Franz Schubert (1797–1828) Mass in Eb major D 950
Urtext edited by Peter Jost [solos,mix ch,orch] duration: 55'
solos: SATTB – choir: SATB – 0.2.2.2. – 18.104.22.168. – timp – str
Schubert's last great mass, whose first performance in October 1829 he no longer lived to experience.
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“Striving for the highest in art" – this is how Schubert announced his A-flat major Mass to the Schott publishing house in 1828. The statement can also be seen as an artistic credo applicable to his last great mass, which the composer wrote that same year but whose first performance in October 1829 he no longer lived to experience. Since a source-critical new edition of the E-flat major Mass is a must for Breitkopf & Härtel's catalogue, Peter Jost has taken up this challenge and come up with a compelling edition that does justice to the high demands of the “Breitkopf Urtext" collection.
„Herrlich übersichtlich und klar, in vollendeten und großzügigen Proportionen. Ein solches Aussehen wünscht man jeder Partitur." (Matthias Mader, Neue Chorzeit)
„Der Notensatz ist in bewährter Breitkopf-Qualität groß und übersichtlich gestaltet. Der Klavierauszug von Julius Spengel ist gut spielbar." (Forum Kichenmusik)
“Sehr gut gelungen! Neben dem blitzsauberen Notenbild und einer behutsamen Neueinrichtung des Notentextes, worüber sich vor allem Pianisten und Korrepetitoren freuen dürfen, überzeugt der Herausgeber durch einen Anhang, der in Kommentaren die Arien einordnet.” (amazon-Kundenrezension)
Franz Schubert’s sixth and last Latin mass, the Mass in E flat major D 950, is widely held to have been commissioned by the “Verein zur Pflege der Kirchenmusik” [Society for the cultivation of church music] of the Vienna “Alsergrund” [the then suburb of Alser] church community for performance at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche [Holy Trinity church]. This society, which also enabled the church to perform large and sometimes quite demanding works, was founded in October 1828 at the initiative of choral director Michael Leitermayer, who had known Schubert since his childhood. It cannot be ascertained, however, that Leitermayer commissioned Schubert to write a solemn mass for this occasion, or that he perhaps ordered some of the other smaller liturgical works that were also written about this time, the in E flat major D 962 and perhaps thein B flat major D 963. The only clue supporting the aforementioned assumption is a review of the posthumous first performance of the mass under the direction of Schubert’s brother Ferdinand – it was arranged by the church music society and held at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche on 4 October 1829 – in the : “In spite of this [= the work’s technical difficulties], the mass was executed superbly with the assistance of the most appropriate forces. Credit here is due almost exclusively to the recognized skill and tireless energy of the church’s music director Michael Leitermayer, as well as to his friendship with the departed composer, who had expressed the wish that this mass be given its first performance in the church of the Alservorstadt for this occasion.” It is unclear as to what “this occasion” refers to specifically, for as the anonymous reviewer mentioned at the beginning of his article, a “triple feast was celebrated” that day, namely “the glorious name day of His Majesty our most gracious and beloved Emperor, the feast of the Order of the P. P. Minorites, and finally the first anniversary of the church music society there.” In the event that Schubert really had intended from the very beginning that the mass be performed on the same feast day, but one year earlier, in October 1828, then the initiative must have come from the composer himself. Lending weight to this supposition is an indirect report on the composer’s work on the mass. On 4 July 1828 Schubert’s friend Johann Baptist Jenger wrote from Vienna to Marie Pachler in Graz: “At all events, Schubert intended to spend part of the summer in Gmunden and surroundings, from where he received several invitations; however, the above-mentioned financial straits have prevented him from leaving. He is thus still here, working diligently on a new mass and awaiting the funds – from wherever they may come – that will let him escape to Upper Austria.” There is no mention here of either a concrete commission or a specific occasion, nor of a possible honorarium for the mass.
The beginning of the autograph score of the E-flat-major Mass, which is located today in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, bears the autographic dating . Consistent with the information in Jenger’s letter, this could be seen as the of Schubert’s work on the score. Although the date of completion is not inscribed anywhere, Schubert scholars believe that, on the basis of the different types of paper used, the compositional process extended over the entire summer and possible into the fall of 1828. Had the work been intended to be played at the founding of the church music society of the Alservorstadt in early October, the performance would have had to be cancelled, if only for the lack of rehearsal time. Nevertheless, both the beginning and the end of the composer’s work on this mass are shrouded in darkness. On the basis of several conspicuous emendations in the score which suggest a previously elaborated source, one can assume that Schubert had sketched the entire course of the mass before writing down the score, as he was accustomed to doing in his late works for orchestra. Of these sketches, only three manuscripts have survived, which are preserved in the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek. Notated as short scores, these sketches comprise sections of the (closing fugue “Cum Sancto Spiritu”), (ten-measure segment), (complete), (complete save for the postlude) and (nearly complete save for the end passages of “Dona nobis pacem”). None of these sketches are dated, but according to the physical evidence of the manuscripts and types of paper, the estimate ranges from March to May 1828. If one could actually prove that Schubert had already conceived the movements of the mass or parts thereof several months before working them out in score form, then it would hardly be plausible to establish a connection with the founding ceremony of the church music society of the Alservorstadt. In this case, the E-flat-major Mass would have been created without a specific occasion in mind, just like its immediate predecessor, the Mass in A flat major D 678 (1819–22, second version 1825/26), but unlike the first four Latin masses and many other sacred works written between 1814 and 1816 when Schubert worked for his father as assistant teacher in Lichtental. Since the Mass in E flat major continues the path defined by the A-flat-major Mass, also with respect to the heightened artistic demands, it becomes increasingly plausible to postulate that the work was freely conceived and composed, and that it was one of those works that resulted from the composer’s “striving for the highest in art,” which also comprises “finesse and a profession of faith” in the late masses. Not only the work’s substantial technical difficulties, but also its markedly symphonic traits and absence of organ accompaniment – even though the work is still solidly based on the choral texture – suggest that the work was conceived without a specific occasion in mind. Due to the state of the sources, it is impossible today to provide a definitive answer to the question as to whether Schubert’s last mass was indeed written as a commission or as the realization of a personal wish.
While the first performance of the work held on the first anniversary of the founding of the church music society of the Alservorstadt was favorably received, the mass remained “almost totally unknown,” as Heinrich Kreißle von Hellborn claimed in his Schubert biography of 1865, not least because of a substandard performance a few weeks later, on 15 November 1829, at the church of Maria Trost in Vienna. However, in the same year that Kreißle’s biography was published, the publisher Rieter-Biedermann issued the first edition of the E-flat-major Mass on the initiative of Johannes Brahms, who revised the respective piano reduction himself. This edition, which laid the foundation for a further dissemination of the work, was prepared by Franz Espagne, the custodian of the Königliche Hofbibliothek zu Berlin, which had acquired the manuscript of the score three years previously. The mass was now able to make its way slowly but steadily towards its recognition as a masterpiece equal in rank to the composer’s late symphonies. For a long time, there were heated discussions of the text omissions made by Schubert in all of his Latin masses, albeit with shifting emphases. Church authorities faulted the omission of central expressions of faith such as, in particular, the “Et in unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam” of the . While this criticism was leveled at Schubert especially in the first decades of the twentieth century, at the end of the century such omissions were often viewed as evidence of Schubert’s spiritual distance towards the Church and of his socio-critical stance. However, precise analyses and evaluations of the practice of his time suggest that Schubert was not so much distancing himself from his confession as expressing a closeness to the ideology of Catholic Enlightenment. The discussion has since lost much of its explosiveness and Ferdinand Schubert’s judgment of 1839 is now widely accepted, namely that the E-flat-major Mass is “no doubt one of his most profound and consummate works.”
We wish to thank the Music Division of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz for placing copies of the autograph score at our disposal and for allowing the print of the facsimile reproduction. We also wish to extend our thanks to the reader of the publishing house, Christian Rudolf Riedel, for the excellent collaboration.
Buchloe, Spring 2005
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.