Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass” is a brilliant, thrilling work. But recently I learned it has nothing to do with Lord Nelson! There are several coincidences connecting the Mass to Lord Nelson: the crushing of Napoleon’s navy in the Battle of the Nile on August 1, 1798, or the Admiral’s presence at a performance of the Mass in Haydn’s hometown in 1800, or the destruction of the Danish fleet in 1801, or Trafalgar and the securing of hegemony over the seas by the British fleet in 1805. Church choirs sing this brilliant Mass with a warrior’s name attached to it, but it’s not a celebration of the violence Lord Nelson left in his wake. In fact, Haydn originally called it “Missa in angustiis” (Mass in time of tribulation).
If Haydn were here today, I believe he would agree with something Tevya says in Fiddler on the Roof: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, makes for a blind and toothless world.” Resistance and vengeance, violence and retaliation are unnecessary if we work together to weave justice into the fabric of everyday life. In James Crawford’s words: “If we will ground our relationships in mutuality and solidarity, friendship and hope,” society will make a U-turn and thrive with peace.