Franz Schubert (1797–1828) Mass in Ab major D 678
Urtext edited by Peter Jost [solos,mix ch,orch] duration: 45'
solos: SATB – choir: SATB – 188.8.131.52. – 184.108.40.206. – timp – org – str
"To strive for the highest in art" - these are the words with which Franz Schubert announced his A flat major Mass in 1828.
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"To strive for the highest in art" - these are the words with which Franz Schubert announced his A flat major Mass in 1828, a work which he designated as "Missa solemnis" in his autograph. Alone the genesis of the work shows the importance which the composer placed on this work. Schubert wrote the score between 1819 and 1822, an unusually long period of time for him. He later fundamentally revised the mass when he applied for the post of Vice Court Kapellmeister in Vienna, which he did not obtain. After this disappointment, he rejected his original intent of dedicating the mass "to the Emperor or Empress." Thanks to Peter Jost's "Breitkopf Urtext" edition, Schubert's "Missa solemnis" once again adds its luster to the publisher's catalogue: Breitkopf & Härtel published its final version in the Schubert Gesamtausgabe in 1887. Previously Jost produced an equally exemplarily prepared edition of Schubert's E flat major Mass D 950.
"Wie immer bei Breitkopf ist das Satzbild der Neuausgabe der Zweitfassung in der Gestalt vorbildlich." (Goede, Kirchenmusikführer)
"Eine Ausgabe, die höchsten wissenschaftlichen Anspruch mit bester Praktikabilität ganz selbstverständlich verbindet." (Chor aktuell)
Franz Schubert had far-ranging ambitions for his fifth Latin mass, the A-flat major Mass D 678. They can already be intimated by the author’s handwritten designation of the work as a “Missa solemnis” in his autograph score, as well as by the thorough revision to which he later subjected the work. The date inscribed at the beginning of the Kyrie in the autograph, “November 1819,” most likely refers to the first draft of this section. It is not known how quickly he produced further sketches or more detailed drafts of the individual movements after this date; on the last page of music one finds the date “September 1822,” which marks the completion of the work. Schubert was not commissioned to write this work; he undertook it of his own free will. Its relatively long creative process can be explained above all by the repeated interruptions caused by other compositional projects, namely stage works such as Die Zauberharfe D 644 and Alfonso und Estrella D 732, but also possibly by self-imposed demands and expectations. Schubert was focusing a great deal of his efforts on the operatic genre at that time, and his endeavors on the churchmusical front must have arisen from the same desire to be seen as a skillful composer in these highly esteemed genres. It is unclear whether in September 1822 the first version of the Mass was already finished in the form in which Ferdinand Schubert copied it; in particular, we do not know when the original version of the fugue “Cum Sancto Spiritu” was replaced by the first version. At least a provisional conclusion of the work was reached in the following months at the latest, since Schubert wrote to his friend Josef von Spaun in Linz on 7 December 1822: “My mass is finished and will be performed in the near future. I still have my old plan to dedicate it to the Emperor or Empress, as I feel it has turned out very well.” The dedication, which was ultimately eschewed, was apparently linked to the composer’s hopes for the support of the imperial court, perhaps even an appointment at court. But he was unsuccessful: his application of 7 April 1826 for the post of Vice Court Kapellmeister, in which he expressly referred to his five masses, “which have already been performed in various Viennese churches,” was rejected; and his various attempts to draw attention to his Mass in A flat at court, or to have it performed there, were all in vain. According to Franz Hauer, Schubert is said to have described Court Kapellmeister Joseph Eybler’s rejection of the work as follows: “I recently brought a mass to Court Kapellmeister Eibler to be performed in the court chapel. […] When I returned a few weeks later to inquire about the fate of my child, Eibler said that the mass was good, but not in the style favored by the Emperor. Whereupon I bade farewell and thought to myself: I could do worse than not be able to write in the imperial style.” This imperial style, illustrated by the masses popular at court at that time, called for works that were “short, easy to perform, and that contained solidly worked-out fugues.” The reworking of the piece into a second version, which ranged from changes of individual notes to the new composition and replacement of entire sections, is dated neither in the autograph score nor in other documents. However, since the sketch to the second version of the fugue “Cum Sancto Spiritu” also contains sketches to vocal pieces that were written in January 1826, it is likely that the composer began writing the second version towards the end of 1825. It could thus be seen as directly connected to the aforementioned application of April 1826, whereby it remains unclear whether the revision was completed by then. In the event that Schubert actually did give Eybler the second version of the mass, then Eybler’s reference to the style preferred at court would appear uncalled for. In view of the totally newly written “Cum Sancto Spiritu,” the emperor “could not have wished for a more consummate example of a ‘solidly worked-out fugue.’” If we compare the two versions of the mass, it emerges that the basic thrust of the revision – which can be characterized as a reduction of the technical demands, but also as an intensification, a “building up and deepening” – suggests a certain adjustment to conventions and common expectations which Schubert must have held to be important for future performances. What remains unclear in this context is the purpose of a metrically divergent variant, presumably written somewhat later, of the second version of “Osanna in excelsis” that is reproduced in the appendix of this edition.
The Mass in A flat major is believed to have been performed “no more than once or twice” during Schubert’s lifetime, “and (according to Ferdinand Schubert) in a highly unsatisfactory manner as well.” It would seem that after the first version was completed, a performance was planned in the winter of 1822/23 or spring 1823. This is suggested not only by Schubert’s above-quoted communication of 7 December 1822, but also by the surviving autograph organ part, by invoices for the transcription of parts from early (February) 1823 and by the aforementioned copy made by Ferdinand. Since Schubert’s brother had become the choral director of the Alt-Lerchenfelder church in Vienna in 1820, it is plausible to assume that a performance took place there, although it cannot be confirmed. This also applies to the church of St. Joseph ob der Laimgrube in Vienna, whose choral director was mentioned by Franz Schubert in his letter to Ferdinand of 15 April 1825 in conjunction with the dispatching of the A-flat major Mass. The letter was followed by the note: “I was overjoyed to hear that your copy has been completed.” At least for this copy there is a terminus ante quem.
As with the later E-flat major Mass, Johannes Brahms also devoted himself to that work’s predecessor, whose autograph score passed into the property of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde after Ferdinand’s death. His efforts were initially impeded by the fact that the Viennese publisher Carl Spina left his publication rights unused. At all events, there was a partial performance of the first version in Leipzig in 1863, which was followed by a complete performance in Vienna. The Mass was first printed in 1875 by Friedrich Schreiber, who had acquired Spina’s publishing house three years earlier. Brahms was at least indirectly responsible for the publication, as the source used was Ferdinand’s copy, which Brahms had since acquired and in which he had entered the changes of the second version – but leaving out the newly composed fugue “Cum Sancto Spiritu” – after a comparison with the autograph. The first edition of the second version with this revised fugue was published in 1887 within the old Schubert Gesamtausgabe.
The Mass assumes markedly individual traits through the unusual selection of keys in the movements and their mediant relation among each other (A flat – E – C/A flat/C – F – F – A flat – f/A flat), the advanced modulation technique, the occasionally unconventional formal structure and the sometimes willful textual organization. The question as to what extent it bears a “self-revelatory character” must be left unanswered; there is no doubt, however, that the last two movements compare less favorably when judged on the technical and artistic standards of the other sections. This is why the E-flat major Mass of 1828 can be seen as an attempt to answer “questions left open or raised in an unanswerable manner in the earlier piece.” Notwithstanding, the A-flat major Mass found its way into the churchmusic repertoire soon after its publication and is considered today as “Schubert’s greatest and most personal mass, in every sense.”
For placing copies of the sources at his disposal and allowing him to consult the originals, the editor wishes to thank the Music Collection of the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus as well as the Archiv der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, which also gave its permission to reprint the facsimile reproduction from the autograph score. Our special thanks also go out to Christian Rudolf Riedel, Breitkopf & Härtel’s reader, for his outstanding cooperation.
Buchloe, Fall 2006
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.