
Despite the somewhat unremarkable circumstances in which Cantata 4 was conceived -- according to some scholars, Bach completed the cantata as part of his application for a post in Mühlhausen -- it is nonetheless regarded today as one of the composer’s most celebrated sacred works and a prime example of the marriage of art and spiritual insight that the baroque maestro toiled endlessly his entire adult life to achieve.
“Bach is a true master: everything he wrote is a path to the divine,” says Dr. Matthew Lewis, the artistic director and conductor of SGCS. “But, more than the technical perfection, there is a human emotional component. His music speaks to those hearing it as well as the performers. His 4th Cantata is often cited in music history courses as an example of one of his greatest works. It is a concise piece, lasting about 25 minutes. It offers great contrasts from movement to movement, and tells a complete story.”
Known as the Lord Nelson Mass during Haydn’s lifetime, Missa in Angustiis was a wildly popular piece that spoke to the Austrian masses. Haydn, practically a rock star in his time, composed the piece in the summer of 1798 in the small city of Eisenstadt, not far from Vienna, where he was employed by Prince Esterhazy.
Why is the Mass named after the famed British naval hero? Several theories have abounded, but the most plausible one is this: In the year before Haydn put the finishing touches to the mass, Austria had suffered a colossal defeat at the hands of Napoleonic France, which threw the country into a deep malaise. Just as it appeared that Napoleon would go on to conquer Egypt, Horatio Nelson swooped in and thwarted those plans, destroying the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Lord Nelson became an instant continental hero.
News of the French defeat reached Vienna only after Haydn completed the composition, so it does not seem likely that he had Lord Nelson necessarily in mind to begin with. Instead, the piece probably gained its popular appellation retroactively, specifically after Lord Nelson paid a visit to the Esterhazy Palace, where he was treated to a performance of the Mass. In the minds of the Austrians, the sense of trepidation and optimism conveyed in Missa in Angustiis became synonymous with Nelson’s crucial, clutch heroics.
Sarah Brailey, soprano
Heather Petrie, contralto
Michael Kuhn, tenor
Enrico Lagasca, bass-baritone
Location & Time
Sunday, November 21 at 3 PM
In person at St. George’s Church, 7 Rutherford Place, New York, NY (across from Stuyvesant Park)
LiveStream link will be supplied closer to the date for ticket purchasers
Tickets are $30 online or at the door. In-person tickets purchased online will be held at the door under the purchaser’s name.