It is well known that Joseph Haydn wrote his late masses to the commission of his last employer, Prince Nicolaus II Esterhazy. The "Harmoniemesse" is the last of these high masses all of which probably received their first performances in celebration of the name-day of Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegild, the prince's wife. The present work was given for the first time on 8 September 1802 in the Bergkirche at Eisenstadt, Haydn himself conducting.
Haydn entitled his work simply "Missa". The work has acquired the name "Harmoniemesse" by reason of the prominent parts given to the wind instruments ("Harmonie" being a contemporary name for a wind band); the nickname did not become established until the late nineteenth century.