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Work

Franz Peter Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert Composer

Mass No.6 in Eb, D.950

Performances: 20
Tracks: 138
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Musicology:
  • Mass No.6 in Eb, D.950
    Key: Eb
    Year: 1828
    Genre: Mass / Requiem
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
    • 1.Kyrie
    • 2.Gloria
    • 3.Credo
    • 4.Sanctus
    • 5.Benedictus
    • 6.Agnus Dei
Franz Schubert was one of the torchbearers at Ludwig van Beethoven's funeral in the spring of 1827, and perhaps the effect of his passing can be heard reverberating in the Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950, composed a year later. Indeed, the mass was dedicated to the very church where Beethoven's final rites were administered; it is difficult to imagine that Schubert would have been unaffected by the memory of an event that loomed so large in his own consciousness and in that of all Vienna. If the mass was a conscious tribute, Schubert would not live to witness its realization: he was dead by the time the work received its first performance in late 1829. The E flat Mass is an expansive work, blending ambitious Beethovenian architecture with Schubert's lyricism; it offers a worthy choral counterpart to the "heavenly length" of the composer's Symphony No. 9 and Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960.

The E flat Mass is scored for an orchestra without flutes, and while there are parts for vocal soloists, they are a good deal less significant than in Schubert's earlier masses. All six sections of the Mass Ordinary are set: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. Throughout the mass there is a marked infusion of calm lyricism and songfulness into the sacred music vessel, something of which earlier composers of sacred music might have avoided. There is also a great deal more vigorous counterpoint (long a hallmark of sacred music) than one finds in Schubert's only other large-scale mass, in A flat major.

Schubert's gentle blend of wind instruments at the start of the Kyrie is no less than perfect, setting quite a standard for the chorus that immediately imitates it. The Allegro moderato e maestoso Gloria begins a cappella. Throughout his life, Schubert had been fond of virtuosic violin writing, but seldom does he match in sheer energy the violin explosion that follows this Gloria's a cappella opening. The "Domine Deus" portion of the text is set to rather less physical music. The Credo begins Moderato, gently and quietly; with the arrival of the "Et incarnatus" text there arrives also a lovely cello melody which is soon taken over by the tenor soloist, whose refined passion seems almost too great for its slender proportions. Both the Gloria and Credo conclude with large fugues that approach those of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis of a few years before.

Several great examples of Schubert's unusual and thoroughly proto-Romantic modulation technique are on display at the start of the Sanctus: Schubert moves straight from E flat major to B minor, then to G minor, and finally to E flat minor. The process and even the rhythm are strikingly similar to the one employed by Schubert at the start of the Sanctus movement of the A flat Mass. Fugues appear in both the "Osanna in excelsis" portion of the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. Midway through the Agnus Dei the firm imitation dissolves into a rich chamber music opportunity for the soloists; the fugal writing is reprised but again melts away, this time into a warm choral passage that draws the mass to a close.

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