Many of Haydn's late symphonies and masses tremble with an awareness of Napoleon's ambitious military campaigning, and his Mass in Time of Anguish is a prime example of this concern, with its foreboding fanfares and hammer-rhythms.
Yet sunny hope mingles with grim fear, giving the piece such unique personality.
Composed in 1798, this Mass in D minor was performed at Eisenstadt for Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton in 1800. Henceforth, and certainly confirmed by the Admiral's victory at Trafalgar on October 21 1805, it became known as the Nelson Mass. And last weekend, 200 years after that great event, Birmingham heard this tremendous work twice within 24 hours.
Birmingham Choral Union's account on Saturday was part of the city ' s official bicentenary celebrations, with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Royal Navy personnel (such polite and attentive cadets) and Civic Society members adding to the significance of the evening.
Conductor Colin Baines has an enthusiastic bunch of choristers under his clear, reassuring baton, and they sang with sturdy fluency. Soprano tone was occasionally unsupported, attack on initial consonants could sometimes have been crisper, and attention to phrasing was not always consistent (as in the "Credo's" tight canon).
But the overall effect was invigorating, aided by a superlative orchestra, crispness and sonority achieved on only the minimum of rehearsal - a tribute to everyone's efficiency. Haydn's important organ scoring was neatly delivered by Darren Hogg.
Equally efficient were the soloists, though soprano Rebecca Bouckley, her intonation sweet and true, was somewhat small-voiced in this context - a cruel comparison when set against Carolyn Sampson, a star of truly universal magnitude, who sang the solos in Ex Cathedra's taut, dramatic version of the mass on Sunday.
Sampson sang with power, supplication and glorious radiance in this reading under Jeffrey Skidmore which seemed taken in one huge burst of energy. The superb Ex Cathedra Classical Orchestra, playing in "period" style, sprang Haydn's surging rhythms deliciously, danced lightly where appropriate, and underpinned this youthful choir which floated tones buoyantly, and articulated and phrased as the adept body it is.
Frances Bourne, Benjamin Hulett and Eamonn Dougan completed a well-blended solo quartet, and Hulett was particularly outstanding, elegant and dignified, a true Mozartean tenor, in the Mozart Requiem which completed this wonderful evening.
The versatile Sampson conjured a different kind of voice here, otherworldly and beatific, creating moments of serenity against which Skidmore's brisk fugues (such athletic trombones!) reminded us of the rigours which divide us from Paradise.
Skidmore's interpretation combined scholarship with instinctive musicality, and sensibly used the classic Sussmayr completion (no messing about with other versions which are more about the editors' vainglory than Mozart himself).
BCU's programme had opened with Handel's overblown Dettingen Te Deum, composed to mark a great military victory.
Brightly, confidently delivered, it also featured enchanting contributions from mezzo Rebecca Mitchell-Farmer.
And if its half-hour length, Handel doggedly changing gear for each line of text, seemed interminable you could always play "spot the Messiah quotes".