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Bach B Minor Mass

Actually, the B Minor Mass is not usable in the Catholic liturgy. Furthermore, Bach did not observe the traditional grouping of the text into five sections— Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

Rather, he split up each of these parts into several movements, so that there are actually 25 separate parts. Nor is the Mass suitable for performance in the Lutheran church, because singing the entire ordinary of the mass did not fit into the format of a Protestant service, much of which was not in Latin but in German.

Bach was not thinking of an actual performance at all: the Mass was probably conceived as an abstract composition not tied to any occasion, a universal statement of faith that transcends any particular orthodoxy. Furthermore, since the work was put together from several different earlier works, it is less a unified conception than an all-embracing hymn of belief, referring to both early and recent sacred music and to both sacred and secular styles. Thus some parts of the Mass hark back to the era before the split in Christianity, while others refer to the modern period, in which Lutheran and Catholic beliefs were divergent.

The Credo uses one of the old church modes the Mixolydian.

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Also, the five- and six-part choruses in several movements recall earlier choral practices. Nearly one-third of the Mass is reworked from cantatas. With incredible skill, Bach adapted this older music to new texts, often adding contrapuntal lines, extending passages and otherwise furthering the music. Thus the Et expecto is taken from Cantata , the Crucifixus is basd on a passacaglia from Cantata 12, the Gratias and Dona nobis pacem are taken from Cantata 29, the Qui tollis is from Cantata 46, the Patrem omnipotentum is from Cantata , the Osanna is based on Cantata , the introduction to the first Kyrie is taken from Cantata , the Benedictus is taken from an earlier aria that has not survived in its original form, the Agnus Dei is from Cantata 11, and the final Dona nobis pacem uses the same music as the Gratias.

The Sanctus , the oldest portion of the B Minor Mass originally composed as a mass movement, was written for Christmas day in The Credo may have originated in for a mass celebrating the rededication of the newly rebuilt church school. The first Kyrie was composed in in commemoration of the deceased Elector of Saxony. Bach subsequently sent the music to his Royal Majesty, in the hopes of obtaining a position at his court.

Since Bach brought together these diverse movements into a single mass only two years before his death, it is unlikely that it was ever performed during his lifetime. It, like many of his important works, remained unknown for generations. Bach was remembered after his death mainly as an organist.

Interest in his music was reborn in the 19th century. Carl Friedrich Zelter rehearsed the B Minor Mass in Berlin in , but he felt it impractical to perform this monumental work. The Kyrie and Gloria were performed in Vienna in ; the Et incarnatus est was heard in Berlin in ; the Credo was performed in Frankfurt in Truncated versions of the whole Mass were given in Berlin in and in Birmingham in The first complete performance took place in Leipzig in All of these early performances involved various new instrumentations that made the work sound as if it had been orchestrated by Beethoven.

Kyrie I. Like a huge cry for mercy, the chorus and orchestra start together, without the typical instrumental introduction. After this dramatic opening the music develops into a fugue. Since the text is a supplication to the Father, the mood is spiritual, but with an increasing sense of urgency. As the text now refers to Jesus, the second member of the Holy Trinity, the music becomes more personal and intimate. Bach uses a duet to symbolize he duality of Christ the Son and God the Father, a device he also uses in the Et in unum Dominum.

Notice the way the vocal duet includes writing in parallel intervals and strict imitation, both indicating the unity of Father and Son. Kyrie II.

Bach uses stile antico , the archaic style of 16th-century church music, to make the mood simpler and more objective than in the first Kyrie. The style of Palestrina is invoked by the absence of large skips in the vocal lines and the use of the instruments to reinforce the voice parts rather than to provide independent contrapuntal lines.

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Bach does not simply adopt the old style without modifications, however; the fugue subject clearly has his own stamp. The pattern of its first three notes would never have occurred in the music of Palestrina. The reserved expression of the second Kyrie gives way to an extroverted style, complete with trumpets, drums and instrumental virtuosity. Laudamus te. The virtuosity continues, as this delicate movement suggests a double concerto, with violin and mezzo-soprano as soloists. As in the second Kyrie, the orchestra doubles the chorus in a stile antico fugue.

The effect is indeed glorious.

Bach, Johann Sebastian / Mass in B minor BWV / Bärenreiter Verlag

Domine Deus. In order to represent the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son, Bach sets the first two parts of the text simultaneously as a duet for soprano and tenor. Qui tollis.


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A restrained mood is established by omitting the first and using only the second sopranos for this four-part chorus and also by the scoring, which includes two flutes along with the strings. Qui sedes. Although strictly speaking it is a fugue, the continuous imitative entrances and use of the instruments in a purely supportive role; that is, they double and reinforce the vocal parts, but are never independent except for the timpani, which is still used for emphasis. This is similar to the way instruments were often used during the Middle Ages and Renaissance; even in the generation after Bach, composers such as Haydn and Mozart often used trombones to double the vocal parts, but not as dependent entities.

Did this mean something to Bach? That is, is this similarity more than coincidence? Subscribe to our newsletter to get performance announcements, Choir news, and updates about recordings or Bach Choir touring.

Mass in B minor, BWV 232 (Johann Sebastian Bach)

Splendid musicianship, rousing choruses, and the sublime voices of the soloists turned grief into joy and sorrow into triumph. What a thrill to hear those punchy, syncopated brass lines accompanying some really polished and vibrant singing. There was a miraculous blend of tone and balance throughout.


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  • The effortless virtuosity and stylistic homogeneity of the combined forces in the chapel's stone sanctity, allowed Bach's music to sing out with infectious, exhilarating enthusiasm. The Bachs [J. B and C.

    Mass in B minor

    E] could not have been better served, not to mention two English Renaissances, as well as our own time. It went beyond mere intelligent programming and committed performance, enriched by a deep sense of the mutual nourishment of music and faith. If it has flaws, they are like those that distinguish a fine emerald from the perfect clarity of a fake The more than vocalists displayed clean tone, excellent pitch and blend, and kept good tempo even in the most stressful numbers…outstanding, energetic and crisp.

    The orchestra was a collection of top freelancers from around the Eastern Seaboard including several from Washington… baritone Dashon Burton, was the standout. He has a clarion instrument that projects well throughout his range…a splendid dramatic performance. Greg Funfgeld has trained his singers to articulate words crisply, dance lightly when the music must move and blend elegantly.

    Charles Daniels stands out as a poetic and powerful Evangelist, William Sharp as a warmly inflected Jesus and Julia Doyle as a shining champion of the soprano arias.