Franz Peter Schubert - Life and Music


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Franz Schubert - Sacred & Liturgical Works

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Mass No. 1 in F Major (D. 105)

Schubert wrote his first complete mass for the IOOth anniversary of the church in Lichtental, the Mass in F Major (D. 105). It was written between May and July 1814 and first performed in October. According to a contemporary report, the mass caused quite a stir. Schubert himself conducted it, his brother Ferdinand played the organ. Therese Grob sang the soprano solo parts.

Schubert and her family were close friends, and Schubert had even had hopes of marrying Therese after a successful application for a position. The mass in F-Major is rather opulently arranged: a choir in four parts, soloists, strings, organ and a group of winds with clarinets, oboes, horns, bassoons, trombones and trumpets.

Mass No. 2 in G Major (D. 167)

The early Mass in G-Major has always been a favourite with the experts. The key appears to have been particularly convenient for Schubert, and it is surely the most traditionally folksy one, perhaps even more so than the 'herder's key' of F Major. With the most economical means - at first only the strings and the organ were planned to be used, Schubert later added timpani and trumpets - the composer achieves extraordinary effects. The intensity of this sacred arrangement is mainly found in its simplicity, the modest, personal experiencing of religious contemplation. The Mass in G-Major was written in 1815 and was intended for a performance in the parish church of Lichtental. In contrast to the performance of the Mass in F Major, there is no proof that the performance really took place.

Ferdinand Schubert (1794-1859)

Mass No. 3 in B flat major (D. 324)

Today, the autograph of the Mass in B flat major is kept at the British Library in London. His early compositions for masses are not quite free of Haydn's influence, whose masses Schubert himself had sung at Lichtental. Especially Haydn's 'Harmony Mass' appears to have made a lasting impression on Schubert.

There are several indications of this in the Mass in B flat major, occasionatly even direct copies in the music. The unusually portato tempo of the Kyrie might be a reference to Haydn's work, and the dotted rhythm of the first choir passage in Haydn's mass is echoed by a like passage in Schubert's music.

In autumn of 1822, Schubert's brother Ferdinand wrote from Pressburg after having visited Hainburg, the town where Joseph Haydn had studied music with his cousin: '...The former invited me to his service taking place on the following Sunday, the fourth day of my stay. And when I asked him what mass he would be doing, he replied: a very beautiful one, by a popular and famous composer, but I just cannot remember the name right now. And now, what mass was it? If you had just been with me, I know you would have enjoyed this too, for it was your B flat Mass!...'

Mass No. 4 in C major (D. 452)

The last of Schubert's masses in the Missa brevis tradition, in C major (D. 452), invokes most strongly the examples of Haydn and Mozart, although with a wider harmonic spectrum.

Mass No. 5 in A flat major (D. 678)

Throughout his life, Franz Schubert's relationship to the Catholic church and possibly to the Catholic religion was one of mixed feelings. In 1825, he wrote in a letter to his parents that he never"forced [himself] to prayer". Nevertheless, he wrote almost 39 works of sacred music showing anything but cool distance. One sometimes has the impression as if Schubert attempted to give his personal piety and his individual faith an equally personal space in his works of sacred music.

The Mass in A flat major is among the most difficult compositions of masses Schubert has written. The demands on the choir are extraordinary, but if it finds the composer's winding paths and follows his ideas of sound to the last detail, then the result is an unrivalled and brilliant vocal work. Schubert contrasts this mass not only with his early works, but also with the appropriate masses written by contemporaries, thus placing himself in line with the great masses by Haydn and Mozart. In some way, he even exceeds this and dares visions of sound alien to Haydn and Mozart. Schubert achieves extraordinary effects in the highly artificial refinement of the folk song, for example, and similarly in the dramatically charged opposition of simple solo song and majestic, full choir sound.

Mass No. 6 in E flat major (D. 950)

As with most of Schubert's mature sacred works, the Mass in E flat major (D. 950) seems to have been a response to inner need rather than external imperative. While building upon the foundation of the A flat Mass, it integrates with remarkable success the symphonic organization of Beethoven with Schubert's seemingly limitless melodic and harmonic invention. Although more compact than that in the Gloria of D. 678, the concluding Gloria and Credo fugues, with their sharply chiselled subjects, suggest a composer who had studied Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

Listen to Mass No. 5 in A flat major (D. 678)

Schubert's tendency towards mediantic half-closures, for example, is found not only in the 'in excelsis' but also in the further course of the music. The fugue 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' also remains in the corresponding harmonic limbo.

Schubert is looking for increasingly more complicated links of the melodious and the motif material as if he intended to put his own tortuous thoughts into music, and find a solution by displaying them.

The vehemence he employs to put his thoughts, and, inevitably, also his feelings to music forces the listeners to at least adopt an emotional stance.They are asked to follow Schubert's thoughts, and to continue along the lines of their thinking and feeling.

When Schubert opens himself up emotionally like in this mass, then the listeners have no chance to keep a cool distance, they must get involved in this Apocalypse.

List of other liturgical music by Schubert:

Gesange zur Feier des heiligen Opfers der Messe (Deutsche Messe), D.872, for mixed chorus, winds, and organ
Kyrie in D minor, D.31, for chorus, orchestra and organ
Kyrie in B-flat major, D.45, for mixed chorus
Kyrie in D minor, D.49, for chorus and orchestra
Kyrie in F major, D.66, for chorus, orchestra and organ
Salve Regina in B-flat major, D.106, for tenor, orchestra and organ
Totus in Corde (Erstes Offertorium) in C major, D.136, for soprano, tenor, clarinet or violin concertante, orchestra, and organ
Stabat Mater in G minor, D.175
Offertorium (Tres sunt) in A minor, D.181, for chorus, orchestra and organ
Gradual in C major, D.184, for chorus, orchestra, and organ
Salve Regina (Zweites Offertorium) in F major, D.223, for soprano, orchestra, and organ
Salve Regina in F major, D.379
Stabat Mater in F major, D.383
Salve Regina in B-flat major, D.386
Tantum ergo in C major, D.460, for chorus, orchestra, and organ
Tantum ergo in C major, D.461, for soli, chorus, and orchestra
Magnificat in C major, D.486
Auguste jam coelestium, D.488, duet for soprano and tenor with orchestra
Salve Regina (Drittes Offertorium) in A major, D.676, for soprano and orchestra
6 Antiphons for Palm Sunday, D.696
Psalm 23, D.706, for chorus with piano
Tantum ergo in C major, D.739
Tantum ergo in D major, D.750
Kyrie in A minor, D.755
Salve Regina in C major, D.811
Mass No.6 in E flat major, D.950
Tantum ergo in E flat major, D.962
Der 92. Psalm, Lied für den Sabbath, D.953, for baritone solo and chorus
Offertorium, D.963
Hymnus an den heiligen Geist, D.964

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