The Mass in G Major was written early in 1815 when Franz Schubert was just 18 years old and first performed in the same year in the Viennese parish church of Lichtental. The soprano solo line was undoubtedly written for Therese Grob who Schubert adored. The Mass has an intimate character heightened by the chamber scoring for three vocal soloists, a string orchestra and organ. There is a marked absence of lengthy polyphonic passages, no long instrumental interludes and no striking textual repetitions. In fact, it has been argued that the piece challenges the traditions of the Catholic Church, with many of the bolder religious references being deliberately understated, in marked contrast to other contemporary settings. This is exemplified by the Credo which is uncharacteristically set homophonically in four parts throughout. Several key religious phrases, for example when the choir describe Christ’s birth (‘Et incarnatus est’), are glossed over as the melody is carried by sections of the orchestra. There are also several textual omissions in the Gloria and Credo which have been variously interpreted as a mere oversight, a mistake, a local liturgical custom or indeed overt criticism by Schubert of certain ecclesiastical dogmas.

The piece ends not on an energetic finale but rather on a warmer, tender note with the Agnus Dei. Its melancholy and mournful melodies are enriched with profound harmonies which underscore the young composer’s maturity. Wind parts were added to the Mass by Schubert’s brother Ferdinand which was first published in Prague in 1846 and falsely attributed to Robert Führer.

Nick Roberts