College of Music Program Book 2011-2012: Ensemble & Other Performances, Volume 3 Page: 71
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Schubert - Mass No. 2 in G Major, D. 167
For a composer with somewhat unorthodox views toward organized religion, Franz
Schubert certainly produced a substantial body of sacred works. To be sure, liturgical music
was expected of a serious composer in early nineteenth-century Vienna. Yet Schubert's
motivation seems to have sprung from more personal concerns. In a letter to his father, he
expressed his view of the relationship between his art and religious devotion, writing: "I
never force myself to pray and, except when devotion involuntarily overpowers me, I never
compose that kind of hymn or prayer - when I do, then the piety I give voice to is genuine
and deeply felt."
Schubert's sincere sense of piety fills the music of his Mass No. 2 in G Major, a work
that he composed over just five days in March 1815 for performance at his family's church
in Lichtental, Vienna. Of Schubert's six masses, this one is the most modest in expression
and intimate in tone. The score calls for an ensemble of meager size, including three soloists,
a four-part chorus, strings, and organ (a later publication adds trumpet and timpani parts).
The musical style is heartfelt, expressing the genuine connection that Schubert had with the
liturgical texts in his own subtly expressive language.
The opening bars of the Kyrie are imbued with a sense of noble simplicity. Schubert
sets the Greek text of the Mass Ordinary as a kind of gentle supplication for forgiveness,
formulating it almost as a question. The melody in the sopranos rises out of their midrange,
then falls back to a suspensive close. At its repetition the sopranos ascend a step further,
increasing the urgency of their plea. The Christe stands in great contrast to the first section,
a typical feature of Classical and Early-Romantic masses. It begins in the minor mode
with a solo for soprano. The melody - agitated, full of motion - opens with a characteristic
descending leap and includes sensitive, almost painful semitones. After a poignant high
note the chorus brings the section to a close, ushering in the return of the opening material
for the second set of Kyrie prayers.
Both the Gloria and the Credo have lengthy texts that Schubert covers with quick
strides in uncommonly condensed movements. The Gloria, then the preferred section for
operatic expansions, is a brisk and effective celebratory march, shorter than the Kyrie,
with no aria, no duet, and no fugue. The Credo, which outlines the central doctrine of the
Catholic church, opens gently with a walking bass line. Notice the subtle depiction of
the text at the phrase Crucifixus etiam pro nobis ("He was also crucified for us") where
the music changes to the minor mode and the orchestra plays in a powerful unison. A
glorious return to the Major mode accompanies the text Et resurrexit tertia die ("and rose
again on the third day"), which also brings back the opening motive of the movement.
As in his other masses, Schubert omits a few lines of the canonic text, including Et in
unam Sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam ("[I believe] in one holy Catholic
and Apostolic Church"), a gesture that many scholars see as a swipe at organized religion.
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University of North Texas. College of Music. College of Music Program Book 2011-2012: Ensemble & Other Performances, Volume 3, book, 2012; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc114725/m1/71/: accessed November 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Music Library.