St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Messe in F, D.105

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THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS
OBSERVATORY

SUNDAY, 23 MAY 2010, 10.30am


HIGH MASS OF WHITSUNDAY

(Celebrant : The Rector)


Sung to the


MESSE IN F, D.105

- Franz Schubert
 

FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT was born in Vienna and spent most of his short life in that city. He was the twelfth of fourteen children of a Moravian father and Silesian mother, the fourth and last to survive infancy. His started learning piano at the age of 5 years, his 17 year old brother Ignaz being his first teacher, and thereafter violin from his father. Three years later he was placed under the tutelage of Michael Holzer, organist of the Lichtental Parish Church, in the choir of which Schubert sang as a treble and who took over his instrumental tuition, also teaching him organ, singing and harmony.
    On the recommendation of Antonio Salieri, the Imperial Court Composer, he joined the choir of the Hofkapelle in October 1808 and studied at the Academic Gymnasium. Unlike Haydn’s experience at the Stefansdom, he was not thrown out when his voice broke, but - in keeping with Salieri’s exemplary administration of the musical establishment - was offered a scholarship to continue his education. Under family pressure, however, he instead entered a training school for elementary teachers and by autumn 1814 was assistant in his father’s school - avoiding military conscription because he was less than the regulation five feet and wore spectacles.
    Between 17 May and 22 July 1814, he composed his first mass, which we hear today. It was the period of the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and coincided with the centenary of Lichtental Parish Church, where Schubert still regularly sang in the choir on Sundays and feast days. The work was written for that celebration and was first heard on 25 September, 1814, the composer conducting and his brother Ferdinand playing the organ. The choir was by trained by Holzer and Schubert’s favourite soprano, Therese Gross was a soloist; all the other musicians were also friends from his youth or people he had grown up with. Salieri, who attended, contributed a motet for the occasion.
    At least some of the Congress celebrities would have heard the second performance, only ten days later, in the Court Parish Church of St Augustine, celebrating the Emperor’s Name Day. One can reasonably assume that Salieri had recommended his pupil’s work for the occasion. The mass was widely acclaimed and it was in the immediate flush of this first great success that Schubert wrote his most famous early work, Gretchen am Spinnrade, just a fortnight later, on 19 October, 1814.
    The F major Mass, quite appropriately for its intended purpose, is essentially a Missa Solemnis in form, with extensive arias, particularly in the expansive Gloria, given to the soloists. It is scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, full strings and organ continuo.

 

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