St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Messe in B, D.324

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SUNDAY, 15 AUGUST 2010, 10.30am


Sung to the

MESSE IN B dur, D.324
- Franz Schubert

FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT (1797-1828) was the only one of the great “Viennese” masters who was actually Viennese-born and the atmosphere of that most beguiling of cities resonates in all his music. In 1815 he was a 19 year old novice schoolmaster, who nevertheless found enough time to make it one of his most productive years, including the composition of 140 Lieder, two symphonies, four stage works, some important piano works and two masses - his second, that in G major (which we heard this Christmas past); and this morning’s offering, his relatively seldom heard third mass in B flat.

In the autograph score of the mass, the Kyrie is dated 11 November and the Gloria 6 December, 1815. The mass was presumably performed at Schubert’s parish church of Lichtental shortly thereafter, quite possibly for the upcoming Christmas or Epiphany celebrations. It was the church of Schubert’s youth and he regularly sang in the choir of the church on Sundays and Feasts.

Unlike Haydn and Mozart, who wrote for professional vocalists and aristocratic chapel establishments, Schubert composed his choral music for the middle class parishioners who had assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the Austrian church music tradition in Vienna, as elsewhere, in the wake of the cultural disruption occasioned by the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic wars.

The B flat mass received another performance some time around 1820 (judging from some extant vocal and instrumental parts from that time); and Schubert’s brother, Ferdinand, was pleasantly surprised when, in 1824, during a tour as an inspector of schools, he heard the Mass performed in his honour at the parish church of Hainburg.

The form of the mass is unusual. Both its length (particularly the opening two movements) and the generous orchestration (including double oboes, bassoons and trumpets, with timpani) place it in middle ground, somewhere between a missa solemnis and a missa brevis. There are even some fragments of added parts for horns and trombones in Schubert’s own hand, suggesting that at some time he was considering an even fuller orchestral sound. The mass was first published posthumously, in 1837, as the composer’s Opus 141.



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