Playing in church with Haydn & Mozart

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King's Chapel

King's Building, Strand Campus

King's College London

London, United Kingdom

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Playing in church with Haydn & Mozart

Haydn’s playfulness sometimes landed him in trouble, especially in church. As a teenager he found himself expelled from the choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna for cutting off the pigtail of the chorister standing in front of him. This same mischievous streak often finds its way into his music. He endured a somewhat difficult relationship with the Church authorities, who complained that (amongst other things) his Mass settings were too long. Haydn’s Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, or the ‘Little Organ Mass’ might be thought of as a riposte to these objections. Everything is out of proportion. The fast ‘Gloria’ movement is ridiculous in its shortness, at about one minute in duration. Each of the four voices sings a different line of text simultaneously, allowing Haydn to get through the text in a quarter of the time, but also rendering the words utterly inaudible.

Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de Confessore demonstrate a different kind of playfulness, namely Mozart’s skill in depiction. Whether the choir is singing about sitting at God’s right hand or casting down enemies at their feet, each line of text is carefully and wonderfully crafted musically to illustrate the concept that it conveys. Mozart’s operatic experience bubbles up throughout this work – again, much to the chagrin of the church authorities, who believed that the church and opera styles should remain distinct and separate. And Mozart’s treatment of the text is playful in other ways: in several movements, when we come to the text ‘as it was in the beginning’, the choir sings this to a musical theme from the beginning of the movement.

Both composers pushed the boundaries of what was allowed, as they edged towards a more playful style than had previously been heard in church. Join us to experience this playful music.

The choir of King's College London is one of the leading university choirs in England. Founded in its present form in 1945, it consists of around thirty choral scholars reading a variety of subjects. As well as performing at services in the College Chapel, the choir gives many concerts, both in England and abroad. The choir performs a large and varied repertoire ranging from the fourteenth century to the present day. It regularly broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, and has made many recordings, with a particular focus on sixteenth-century English and Spanish repertoire.

Joseph Fort is College Organist & Director of the Chapel Choir, and Lecturer in Music at King’s. Prior to assuming this position in 2015, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music, the University of Cambridge, and Harvard University, where he completed a PhD with a dissertation on dance music relationships in the minuets of Joseph Haydn. As a conductor and musicologist, his work spans the worlds of performance and scholarship.

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King's Chapel

King's Building, Strand Campus

King's College London

London, United Kingdom

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