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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Masses Nos. 2 and 4 / Deutsche Messe (Immortal Bach Ensemble, Schuldt-Jensen)
A chorister from the age of eight until his voice broke seven years later, Franz Schubert was well placed to compose sacred music, including several splendid settings of the Mass. His second, completed in 1815, and fourth, written during the following year, follow Mozart’s examples but with strikingly Schubertian touches such as his dramatic use of key relationships and contrasting vocal textures to express the prayerful, meditative and glorious nature of the liturgical text. For the so-called German Mass, Schubert wrote unassuming yet heartfelt settings of congregational hymns for performance during the service.
By Brian Wilson
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Masses in C and G major • Deutsche Messe
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 Liechtental 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 the continuation of a 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 Liechtental, 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, with his first Mass in F major, D. 105, written in 1814 for Liechtental and first performed there under Schubert’s direction. He continued to write music for the church until the final weeks of his life.
The second of Schubert’s six completed Masses, the Mass in G major, D. 167, was written in early March 1815 and was originally scored for soprano, tenor bass soloists, mixed choir, strings and organ. It was once thought that parts for oboes or clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and timpani had been added by Schubert’s elder brother Ferdinand, but recovery of the original parts in Schubert’s hand makes it clear that the revised orchestration was his own work. The Mass was probably first heard at Liechtental and the soprano solos suggest that the work had been written partly with the talents of Therese Grob in mind. The young soprano, daughter of neighbours of the Schuberts, had sung the soprano solos
in Schubert’s Mass in F, and Franz Schubert seems to have set his heart on her, although nothing came of the supposed attachment. As elsewhere, Schubert treated the
liturgical text with a certain freedom and omitted from the Credo the phrase Et in unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam (And in one holy Catholic and
Apostolic Church), an omission taken by some to indicate an element of alienation from the Church. It has recently been suggested, however, that Schubert here was conforming to the standard contemporary practice of the Catholic Enlightenment (qv. Manuel Jahrmärker: Schubert—ein Anhänger der katholischen Aufklärung?…, Schubert-Jahrbuch 1997). It must be added that some of the textual omissions do not always make very good sense.
In the Mass in G the homophonic G major Kyrie has an A minor soprano solo to introduce the Christe eleison, after which the music of the opening Kyrie eleison returns. As in some of Mozart’s Missae breves with which Schubert must have been familiar as a chorister, the Gloria and Credo are set as single movements, with an occasional telescoping of the texts (in this recording, however, the Gloria is cued as two separate tracks, Gloria in excelsis Deo and Domine Deus). The homophonic Gloria is in D major and omits the petition Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis. The Credo offers an opening passage that has the simplicity of a hymn, set against a moving bass line. Changes of key add a touch of drama to Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, followed by a suitably jubilant Et resurrexit. The music of the opening returns for the final statements of belief, Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, with brief antiphonal use of the upper and lower voices of the four-part chorus. The D major Sanctus, marked Adagio maestoso, bursts in, in full grandeur, with the first contrapuntal element introduced in the Osanna in excelsis. The Benedictus, in a lilting 6/8, is scored for soprano, tenor and bass soloists and leads to the return of the contrapuntal Osanna in excelsis. The Agnus Dei starts in E minor with the first petition allotted to the soprano soloist, with the chorus echoing the final words.
The second petition is given to the bass soloist, with the chorus repeating again the final phrase. The soprano returns with the final Agnus Dei, with the plea for peace
bringing the work to an end in the home key of G major. The Mass in C major, D. 452, was written in June and July 1816 and scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, four-part chorus, strings and organ, later rescored by Schubert with two oboes or clarinets, two trumpets and timpani. It was performed at the church of St Ulrich in Vienna in September 1825, presumably under Ferdinand Schubert, and was among the small group of liturgical works published by Diabelli in the same year, with a further posthumous edition in 1829
that included an alternative and simpler choral setting of the Benedictus. The publication of the work presumably came about as Schubert sought to support his hopes of succeeding to the position of Court Vice-Kapellmeister. The Kyrie, as elsewhere, makes full use of four solo voices in alternation with the choir and the second tripartite Kyrie eleison returns to the music of the opening, suitably varied. The Gloria, with its opening ascending scale, dotted rhythms and harmonic structure, follows contemporary convention, with a return to its opening at Quoniam tu solus sanctus. The Credo has the necessary contrast at the D minor opening of the Et incarnatus est, set for solo voices and marked Adagio molto, and at the jubilant C major of Et resurrexit. The tranquillity of the Sanctus is interrupted by the soprano solo that opens the Osanna in excelsis. The same Osanna follows the original F major soprano solo of the Benedictus, heard here but replaced in 1828 by a simpler A minor setting. The Agnus Dei continues the contrast of solo voices and full choir and leads to a final Dona nobis pacem in a brisk triple metre, providing a musically satisfying conclusion.
Schubert wrote his Deutsche Messe, D. 872, in 1827 in response to a commission from the physicist and writer Johann Philipp Neumann, who had written the libretto for Schubert’s projected but unfinished opera Sakuntala. Neumann, who paid Schubert 100 gulden for the work, required a set of simple hymns for congregational use at Mass, a commission that Schubert faithfully fulfilled. The work was scored for a mixed choir with an accompaniment of wind instruments and organ. It later appeared in a number of varied arrangements, some seemingly the work of Ferdinand Schubert, testimony to its popular continuing congregational use.
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SCHUBERT, F.: Masses Nos. 2 and 4 / Deutsche Messe...