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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Symphony to Pay Fitting Tribute to Haydn

Sunday's 3 p.m. concert will include a performance with the Santa Barbara Choral Society

The Santa Barbara Symphony’s last regular concert of 2009 — the New Year’s Eve bash is more of a celebration than a formal concert — pays a fitting tribute to a composer who died 200 years ago this year: Franz Josef Haydn.

The concerts — at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at The Granada — will offer, as the main course, Haydn’s Mass No. 10 in C Major, (H. XXII:9), which the symphony calls the “Paukenmesse” (Kettledrum Mass), but which the composer himself called, unambiguously, “Mass in Time of War” (Missa in tempore belli).

As a kind of lighthearted prelude to the overwhelming masterpiece, maestro Nir Kabaretti and his orchestra will begin with the Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat Major for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon and Orchestra, K. 297b by Wolfgang Mozart. The soloists in the Mozart piece will be Lara Wickes on oboe, Donald T. Foster on clarinet, Andy Radford on bassoon and Teag Reaves on horn.

For the Haydn, the symphony will once again team up with the superb Santa Barbara Choral Society (and director JoAnne Wasserman), and the solo passages will be sung by soprano Kathryn Louise Lewek, mezzo-soprano Susan Poretsky, tenor Will Feguson and baritone Derrick Parker.

Sometimes, music written in gloomy or happy circumstances sounds gloomy or happy. More often than not, however, composers create their music regardless of where they find themselves and how things are going at the time — and it’s a good thing, too, or we’d probably have a lot less cheery music. Mozart wrote the charming, carefree Sinfonia Concertante in Paris, in the midst of a highly unsuccessful tour of Europe, trying to round up commissions.

On top of that, he dragged his devoted mother along with him, and she took sick and died in Paris. Mozart was not heartless. He loved his mother and spent a month beside her bed, although she no longer knew who he was. Yet his music came from somewhere else, and the Sinfonia Concertante is cloudless and serene.

Franz Josef Haydn by Thomas Hardy, four years before he composed the Paukenmesse.
Franz Josef Haydn by Thomas Hardy, four years before he composed the “Paukenmesse.”

The “tempore belli” to which Haydn’s inscription refers was 1796, when Revolutionary France and Europe’s ancien regimes were locked in a fight to the death, a fight they both lost — to Napoleon, who had just come on the scene and was working his way up Italy, beating Austrian armies every time he came across one. He looked to be on his way to Vienna, and it didn’t seem as if anybody could stop him.

Haydn was a loyal Austrian and would, in fact, compose the national anthem (the melody we now know as “Deutschland über alles”) in 1797. When Napoleon actually occupied Vienna, in 1808-09, he put a guard of honor around Haydn’s house. Haydn, dying, had himself carried to his piano, where he played the anthem he had composed.

The C-Major Mass agitated passages unlike any in his 13 other settings. What I said earlier about a composer’s music rarely reflecting the circumstances in which it was composed applies mainly to the immediate circumstances, not the national or international situation. When, at the end of the mass, the chorus intones “dona nobis pacem/give us piece,” the world of that time and place was very much with Haydn, and you can hear it.

Tickets to the concerts are available online, or from the Granada box office at 1214 State St. or 805.899.2222.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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