Hans Graf celebrates Schubert’s Mass No. 6 at the MSO
The work, originally presented after its composer's death, is now considered one of his greatest, and will be performed alongside Mozart's Symphony No. 39.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra listeners will get the chance to hear Franz Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-Flat Major in a way its composer never experienced — as he never lived to hear it.
Austrian conductor Hans Graf will lead the MSO and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus in presenting Schubert’s masterpiece Friday night alongside Mozart’s Symphony No. 39.
Both pieces are composed in the key of E-Flat, a tonality of greatness and majesty. Graf explained these two pieces will complement each other well, setting a “heroic” mood that is sure to inspire the audience. This is especially true for Schubert’s Mass.
“That Schubert chose this tonality is remarkable,” Graf said. “This is his biggest work in choral repertoire. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces you’ll ever hear.”
Schubert completed the Mass in summer of 1828, just a few months before he died at the age of 31 from typhoid fever in November. The Mass premiered a full year later in Vienna.
Like many other composers of the era, Schubert emulated the Romantic style of Beethoven in his work, which is found clearly throughout the architecture of the Mass.
“This special Mass is one of the most emotional church compositions,” Graf said. “It is very intimate and very deep in the description of pain, making it one of the most profound examples of choral music.”
Schubert’s Mass is a pivotal piece for choral repertoire. Graf explains, however, that it is not a piece that is played often.
Schubert’s Mass, which is broken into six movements and lasts about a full hour, is not composed in a way that would be practical to be performed in a church service. It was also written without an organ, limiting its ability to be played in many cathedrals.
This structure may demonstrate Schubert’s qualms with his religion. Although he maintained his faith in God throughout his life, he was very critical of the Catholic Church.
This is illustrated very clearly in the third movement of the Mass, which includes the text of the Credo, or the Apostle’s Creed recited at each Catholic Mass. Schubert deliberately left out the line, “I believe in one, holy Catholic and apostolic church.”
Regardless of this religious tension, however, Schubert’s Mass is one piece of many great works published in the last year of his life, including his famous Mass in C and his last three piano sonatas.
“He had a wealth of the greatest music in him before he died,” Graf said. “His last year is one of the most incredible miracles in music history. This is the completion of his life’s work.”
Graf also noted that it is crucial for the audience to understand the text of Schubert’s mass.
“His music is to be a beautiful carrier of the text,” Graf said. “It will bring the work to a different level of musical and artistic impression. You can’t listen to it without the text.”
Graf recommends that audience members to read the Latin text alongside the translation during the performance. This, he said, will give them the chance to fully understand his music, giving them a complete picture of the composer’s musical depth which is not often seen.
“It’s not very popular, but it’s one of the most important works of art in Western civilization,” Graf said. “It’s a great pleasure that we get to play this piece.”
Concert time is 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23 at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall. Tickets are $25-$102 at the MSO website, the MSO ticket line (414-291-7605) and at the Marcus box office, 414-273-7206.
Hear the MSO musicians and local music experts engage in a personal discussion about the symphony an hour before the performance at Meet the Music in the Anello Atrium at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.