The Mass in B minor
232) is a musical setting (or more formally a missa tota
) of the Latin Mass
by Johann Sebastian Bach
, also known as Bach's Catholic Mass
Although parts of the Mass in B minor date to 1724
, the whole was assembled in its present form in 1749
, just before the composer's death in 1750
Background and context
Bach did not give the work a title; instead, in the score the four parts of the Latin Mass are each given their own title page—"Kyrie
", "Symbolum Nicenum" (otherwise known as the "Credo
"), and "Sanctus
, Agnus Dei
"—and simply bundled together. Indeed, the different sections call for different numbers and arrangements of performers, giving rise to the theory that Bach did not ever expect the work to be performed in its entirety. On the other hand, the parts in the manuscript are numbered from 1 to 4, and Bach's usual closing formula (S.D.G = Soli Deo Gloria
) is only found at the end of the Dona Nobis Pacem
. Because of its length—nearly two hours of music—it was never performed in its entirety as part of a church liturgy.
Although Bach was a committed Lutheran, it is uncertain whether he composed it for the Lutheran liturgy or composed it for the Elector of Saxony who had just been elected king of Poland and therefore had to convert to Catholicism. Bach produced four short masses (comprising these two sections only) for liturgical use.
Early in 1733 Augustus II, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, died. Five months of mourning followed, during which all public music-making was temporarily suspended. Bach used the opportunity to work on the composition of a Missa, a portion of the liturgy sung in Latin and common to both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic rites.
His aim was to dedicate the work to the new sovereign Augustus III, a Catholic, and by doing so to hope to improve his own standing. On its completion, Bach visited Augustus and presented him with a copy of the Missa, together with a petition to be given a court title. The petition did not meet with immediate success, but Bach did eventually get his title: he was made court composer to Augustus in 1736.
The Missa was first performed in 1733 during the festival of the Oath of Allegiance to Augustus III. It consisted of settings of the Kyrie and Gloria that now comprise the first part of the Mass in B Minor.
At what point Bach decided to expand the Missa into a full-blown setting of the Catholic Mass is not known. Some researchers believe that the Symbolum Nicenum (or the Credo) was composed between 1742 and 1745, but others think it predates the Missa and was first heard in 1732. The remaining parts (Sanctus, Osanna, Benedictus and Agnus Dei et Dona nobis pacem) were all added in the late 1740s.
According to Mellers, the chronology of the sections of the Mass is obscure.
- The Sanctus was composed in 1724
- The Kyrie and Gloria were composed in 1733, the former as a lament for the decease of Elector Augustus the Strong (who had died on 1 February 1733) and the latter to celebrate the accession of his successor the Saxon Elector and later Polish King Augustus III of Poland, who converted to Catholicism in order to ascend the throne of Poland. Bach presented these as a Missa with a set of parts (Kyrie plus Gloria, BWV 232a) to Augustus with a note dates 27 July 1733, in the hope of obtaining the title, "Electoral Saxon Court Composer", complaining that he had "innocently suffered one injury or another" in Leipzig. They were probably performed in 1733, perhaps at the Sophienkirche in Dresden, where Wilhelm Friedemann Bach had been organist since June, though not in the presence of their dedicatees. However in 1734, Bach performed a secular cantata dramma per musica in honour of Augustus in the presence of the King and Queen whose first movement was the same music as the Osanna
- The Credo may have been written in 1732.
- In 1747 or 1748 Bach copied out, in noble calligraphy, the whole score.
Although only a few of the pieces in the work can be specifically identified as being reused from earlier music, some scholars such as Joshua Rifkin believe, on the basis of manuscript evidence and compositional models, that the majority of the music was reused. The only exceptions to this are the opening 4 bars of the first Kyrie, and the Confiteor section of the Credo, which both contain erasures and corrections on the manuscript. Details of the parodied movements and their sources are listed in the movement listing.
The Mass in B Minor is widely regarded as one of the supreme achievements of "classical" music
. Alberto Basso
summarises the work as follows: "The Mass in B minor is the consecration of a whole life: started in 1733 for 'diplomatic' reasons, it was finished in the very last years of Bach's life, when he had already gone blind. This monumental work is a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution the Cantor of Leipzig made to music. But it is also the most astounding spiritual encounter between the worlds of Catholic glorification and the Lutheran cult of the cross..
Scholars have suggested that the Mass in B Minor belongs in the same category as the Art of Fugue, as a summation of Bach's deep lifelong involvement with musical tradition - in this case, with choral settings and theology. Bach scholar Christoph Wolff describes the work as representing "a summary of his writing for voice, not only in its variety of styles, compositional devices, and range of sonorities, but also in its high level of technical polish...Bach's mighty setting preserved the musical and artistic creed of its creator for posterity.
The Mass was described in the 19th century by Hans Georg Nägeli as "The Greatest Artwork of All Times and All People.. Even though it had never been performed, its importance was appreciated by some of Bach's greatest successors - by the beginning of the 19th century Forkel and Haydn possessed copies, and Beethoven made two attempts to acquire a score
C. P. E. Bach made annotations and corrections to his father's manuscript of the Mass, while also adding emendations and revisions of his own. For this and other reasons, the Mass in B Minor poses a considerable challenge to prospective editors, and substantial variations can be noted in different editions. The manuscript is in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
Structure of the work
The work consists of 27 sections.I. Kyrie
- #Kyrie eleison (1st). 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Adagio, Largo, C time.
- #Christe eleison. Duet (soprano I,II) in D major with obbligato violins, marked Andante, C time.
- #Kyrie eleison (2nd). 4-part chorus (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in F# minor, marked Allegro moderato, split C time ("alla breve").II. Gloria
- Note the 9 (trinitarian, 3 x 3) movements with the largely symmetrical structure, and Domine Deus in the centre.
- #Gloria in excelsis. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace, 3/8 time. The music was reused as the opening chorus of Bach's Cantata BWV 191.
- #Et in terra pax. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Andante, C time. Again the music was reused as the opening chorus of BWV 191.
- #Laudamus te. Aria (soprano II) in A major with violin obbligato, marked Andante, C time.
- #Gratias agimus tibi. 4-part chorus (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Allegro moderato, split C time. The music is a reworking of the second movement of Bach's Ratwechsel Cantata BWV 29.
- #Domine Deus. Duet (soprano I, tenor) in G major, marked Andante C time. The music is reused as the duet from Cantata BWV 191.
- #Qui tollis peccata mundi. 4-part chorus (Soprano II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Lento, 3/4 time. The chorus is a reworking of the first half of Cantata BWV 46.
- #Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris. Aria (alto) in B minor with oboe d'amore obbligato, marked Andante commodo, 6/8 time.
- #Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Aria (bass) in D major with corno da caccia obbligato, marked Andante lento, 3/4 time.
- #Cum Sancto Spiritu. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace, 3/4 time. The music is reused as the closing chorus of BWV 191.III. Symbolum Nicenum, or Credo
- Note the 9 movements with the symmetrical structure, and the crucifixion at the centre.
- #Credo in unum Deum. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in A mixolydian, marked Moderato, split C time.
- #Patrem omnipotentem. 4-part chorus (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Allegro, split C time. The music is a reworking of the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 171.
- #Et in unum Dominum. Duet (soprano I, alto) in G major, marked Andante, C time.
- #Et incarnatus est. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Andante maestoso, 3/4 time.
- #Crucifixus. 4-part chorus (Soprano II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in E minor, marked Grave, 3/2 time. The music is a reworking of the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 12.
- #Et resurrexit. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Allegro, 3/4 time.
- #Et in Spiritum Sanctum. Aria (Tenor) in A major with oboi d'amore obbligati, marked Andantino, 6/8 time.
- #Confiteor. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in F# minor, marked Moderato, Adagio, split C time.
- #Et expecto. 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace ed allegro, split C time. The music is a reworking of the second movement (chorus) of Bach's Ratwechsel cantata BWV 120.IV. Sanctus, Hosanna, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei
- #Sanctus. 6-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto I, II, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Largo, C time; Vivace, 3/8 time. Derived from an earlier, now lost, 3 soprano, 1 alto work written in 1724.
- #Hosanna. 8-part (double) chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto I, II, Tenor I, II, Bass I, II) in D major, marked Allegro, 3/8 time. A reworking of the opening chorus of BWV 215 — although they may share a common lost model themselves.
- #Benedictus. Aria for tenor with flute obbligato in B minor, marked Andante, 3/4 time.
- #Hosanna (da capo). 8-part (double) chorus in D major as above.
- #Agnus Dei. Aria for alto in G minor with violin obbligato, marked Adagio, C time. Derives from an aria of a lost wedding cantata (1725) which Bach also re-used as the alto aria of his Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) but as the two different surviving versions are markedly different, it is thought they share a common model.
- #Dona nobis pacem. 4-part chorus in D major, marked Moderato, split C time. The music is the same as "Gratias agimus tibi" from the "Gloria".
In 1786, thirty-six years after Bach's death, his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach performed the Symbolum Nicenum section (under the title "Credo") at a charity concert in Hamburg. Scholars believe the Mass was not performed in its entirety until the mid-19th century; according to Bach scholar John Butt, there is "no firm evidence of a complete performance before that of the Riedel-Verein in Leipzig in 1859".
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem performed the American premiere of the complete Mass on March 27, 1900 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, though there is evidence that parts of the Mass had been performed in America as early as 1870.