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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Mass No. 5 in A-Flat Major / Magnificat, D. 486 (Immortal Bach Ensemble, Schuldt-Jensen)
Composed and revised over a seven-year period (1819–26) Schubert’s fifth Mass setting is arguably his most songful and inventive. His integration of the soloists and chorus, mastery of fluid harmonies, and idiomatic treatment of the orchestra’s woodwind section give the Mass in A flat major a symphonic quality which would later inspire Bruckner. Schubert regarded it as the finest of his six Latin Mass settings. Schubert’s C major setting of selected versicles from the Magnificat is a more Haydnesque piece, recalling the joyfully expressive music of the earlier composer’s famous oratorio The Seasons (available on 8.557600–01).
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Mass No. 5 in A flat major • Magnificat in C major
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster, and spent the greater part of his short life in the city. His parents had settled in Vienna, his father moving there from Moravia in 1783 to join his schoolmaster brother at a school in the suburb of Leopoldstadt and marrying in 1785 a woman who had her origins in Silesia and was to bear him fourteen children. Franz Schubert was the twelfth of these and the fourth to survive infancy. He began to learn the piano at the age of five, with the help of his brother Ignaz, twelve years his senior, and three years later started to learn the violin, while serving as a chorister at Liechtenthal church. From there he applied, on the recommendation of Antonio Salieri, to join the Imperial Chapel, into which he was accepted in October 1808, as a chorister now allowed to study at the Akademisches Gymnasium, boarding at the Stadtkonvikt, his future education guaranteed.
During his schooldays Schubert formed friendships that he was to maintain for the rest of his life. After his voice broke in 1812, he was offered, as expected, a scholarship to enable him to continue his general education, but he chose, instead, to train as a primary school teacher, while devoting more time to music and, in particular, to composition, the art to which he was already making a prolific contribution. In 1815 he was able to join his father as an assistant teacher, but showed no great aptitude or liking for the work. Instead he was able to continue the earlier friendships he had formed at school and make new acquaintances. His meeting in 1816 with Franz von Schober allowed him to accept an invitation to live in the latter’s apartment, an arrangement that relieved him of the necessity of earning his keep in the schoolroom. In August 1817 he returned home again and resumed his place, for the moment, in the classroom. The following summer he spent in part at Zseliz in Hungary as music tutor to the two daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterházy von Galánta, before returning to Vienna to lodge with a new friend, the poet Johann Mayrhofer, an arrangement that continued until near the end of 1820, after which Schubert spent some months living alone, now able to afford the necessary rent.
By this period of his life it seemed that Schubert was on the verge of solid success as a composer and musician. He lodged once again with the Schobers in 1822 and 1823 and it was at this time that his health began to deteriorate, through a venereal infection that was then incurable. This illness overshadowed the remaining years of his life and was the cause of his early death. The following years brought intermittent returns to his father’s house, since 1818 in the suburb of Rossau, and a continuation of social life that often centred on his own musical accomplishments and of his intense activity as a composer. In February 1828 the first public concert of his music was given in Vienna, an enterprise that proved financially successful, and he was able to spend the summer with friends, including Schober, before moving, in September, to the suburb of Wieden to stay with his brother Ferdinand, in the hope that his health might improve. At the end of October, however, he was taken ill at dinner and in the following days his condition became worse. He died on 19 November.
From childhood Schubert had had a particularly close association with church music. He had started at the age of eight as a choirboy at the parish church in Liechtenthal, where he was taught by the choirmaster Michael Holzer, a pupil of Albrechtsberger. From 1808 he was a chorister in the Imperial and Royal Chapel and remained in the choir until his voice broke in 1812, bringing an end to seven years of regular practical participation in the music of the church. His many liturgical compositions seem to have started in 1812 and he continued to write music for the church until the final weeks of his life.
If his earlier church compositions had been largely intended for the parish church at Liechtenthal, where Schubert had his first great public success in 1814 with his Mass in F major, by the end of the decade he seems to have been giving serious consideration to his career, as his friends one by one settled into regular employment and marriage. One path to professional employment lay in church music and evidence of Schubert’s probable ambition may be seen in the care he took over his Mass in A flat major, D. 678, which he started in November 1819 but completed only in 1822, revising it in 1826, presumably at the time of his applicaton for the position of Court Vice-Kapellmeister. In an optimistic letter of 1822 to his friend Joseph von Spaun he writes of his satisfaction with the work and of a possible dedication to the Emperor or Empress. Preparations, in any case, were made for performance, and various revisions were made to facilitate this, but there is no record of any such performance having taken place. In 1826 he showed the work to the Kapellmeister of the Royal Chapel, Josef Eybler, who told him that it was not in the style favoured by the Emperor, whose tastes in this respect were conservative.
The Mass in A flat major, a Missa Solemnis, the fifth of Schubert’s six Mass settings, is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings and organ, with four solo voices and choir. The handling of the wind instruments is now markedly different from that of the earlier Masses, with a thoroughly idiomatic use made of woodwind. In the Kyrie the two upper voices are answered by the tenors and basses and the Christe eleison is introduced by the solo soprano, followed by the other soloists. The Kyrie is subtly altered, on its return, and the Christe eleison is duly transposed. The Gloria, marked Allegro maestoso e vivace is in a forceful E major, modulating to A major for the Andantino setting of Gratias agimus tibi, introduced by first and second violins, before the entry of the soloists. At Dominus Deus, Rex cælestis there is a shift to A minor and other modulations before the key of A major is re-established, leading to what seems about to become a fugue in C sharp minor at the words Domine Deus, Agnus Dei. It is with Cum Sancto Spiritu that Schubert offers a full fugal treatment of the text, following established tradition, a movement he rewrote in 1826, with the present improved subject. The Credo starts with a C major chord from horns and trombones, answered by oboes, clarinets and trumpets. The chord for horns and trombones returns, to be followed by the A flat major Et incarnatus est and the two chords are heard again, marking the C major Et resurrexit, and returning once more to herald Confiteor in unum baptisma. The F major Sanctus is a world away from the Haydn Masses, with which Schubert would have been familiar as a chorister. It is followed by a Hosanna in excelsis that suggests the hunt in full cry. The Benedictus, in A flat once more, is shared between the soprano, alto and tenor soloists and the chorus, with a running quaver accompaniment, at first from the pizzicato cellos. The Hosanna returns, to complete the movement. The Agnus Dei, in F minor, is presented by the soloists, with the murmured miserere nobis of the chorus introducing an almost Verdian element. The final Dona nobis pacem restores the original key of A flat major and is substantial enough, with its hushed conclusion, to provide an ending to the whole Mass.
Schubert’s Magnificat in C major, D. 486, scored for four soloists, choir and pairs of oboes, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with strings and organ, survived in a copy dated 25 September 1816, but it has been suggested that it may have been written in the previous year. The setting follows contemporary custom in Vienna in taking only a few verses of the original canticle, opening with a splendidly festive Magnificat anima mea. The central section of the work, an F major Andante, sets the words Deposuit potentes de sede, the soloists preceded by a solo oboe. The mood of celebration returns with the final C major doxology.
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SCHUBERT, F.: Mass No. 5 in A-Flat Major / Magnifi...