Fall Concert 2016 – Composers

Mass in G [1815] – Franz Schubert [1797-1828]

1815 was a busy year for Franz Schubert. In addition to Masses in G and B-flat, he wrote over 140 songs, two symphonies, a string quartet and much more--some 20,000 bars of music--and all the while he was working as a teacher in his father’s school, a job he cordially detested. Not everything Schubert produced in that remarkable year was touched by genius--he was only 18 years old, after all--but the general quality is astonishing. One of the symphonies—No. 3 in D Major—is still performed today and the best of the songs—including Der Erlkönig and Heidenröslein—rank above those of his great predecessors: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The Mass in G was was composed in six days [March 2 to 7, 1815], the year after his first mass had been successfully performed in Schubert's home parish of Lichtental, a suburb of Vienna. It is similar to the shorter masses [often subtitled missa brevis] of Haydn and Mozart in that the longer texts—Gloria and Credo—are single movements and the entire mass may be sung in less than a half-hour.

After its initial performance the Mass in G evidently disappeared into one of the composer’s desk drawers. Schubert’s greatness was known to only a few when he died in 1828, but his reputation grew steadily over the following years and by the 1840s publishers were eager to release “new” works by Schubert, so his brother and legatee, Ferdinand Schubert, decided to publish the Mass in G. Imagine Ferdinand’s dismay when he discovered that the mass had already been published as the work of Robert Führer, a popular composer of religious music and director of music at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral. Copyright laws being what they were,  there was little Ferdinand could do, but he must have taken some comfort when Führer was caught attempting to sell a Stradivarius violin that belonged to the Cathedral. Today, the Mass in G is the most frequently heard of all Schubert’s choral music. Composed at lightening speed, the Mass in G is neither innovative nor imposing, it is rather an example of the kind of perfection that characterizes Schubert’s music at its best—where every melody is exquisitely shaped and every harmony ideally balanced.

Franz Schubert

Sunrise Mass  [2008] – Ola Gjeilo [b. 1978]

Since Beethoven’s Missa solemnis [1819-1823], composers have at times placed the texts of the mass in musical settings that are so dramatic or so lengthy that the work seems intended for the concert hall rather than a church. More recent examples include Bernstein’s Mass [1971] and Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace [1999]. Ola Gjeilo’s [his  name is pronounced Yay-lo] Sunrise Mass is a four-movement tone poem for chorus and orchestra to which the composer has attached the following explanation: The reason I used English titles, seemingly unrelated to the traditional texts, for the movements in this setting of the Mass has mainly to do with the initial idea behind Sunrise Mass. I wanted the musical development of the work to evolve from the most transparent and spacey, to something completely earthy and grounded; from nebulous and pristine to more emotional and dramatic, and eventually warm and solid—as a metaphor for human development from child to adult, or as a spiritual journey.

Ola Gjielo was born in Norway where he began playing the piano and composing at the age of 5. After two years at the Norwegian Academy of Music, he continued his studies at the Juilliard School [2001] and the Royal College of Music, London [2002-2004]. In 2006, Gjielo earned a master’s degree in composition from Juilliard. Since then he has been composer-in-residence for the Phoenix Chorale, Voces8, and DCINY. His music has been performed and recorded by  renowned choirs on both sides of the Atlantic, and Gjielo has released two albums featuring himself as composer and pianist: Stone Rose and Piano Improvisations. As a child in Norway, the composer listened to a wide variety of musical styles: classical, jazz, pop and folk. Today, he notes that he “is especially inspired by the improvisational art of film composer Thomas Newman, jazz legends Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, glass artist Dale Chihuly and architect Frank Gehry.”

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Ola Gjeilo