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Work

Franz Peter Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert Composer

Mass No.5 in Ab, D.678

Performances: 16
Tracks: 118
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Musicology:
  • Mass No.5 in Ab, D.678
    Key: Ab
    Year: 1819-22
    Genre: Mass / Requiem
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
    • 1.Kyrie
    • 2.Gloria
    • 3.Credo
    • 4.Sanctus
    • 5.Benedictus
    • 6.Agnus Dei
It took Franz Schubert, a man who could throw three or four songs onto paper in a matter of hours, three full years (1819-1822) to come up with a version of the Mass No. 5 in A flat major, D. 678 that pleased him—seven years if we include the revision of the mass that he made in 1826 when he used it to audition (unsuccessfully) for a position within the Imperial Court Chapel. At one point he chose to call the work a Missa Solemnis; he eventually decided against that title but it has nevertheless continued to appear over the years. Schubert himself felt this to be possibly the finest of his six Latin masses, and it is not difficult to understand why. Neither the most expansive or imposing of the masses (No. 6 in E flat can claim that distinction) nor the most immediately endearing of them (the simple charm of No. 2 in G seems to strike people rather faster), it is probably the finest and most perfectly balanced fusion of traditional sacred style with Schubert's own radiant songfulness and astonishing inventiveness among the composer's choral pieces.

The A flat major Mass may or may not have been performed during Schubert's lifetime; the records simply do not exist. It remained unpublished for decades after Schubert's death but during the last century countless listeners and musicians have come to agree with Schubert that it is a remarkable work.

The usual six portions of the Mass Ordinary are all in place: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. The Andante con moto Kyrie begins with mild woodwind thoughts that are soon enough duplicated by the chorus; the movement's central, "Christe eleison" portion is, as per tradition, assigned to the four vocal soloists. There is something positively symphonic about the Gloria (Allegro vivace e maestoso)—the choral writing is very frequently the poor sister of the orchestral music that "supports" it. The soloists again come out of the woodwork during the "Adoramus te" section, perhaps to prepare themselves for the more extended soloism of the central "Gratias agimus"—calm music that sounds almost as though it might have been conceived for string quartet. The Gloria culminates in a large fugue. The Credo opens in a solid and self-assured C major. There is a stunning pause and then sudden drop down to an A flat major chord for the throbbing "Et incarnatus est." The Sanctus (Andante) is absolutely stunning in its first bars, as what seems to be a confident F major pulsation in the orchestra is sharply undercut by the chorus's decision to enter in F sharp minor. The movement as a whole is one of those movements in Schubert's music where the world of Romantic harmony seems to take shape. Both soloists and chorus are given their fair share in the Benedictus, likewise in the Agnus Dei that concludes this wonderful mass; the final moments of the mass are ones of refined exultation, eventually melting down into a few lyrical woodwind twists.

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