German Mass

Franz Schubert

German Mass in F major

D872 • “Deutche Messe”

About this work

Franz Schubert's so-called German Mass, D. 872 is both one of his last works of sacred music -- probably written during the autumn of 1827 -- and, paradoxically, the one that least bears the stamp of his musical personality. The work was initiated by a commission from Professor J. P. Neumann of the Polytechnic School of Vienna, the churchman who had, seven years earlier, provided Schubert with the libretto for the opera Sakantala (a project that never came to fruition). The texts of the German Mass' nine brief sections of music are Neumann's, and it was his idea that the work -- intended for performance by amateurs -- be as musically simple as possible. Schubert made good on Neumann's request: the German Mass is written almost entirely in a straightforward homophonic manner that one can hardly imagine Schubert to have explored on his own initiative.

Eight of the German Mass' nine movements correspond to equivalent portions of the Latin mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc.). The "extra" ninth movement is an anhang (appendix) entitled Das Gebet des Herrn (The Lord's Prayer), added by an unidentified other in 1845; its inclusion in the mass is largely a matter of performers' discretion. There are in fact two versions of the German Mass, one for SATB and organ and one for SATB, organ, and wind ensemble; the version without wind ensemble may well be an adaptation made by Schubert's brother Ferdinand, who had many years earlier appropriated Schubert's German Requiem as his own in the interest of securing a job.

The German Mass sounds as much like a collection of hymns -- strophically designed, harmonically simple -- as something contemporaneous with the E flat Piano Trio or the "Great" Symphony in C. There is a sweetness of melody throughout, however, that cannot but draw a listener in; the scoring of the wind parts is exceptionally beautiful and efficient. Usually transparent shadows of the chorus, the instruments occasionally branch out on their own to rich effect.