Mass No.6 in E flat major, D950
The concert is performed without intermission and will last approximately one hour.
This program is supported in part by:
The Cleveland Foundation, The George Gund Foundation,
The Corinne L. Dodero Foundation for the Arts & Sciences, and
Community Shares of Greater Cleveland.
SCHUBERT’S FINAL MASS
Church music played a large part in Schubert’s life – as a choirboy, as a string player in local churches, and at a school where many pupils went on to
become organists and choirmasters. Several of Schubert’s schoolmates became professional church musicians and he aspired to as well. His Masses span his short
career, beginning in 1814, and the last two were affected by his desire for an appointment as a court church composer. This never eventuated, but to understand
the form taken by Schubert’s sixth and last setting of the Mass, it is necessary to know something about his fifth. Unusually for such a fluent composer, it
took him three years, on and off, to write. But the First Kapellmeister at court, Josef Eybler, received it with the comment that it was not composed in the
style the Emperor liked. The Fifth Mass was unconventional, omitting fugues where tradition prescribed them. Schubert’s application in 1826 for the second post
Schubert’s Sixth Mass was composed in the last year of his life, in June and July of 1828, just after the visionary C major String Quintet. In some respects
it is conservative in approach (though the anticlerical Schubert – as in his other Masses – omits the statement of belief in “one Holy Catholic and Apostolic
Church,” and in this Mass also the words “Jesu Christe” in the Quoniam). There are fugues in all the expected places, at considerable length, a reminder that
earlier in the year Schubert had gone to Simon Sechter (later Bruckner’s teacher) for lessons in counterpoint.
Yet Schubert’s ambition for a church appointment may not completely explain this Mass’s special features. By contrast with its predecessor, it is a
predominantly choral mass, and when soloists do eventually get their opportunity, at “Et incarnatus est” in the Creed, there are unusually, two solo tenor
parts, soon joined by a soprano. This suggests the Mass may have been tailored to the resources of the church for which it is believed to have been intended:
Holy Trinity in Vienna’s Alsergrund district, where one of Schubert’s schoolmates was now organist and choirmaster. It was in this church, in 1827, that
Beethoven’s corpse was blessed before the procession to the cemetery, with Schubert among the torchbearers.
This Mass is worthy to join those late Schubert works he composed with a sense of mission as Beethoven’s successor. As in his instrumental music, he had
found a new way of combining a vast scale of conception with his matchless gifts of lyrical invention. Restful calm and breadth are the keynotes. The music
rises to the heights, especially where the text chimes with Schubert’s convictions.
Standing out even from the sublimity aimed at by many passages in this Mass is the bold setting, in the Gloria, of the prayer beginning “Domine Deus…”
(Lord, have mercy upon us). The trombones add a Gregorian chant-like intonation to what Schubert authority Alfred Einstein regards as “one of the boldest
and at the same time most genuinely spiritual movements ever written for a Mass.” Equally striking is the opening of the Agnus Dei, a musical idea strongly
recalling Schubert’s setting, that same year, of Heine’s poem The Ghostly Double (Doppelgänger).
Alone of Schubert’s Masses, he was never to hear this one performed. It was first sung – in Holy Trinity Church according to his wishes – on October 4,
829, nearly a year after its composer died. The music was not published until 1865.
David Garrett © 2014
Illustration by Charles Krenner © 2014
In his lifetime, Schubert was known mainly as a songwriter, and he was a welcome guest at parties because he could improvise dance music at the piano.
Today he is known not only for his hundreds of exquisite songs but also for his expansive orchestral works and visionary chamber music. But there’s something
else to know about Schubert: he was a Catholic (as was nearly everyone in Vienna in those days) and this shaped his upbringing and musical training,
and resulted in the composition of six settings of the mass.
Season 12 (2015-2016)
Season 11 (2014-2015)
Season 10 (2013-2014)
Season 9 (2012-2013)
Season 8 (2011-2012)
Season 7 (2010-2011)
Season 6 (2009-2010)
Season 5 (2008-2009)
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