The Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) is a work of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. As its name implies, it is a musical setting of the Latin 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 of the mass in B minor
Interestingly, 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, Gloria, Symbolum Nicenum (otherwise known as the Credo), and Santus, Hosanna, Benedictus, 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. However, the Mass presents a powerful and unified musical experience. Due to its length — nearly two hours of music — it was never performed as part of a church liturgy. The first performance seems to have been after Bach's death, when his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach performed the Gloria section (but not the entire Mass) in Berlin. Large-scale performances of the entire Mass in B Minor were not staged until the 19th century, the first of which was in 1859.
Some have questioned why Bach, a Lutheran, would put such effort into creating a Latin Mass of this magnitude. After all, the Latin Mass is part of the traditional liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, and the historical record does not point to any commissioner of the work, leaving us to believe that Bach wrote this Mass for personal reasons. First, the 18th century Lutherans often used the Latin Mass as part of their liturgy, especially the Kyrie and Gloria sections, which the entire congregation probably sang. Second, the aging Bach, having spent his life seeking musical excellence, may have begun to think that the German cantatas he had spent so much of his professional life writing were something of a fad in music, restricted to the German Lutheran churches and, as he correctly predicted, the 18th century, whereas the Latin Mass was almost universal and timeless as a form of church music. Thus, the Mass in B Minor represents Bach's effort to place his music in a more abstract context.
Bach composed what would become the Gloria of the B Minor Mass for Christmas Day, 1724, and added, in 1731, a Kyrie so that he could present an abbreviated Mass (Kyrie plus Gloria, BWV 232a) to the Saxon Elector Fredrich Augustus II as part of a request to add the title, "Electoral Saxon Court Composer," to his name, a political move he hoped would bolster his standing in Leipzig, where he was having minor political skirmishes with the town council. The score sat on Bach's, and the Elector's, shelves, unperformed, until 1737, when Bach revisited it. He began making small revisions to the Kyrie and Gloria and added the Credo and Sanctus over the next two years. In 1749, Bach was struck ill and spent several months in bed; the manuscript of these last parts of the Mass in B Minor, especially the Hosanna section of the Sanctus, are written in a wobbly, uneven hand, indicating that Bach wrote these passages while he was sick and surely contemplating his own death.
In the 1730s, when he may have been toying with the idea of expanding the initial Kyrie-Gloria Mass, Bach studied and performed Palestrina's Missa sine nomine, which he then copied with revisions, and Antonio Lotti's Misse sapientiae. Other works with direct bearing on the Mass in B Minor include an unnamed Mass in F major by Giovanni Baptista Bassani, to which Bach added a setting of Credo in unum Deum (BWV 1081) and Antonio Caldara's Magnificat, the Suscepit Israel portion of which forms the basis for Bach's contrapuntal study BWV 1082. Notably, Bach's only other five-part choral work is his D major setting of the Magnificat.
Many older cantatas by Bach himself are incorporated into the Mass in B Minor, which not only adds to accuracy of the work as a picture of Bach's creative genius but also preserves some of these older works, as the original scores of some of them have been lost. This is a common technique in Bach's composition and is usually described as "parody". Other works where parody exists in Bach include the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248. Even when models survive, it is still unclear whether they themselves are descended from earlier models. The only positive evidence of Bach freshly composing in this work, is the Confiteor section of the Credo. Details of the parodied movements and their sources are listed in the movement listing.
Structure of the work
- I. Kyrie
- Kyrie eleison (1st)
- 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in B minor, marked Adagio, Largo C (4/4)* 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 2/2 time "alla breve" (split C in BGA)
- II. Gloria
- Gloria in excelsis
- 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Vivace 3/8 time. The music is a reworking of the opening chorus of Bach's Cantata BWV 190.
- Et in terra pax
- 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in D major, marked Andante C time. Again the music is a reworking of the opening chorus of BWV 190.
- 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 alla breve. 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 a reworking of the duet from Cantata BWV 190.
- 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 a reworking of the closing chorus of BWV 190.
- III. Symbolum Nicenum, or Credo
- Credo in unum Deum
- 5-part chorus (Soprano I, II, Alto, Tenor, Bass) in A mixolydian, marked Moderato cut time alla breve
- 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
- 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 (bass) in A major with oboi d'amore obbligati, marked Andantino 6/8 time
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Aria for tenor in B minor with flute obbligato, marked Andante 3/4 time
- Hosanna (da capo)
- 8-part (double) chorus in D major, marked Allegro 3/8 time.
- Agnus Dei
- Aria for alto in G minor with violin obbligato, marked Adagio 4/4 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 cut time alla breve music is same as Gratias agimus tibi from Gloria
- NB Bach's notation is for C - common time- to indicate the modern 4/4, and split C (letter C with vertical line through it) to indicate the modern 2/2. This notation was commonplace in that time.
- Berlin Philharmnoic, Herbert von Karajan conducting. Bach: Mass in B Minor. Polygram/Deutsche Gramophon - #459460
- Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman conducting. Bach: Mass in b minor. Telarc - #80517 (2000)
- English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner conducting. Bach: Mass in B Minor. Polygram Records - #415514 (1990)
- Münchener Bach-Chor/Münchener Bach-Orchester, Karl Richter conducting. Bach: Messe in h-moll. Archiv Produktion/Deutsche Gramophon - #19819 (1961)
- Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan conducting. Bach: Mass in B minor. Emi Classics - #67207 (1953)
- Netherlands Chamber Choir and the Orchestra of the 18th century, Frans Brüggen conducting. Bach: Mass in B minor. Philips - (1990)
- La Petite Bande, Gustav Leonhardt conducting. Bach: Mass in B minor. EMI - (1985)
- Taverner Consort and Players, Solisten der Tolzer Knabenchor, Andrew Parrott directing. Bach: Mass in B Minor EMI / Virgin (1985) This recording uses what is thought to be Bach's vocal resource- one singer per vocal part- soloists Emma Kirkby Soprano I, Emily van Evera Soprano II, Panito Iconomou (boy) Alto, Rogers Covey-Crump Tenor, David Thomas Bass