His father was a well-respected educator with limited musical training, but sufficiently acquainted with musical composition and skilled to prepare his son for musical composition and string experience, beginning at age 5. Franz was early influenced by the melodious music of Mozart, and one can see that influence in his own music. Coming from a poor family, and being, himself, without financial means until much later in his short life, he was supplied manuscript paper by his friend, Joseph von Spaun. When I was studying music, he was considered willing to set any low quality of poetry to much superior music. He is reported to have claimed that he composed each morning, and when that piece was done, he immediately undertook another. In his last two years of life, as though portending his own death, his compositions became dark, even morose, such as Death and the Maiden. Officially his death was attributed to typhoid fever.
Of his sacred music, perhaps he is best known for his setting of Ave Maria:
Mass in G
I am particularly fond of the recordings of his Mass in G. When I was living in Ord, Nebraska, I directed the choir of the United Methodist Church there. This mass is quite appealing and is within the reach of most well-prepared local choirs. My older children were then taking Suzuki violin lessons from Mischa Johnson, wife of Jim Johnson, who then directed the Hastings Symphony. I asked Jim to put together a string quartet to accompany the choir in a performance of this mass, which he did. It was exciting to be able to bring such beautiful music to that small city in rural Nebraska .
I found that if I was going to live in rural Nebraska and yet enjoy good music I would have to gather the resources and do it myself. Additionally, I have found that small church choirs can appreciate and perform good music and don’t have to feed on a “watered- down diet.” Thereafter, I organized other choral productions with professional instrumental accompaniment and participation, including two different performances of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with professional harpist, Harvey Griffin; and three performances of Messiah with small orchestras from the Hastings Symphony, in the last of which Jane Bunnell, contralto with the Metropolitan Opera, and her husband, bassist Mark Embree, who was born and reared locally in the Nebraska sandhill, were soloists.
But, I am particularly drawn to the Benedictus of the Mass in G.
I especially appreciate the following sensitive, perhaps even sensual in the most naively positive sense, performance of the Credo by the Ocean Springs High School Choir and the string orchestra from the University of Southern Mississippi. I don’t know the conductor, but I like very much her interpretation and her direction:
Here is a laudable performance of the complete Mass in G in two parts, performed by the University of Michigan Residential College Singers:
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