Bach Mass in B Minor

Mass in B minor (Messe in h-Moll)

BWV 232

Bach composed this work in Leipzig, 1747-1749; It was mostly assembled from previous materials from 1724 onwards.

Netherlands Bach Society - Jos van Veldhoven, conductor

  • Hana Blažíková, soprano 1
  • Anna Reinhold, soprano 2
  • David Erler, alto
  • Thomas Hobbs, tenor
  • Peter Harvey, bass

This performance was recorded December 15th 2016 at the Grote Kerk, Naarden, Netherlands. 

This choral masterpiece is the last major work Bach wrote. It was finished in 1749, just one year before Bach's death. It was likely not performed in its entirety during Bach's lifetime  It is the only total mass (missa tota) Bach ever composed! In Bach's day, Masses composed for Lutheran services usually consisted only of a Kyrie and Gloria. It's for a Lutheran service/mass, but it will be very familiar to Roman Catholics who attend the Latin Mass. I think Bach was showing his admiration for Renaissance composers of the mass such as Palestrina, and Bach advanced the sytle in his own characteristic manner. I think also it was in part due to a ecumenical spirit in Bach which recognized that Christian faith existed beyond just the Lutheran church. Bach here achieves rich, multi-layered, and fine-tuned counterpoint and produces complex polyphony which delights. Bach’s B Minor Mass is one of the towering achievements of the Baroque era, and indeed of all Western classical music. It is the summation of Bach’s creative output and displays a level of technical mastery. sylistic fluency and imagination unparalleled in music. 

As usual for its time, the composition is formatted as a Neapolitan mass, consisting of a succession of choral movements with a broad orchestral accompaniment, and sections in which a more limited group of instrumentalists accompanies one or more vocal soloists. Among the more unusual characteristics of the composition is its scale: a total performance time of around two hours,[2] and a scoring consisting of two groups of SATB singers and an orchestra featuring an extended winds section, strings and continuo. Its key, B minor, is rather exceptional for a composition featuring natural trumpets in D. - Wikipedia


The Mass in B minor is widely regarded as one of the supreme achievements of classical music. Alberto Basso summarizes 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 the editor Hans Georg Nägeli as "The Announcement of the Greatest Musical Work of All Times and All People" ("Ankündigung des größten musikalischen Kunstwerkes aller Zeiten und Völker"). 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.


Please enjoy this performance!

1. Program notes on the B Minor Mass by Douglas Bush

In 1817 the Swiss critic Hans-Georg Naegeli praised Bach's Mass in B Minor as "the greatest work of music in all ages and of all people." Though some may wish to qualify Naegeli's statement, the Mass is one of the greatest monuments in western art music. This notwithstanding, there are some intriguing considerations when viewing the Mass from a historical perspective.

In contrast to its present fame, the work was largely unknown well into the nineteenth century. Its delayed reception by later generations was perhaps the result of the general unavailability of a score (Beethoven tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to obtain a copy of the Mass). The first published edition appeared in 1845, with a second and improved edition appearing in 1856 as the sixth volume in the newly-formed Bach Gesellschaft's publication of Bach's complete works.

Although most Mass settings stem from the Roman Catholic tradition, the Mass in B Minor originated within the Lutheran liturgy. While Luther had sought to reform points of doctrine, he did not oppose the liturgy of the Roman Church. His Formula missae of 1523 retained the five musical portions of the Latin Mass Ordinary Ü that is, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus (with Osanna and Benedictus), and Agnus Dei. In his Deutsche Messe of 1527 Luther provided an alternative German vernacular mass, but he seems to have considered the Latin Mass a higher form of worship.

The immense dimensions of the B Minor Mass render it virtually unusable within the liturgical rites of either the Roman or Protestant churches. Even in Bach's day, when the main church services lasted approximately three hours, there would have been insufficient time to perform a work of this scope (the sermon alone usually lasted more than an hour). Bach worked on the Mass over a period of more than fifteen years (1733-1749), collecting, revising, and composing new music that would provide a "summa" of artistic achievement in his sacred vocal music, one that would unite his creed as a Christian with his creed as a musician. The resulting work represents an anthology of Bach's finest vocal music and at once displays all the variety and beauty of his instrumental writing. Part III of the Clavier-Uebung, published in 1739 and containing a collection of organ works of the highest quality, was dedicated to "the spiritual delectation of the lovers and, especially, the connoisseurs of this kind of work." This seems to have been Bach's purpose in the Mass in B Minor as well.

With mounting perplexity pertaining to his position as the Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Bach wrote a letter (dated 27 July 1733) to the new Elector of Saxony, Friedrich August II, stating: "In deepest Devotion I present to your Royal Highness this trifling product of that science which I have attained in Musique..." Seeking to secure the patronage of the Elector, the "trifling product" proffered was a beautifully prepared presentation score for a Missa, comprising the Kyrie and Gloria sections of what is now known as the Mass in B Minor. This pair of movements joined four other such settings, in the keys of A, G, G Minor, and F. In Lutheran worship the Kyrie-Gloria Mass was the preferred norm.

It appears that towards the end of the 1740s Bach became interested in completing a "Missa tota", setting the complete text of the Mass Ordinary. Bach's large-scale plan for a complete Mass setting can already be seen in the structure of the Kyrie-Gloria Mass of 1733. This is evident not only in the five-part choral writing or in the large orchestral forces, but especially in the expansive and varied structure of the individual movements. The three sections of the Kyrie typify the variety characterizing the entire Mass. The initial "Kyrie eleison" seems to bear a similarity to the opening of the St. John Passion, perhaps representing the imploring multitudes of humanity in an urgent plea for mercy. The opening massive chords are followed by an expansive fugue with an obligato orchestral part. The "Christe eleison" employs the modern operatic duet style. The duet may also refer to Christ as the second member of the Trinity and to the duality of his divine and human natures. The final "Kyrie eleison" tends towards the older style of vocal polyphony, therefore dispensing with independent orchestral accompaniment. Not only are these three movements greatly differentiated in style and compositional technique, they also establish the sequence of the keys of B minor, D major and F-sharp minor, thus unfolding the broad harmonic frame of the whole.

The Gloria continues the stylistic diversity of the Kyrie, and in addition to four large choral movements ("Gloria in excelsis Deo"/"Et in terra pax"; "Gratias agimus tibi"; "Qui tollis peccata mundi"; "Cum Sancto Spiritu") contains four equally large solo or duet movements accompanied by obligato instruments (violin, flute, oboe, and horn) and orchestra. Thus the Kyrie-Gloria Mass of 1733 is musically complete in itself, all five voices having a solo and each different group in the orchestra having an obligato part.

The "Symbolum Nicenum" or Credo, added to the score in the years 1748-49, consists of nine movements. Originally there had been only eight movements, the "Et in unum Dominum" movement also contained the words "Et incarnatus est." But after the completion of the "Symbolum Nicenum," possibly even after the completion of the entire score, Bach wrote a separate movement for this latter segment of the text, likely making this the last vocal composition he ever wrote. The nine movement structure of this section is architecturally symmetrical: at the beginning and end a pair of choral movements form a frame ("Credo in unum Deum," having a liturgical chant melody or cantus firmus, and "Patrem omnipotentem"; these two opening choruses correspond to "Confiteor unum baptisma," lso having a cantus firmus, and "Et expecto" at the conclusion of the "Symbolum"). Two solo movements stand next to these outer framing sections, while three choral movements stand in the center, underlining the Christological nucleus of the Credo ("Et incarnatus est" [And was incarnate]; "Crucifixus" [And he was crucified]; "Et resurrexit tertia die" [And rose again on the third day]).

Bach seemed to have a particular interest in numerology, a system of occultism (hidden or concealed meaning) built around numbers. Each letter of the word "Credo" was assigned a number according to its respective position in the alphabet Ü hence C=3, R=17, E=5, D=4, and O=14, the total sum of the numbers equaling 43 (i and j having the same number since they were interchangeable in eighteenth-century German). Interestingly, there are 43 entries of the plainsong melody. Further, there are 45 measures in the first Credo section, and 84 measures in the "Patrem omnipotentem" totaling 129 measures, or 3 times 43, thus giving a threefold repetition of the Credo number. This reflects the textual meaning of "Credo in unum Deum" (I believe in one God), so that the reference is to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Bach scribbled the number 84 in the autograph score, 84 being the sum of 7 times 12 (the holy number of the church multiplied by the number of the apostles), obviously concerned with the number of measures in the second Credo.

The Sanctus and the following pieces also belong to the 1748-49 completion of the Mass, but nearly all have earlier origins. The Sanctus had been written for Christmas in 1724, in an easily alterable version for three sopranos, alto, tenor, and bass. The "Osanna" is the only double choir movement in the Mass, and it is a remodeling of the opening chorus from the secular cantata No. 215. The Benedictus is perhaps a reworking of a lost piece. The Agnus Dei also began as a parody of an older movement from the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11), but in addition to radical alterations of the original material, it contains extensive newly composed sections. The concluding "Dona nobis pacem" repeats the music of the "Gratias agimus tibi" section, thus emphasizing the composer's conception of this section being an expression of gratitude.

As Bach grew older, the Mass in B Minor must have seemed to him to be a bequest to his successors and to the future. His primary interests now lay in the pursuit of "musical art and science," and the fulfillment of the scholar-composer's obligation to formulate a summary of his work. The Mass encapsulates as does no other composition Bach's choral artistry Ü it is the "summa" of all his sacred music. It offers a compositional spectrum whose breadth and depth reveal both academic and spiritual penetration. A complex system of thought at many levels went into the creating of this great Mass. It seems to exemplify in every detail Bach's statement that "the final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the human spirit."


2. George Stauffer - "The Universality of the B Minor Mass"

Although we may not be able to pinpoint Bach's specific reason for writing a Missa tota, we can be reasonably sure that in turning to the Latin Ordinary for his last large-scale project, he wished to devote his final energies to music that would transcend the parochialism of his German-texted vocal pieces. As Bach must have realized toward the end of his life, his German-texted vocal works were local fare, based on libretti by town poets and aimed at are rites and celebrations. Removed from their original contexts, the pieces lost much of their meaning. In 1753 Caspar Ruetz, Kantor of the Marienkirche in Luebeck, described how a huge pile of church music he had inherited from his predecessors has been diminished by half from its use for stove fires and scrap paper. "Who would give anything for it," he lamented, "other than someone who needs scrap paper, since nothing is more useless than old music." Surely Bach was aware that vast quantities of music suffered this fate, especially vocal works with circumscribed utilty. One can imagine him sitting in his study in the late 1740s, sullenly scrutinizing the 350 or so German-texted vocal pieces he had labored so diligently to produce and realizing that the entire lot might be consigned to flames or the scrap paper pile after his death.

The Latin Ordinary offered an alternative. Its text was universal, unbound by day, event, or location. It was a public, not private, proclamation, with Biblical citations removed from their incident-specific contexts and transported to a more generalized realm. The opening lines of the Gloria, connected with Christ's birth in the Book of Luke, are transformed into an ecstatic hymn of praise in the Ordinary. The words of the Sanctus, spoken by Isaiah in the Old Testament, become a broad, congregational affirmation. Writing a Mass gave Bach the opportunity to transfer his endeavors from the Lutheran Proper to the Catholic Ordinary, from the specific to the universal. In the half-century following his death, it was the B Minor Mass that traveled to Vienna and London, not his German-texted cantatas. "The Great Catholic Mass" presented the possibility of geographical and historical transcendence.

The project also allowed Bach to survey his own vocal composition, from the first mature cantatas of Weimar (the "Crucifixus," from Cantata 12), to the five Leipzig church cycles of the 1720s (the "Qui tollis," from Cantata 46 or the "Patrem Omnipotentem," from Cantata 171), to the galant Collegium pieces of the 1730s (the "Osanna," from BWV Anh. 11), and finally to the Latin-texted studies of the final years (the "Credo"). It also gave him the opportunity to draw on music written for church (Cantatas 46, 171), for bureaucratic rituals (Cantatas 29, 120), and for ceremonial events (Cantatas BWV Anh. 9, BWV Anh. 11, and the wedding serenade Auf! suessentzuckende Gewalt). Whether or not it was the goal of the work, the Mass does represent a Bach "specimen book," as Wolff put it, a highly select sampling of vocal music culled from four decades of sacred and secular composition.

Then, too, the parody procedure gave Bach a final chance to rework and refine his earlier scores. Bach's first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, expressed delight in the composer's ability to make "little by little, the faulty good, the good better, and the better perfect." In the B Minor Mass, we find the type of perfection that appears in the skillful parody revisions of the 1730s and 1740s. But there is something else. During the revisional process Bach normally expanded preexisting material, embellishing lines, thickening textures, adding measures, composing new sections. His indefatigable inventiveness seemed to propel him in that direction. The opening movement of the Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1044 (fifty-one measures longer than its harpsichord prelude original), Contrapunctus 10 from the Art of Fugue (twenty-two measures longer than its original), or the parody movement "Sicut erat in principio" from the Gloria in excelsis Deo (six measures longer than its "Cum Sancto Spiritu" original) are typical examples of his tendency to enlarge.

In the B Minor Mass, Bach moved in the opposite direction, toward concision. The "Osanna in excelsis" is thirty-three measures shorter than its model (the "A" section of the chorus "Es lebe der Koenig"), the "Agnus Dei" thirty measures shorter than its model (the aria "Entfernet euch, ihr kalten Herzen"), the "Qui tollis" fifteen measures shorter than its model (the chorus "Schauet doch und sehe, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei"). In many cases, the succinct character of the Latin text and the sectional nature of a Mass setting called for torsos rather than full movements. No matter what the motivation, however, in making abridgments Bach not only rescued some of his best "old music": he also distilled it. The B Minor Mass is more than a cross-section of Bach's art. It is his art in highly concentrated form.

The synthesis of styles also contributes to the universality of the B Minor Mass. At the outset of the Baroque Era, Monteverdi effectively demonstrated the potential of stylistic pluralism Ü the idea that composers should use both the a capella [without instruments] writing of the sixteenth century and the

filled [with instrumental backup] writing of the seventeenth Ü in the Vespers Collection of 1610. The Vespers Collection is just that, however: a collection of independent liturgical pieces illustrating the various stylistic possibilities of the time. The B Minor Mass, which might be viewed as Bach's answer to the Vespers of 1610, goes beyond Monteverdi's principles. It is a true "reunion des gouts" (to play on Francois Couperin's term of 1724), a true joining of tastes, in which ancient and modern; Italian, French, and German; vocal and instrumental are amalgamated in a single continuous work. Styles are sometimes juxtaposed, as in "Credo" or "Confiteor," in which a Renaissance chorus and a Baroque walking bass are combined. Other times they are placed side by side, as in the operatic "Christe eleison" and the Palestrina-style "Kyrie" II. Yet as we have seen, he work has overarching organizational bonds that fuse the movements into a harmonius whole. The inclusive eclecticism of the B Minor Mass, with its blending of diverse elements, points to the cosmopolitan idiom Ü and Enlightenment ideals Ü of the Classical Era.

Furthermore, the B Minor Mass has a directness that counterbalances the complexity of Bach's writing. The key scheme is unusually straightforward for a large-scale vocal work. The emergence of and eventual dominance of D major after the dark B minor/F# minor opening produces a sensation of triumph not unlike the apotheosis that takes place in Beethoven's minor key symphonies. The instrumental band of the B Minor Mass has a distinctly modern cast, with a four-part Italian string body and pairs of woodwinds Ü two flutes, two oboes (aside from the "Sanctus"), and (presumably) two bassoons Ü that point forward to the late-eighteenth-century public ensemble of Haydn's "London" Symphonies. With the exception of the oboe d'amore, Bach avoided the colorful specialized instruments found in many of his earlier vocal works. The absence of recitative, too, contributes to the broad appeal of the B Minor Mass. The text and music do not address personalized emotions, the role of recitative in Bach's cantatas. Rather, they speak more generally, in public terms. In place of recitative, the "formless form" of the Baroque, Bach employed strong, unambiguous structures: fugue, da capo, motet, ritornello, ground bass. The architectural clarity of each movement adds to the directness of the whole.

The presence of dance and dance-like idioms further broadens the appeal of the B Minor Mass. As Doris Finke-Hecklinger has shown, Bach's attraction to dance music began in earnest in he Coethen years, when galant dances first appeared in substantial numbers in his secular cantatas. The B Minor Mass is permeated with dance: the giga- or gigue-related nature of the "Gloria in excelsis Deo" and "Qui sedes," the passepied qualities of the "Pleni sunt coeli" and "Osanna," the rejouissance character of the "Et resurrexit," the passacaglia bass pattern of the "Crucifixus," the pastoral hues of the "Et in Spiritum Sanctum," and the gavotte-like rhythms of the "Et expecto" point to a work that is very much a part of the present world. Bach used the secular to portray the sacred, and in so doing he lifted both to an all-embracing plane. His repeated use of chamber meters Ü 3/8 in the "Gloria," "Pleni sunt," and "Osanna" and 6/8 in the "Qui sedes" and "Et in spiritum" in particular Ü shows that he was attuned to the growing appeal of light, galant instrumental dances and did not hesitate to draw on their persuasive power.

Indeed, much of the attraction of the B Minor Mass comes from the instrumental nature of Bach's writing. Thrasybulos Georgiades has reasoned that as Mass settings evolved from the Middle Ages to the Baroque Era, they moved from a literal reiteration of the text to a more ambiguous interpretation. In the Middle Ages, the monophonic lines of plainchant reflected Latin speech patterns. In the Renaissance, chant was retained in polyphonic settings and used as the basis for composition, but it was objectified Ü that is, placed into a mensural rhythm. With the advent of concerted settings in the Baroque, the text of the Mass Ordinary was further distanced from its speech origins and placed in a fully instrumental context. Taking the "Et incarnatus" from the B Minor Mass as an example, Georgiades argues that its depth of expression goes far beyond normal Baroque text settings. The "Et incarnatus" expresses the inexpressible because Bach created music that serves as symbol, symbol not specifically tied with speech. The opening instrumental figure not only outlines in advance the general shape of the vocal theme, but establishes the Affekt of the entire movement, an Affekt of mystery and wonder. Thus the instrumental writing determines the outcome of the setting, even though the setting is highly vocal in nature.

One can easily point to other examples: although the fugue theme of "Kyrie" I reflects the rhythmic declamation of the word "Kyrie", the melody itself is strongly instrumental, with leaps that do not come naturally to the voice. Indeed, the piece initially proceeds for twenty-nine measures in a purely instrumental manner. When the voices enter..., they add complexity and expressiveness to the movement. But the Affekt has been set by the instrumental band. In the "Gloria," the opening instrumental fanfare establishes the atmosphere of triumph before the voices are heard. The instrumental parts in the "Gloria" could well stand alone, a fact which led Smend to propose that the music stemmed from an instrumental concerto. Even in Palestrina-style movements we find that Bach uses instrumental lines to ameliorate the severity of the vocal counterpoint: violin parts and a walking bass line in the "Credo," a walking bass in the "Confiteor," a battery of trumpets and timpani in the "Gratias" and "Dona nobis pacem," and an independent continuo part in "Kyrie" II.. The stile antico [antique-style] preludes of Clavieruebung III, written ten years earlier, are much more austere. They are more strongly modal and without instrumental additions Ü "unsympathetically old-fashioned," as Peter Williams has put it. The a capella movements of the B Minor Mass are different. Bach has enriched the [older] Palestrina idiom with Baroque instrumental counterpoint.

All of this contributes greatly to the Mass's universal appeal. The intense instrumentalization of the score gives the work an attractiveness that goes beyond its text and helps to account for its success in the concert hall as well as the church, before listeners who know no Latin. Wilfrid Mellers credits the remarkable impetus of the music to its linear energy and "rhythmic ecstasy." The forward drive comes from the instrumental character of Bach's writing.

In the B Minor Mass, Bach realized the full potential of the Neapolitan idiom Ü the same idiom that gave birth to the enduring instrumental form of the Classical Era. Surveying the significance of Beethoven's symphonies in 1813, the well-known writer and critic E. T. A. Hoffmann praised instrumental music as the highest art, because "scorning every aid, every admixture of another art (the art of poetry)," it "gives pure expression to musicÍs specific nature." This is a Romantic view, of course, and Hoffmann praised Beethoven's instrumental music most of all because it opened a realm "of the monstrous and the immeasurable." Bach's "Great Catholic Mass," with its strong instrumental foundation, does not open the realm of the monstrous. It does, however, transport the Latin Ordinary to the realm of the immeasurable.


3. John Butt, from Bach: Mass in B Minor

Counterpoint and fugue are often the first things that the music of J. S. Bach calls to mind. Yet while it is extremely important to recognise BachÍs remarkable achievements in the field of counterpoint, it is perhaps a mistake to give these first priority in a broader analysis of his work. Counterpoint remained the primary compositional procedure of BachÍs age (whether studied or practised in its strictest form or in the shorthand of figured bass) and constitutes the basic fabric of all compositions, however chordal or "harmonic" they may appear. Therefore counterpoint and fugue itself were techniques rather than forms: the means of passing from one note or conglomeration of notes to the next, the means of controlling and displaying the principal thematic material, the inventio. Certainly many works of BachÍs may be described as fugues, but the relevance of fugal procedure to the structure as a whole is often only local. For instance the Kyrie of the Mass in B Minor is a large-scale ritornello movement as well as a fugue, so an analysis purely in terms of fugal process would necessarily be superficial.

Nevertheless, counterpoint is the next focal point in this study, standing as it does between the larger formal principles which influence the structure of individual movements, and the motivic detail of the instrumental and vocal lines. Many elements of BachÍs compositional style will emerge that are already familiar: the sense of proportion, economical use of the material, and the subtle frustration of expectation. A study of counterpoint also addresses the question of BachÍs historical position and his own attitude towards older styles and techniques.

As a product of the Lutheran musical environment of Thuringia, Bach would automatically have assimilated the standard compositional procedures of the late seventeenth century. The background to all styles would still have been the "strict" counterpoint of the late sixteenth century, but this had been greatly modified by the freedoms established with the Italian seconda prattica and also by the principle of the figured bass. This tended to reduce the contrapuntal integrity of the inner voices, thus emphasising the melodic importance of the outer ones. Throughout the Baroque era theorists and composers tended to temper the degree of freedom introduced according to the function of the music (chamber and dramatic music were respectively freer than church music), and Bach would always have been familiar with the stricter contrapuntal style traditionally associated with church music. However this residue of the Renaissance style was essentially "second hand", seen through the eyes of tradition and the ruling stylistic assumptions. BachÍs study of the stile antico proper represents a conscious desire to imitate the sixteenth-century models themselves.

Christopf Wolff's thorough examination of Bach's assimilation of the stile antico shows that he began to imitate the style in the early 1730s, after having already written the bulk of the Leipzig cantatas. The first significant product of BachÍs attempts was the second "Kyrie" of the Missa (1733 Ü but the music might be older), the last being the "Credo in unum Deum" and "Confiteor" of the Symbolum Nicenum. Although recent revisions to the chronology and the recognition of composing score in the "Confiteor" modify WolffÍs opinion that BachÍs study of the ancient style was complete by the early 1740s, it still seems that the Mass constitutes the focal point of BachÍs activity in this field and that the manuscript collection of sixteenth-century polyphony might have been assembled with this project in mind. Clearly the high profile of the stile antico in the Mass as a whole shows that Bach was making a conscious effort to incorporate all the styles that were available to him, to encompass all music history as far as is was accessible. In this respect it has much in common with the third part of the Clavieruebung (1739), which similarly comprises an anthology (and cycle) of music derived from the liturgy, covering all available historical styles, and having no practical function as a single work...

The studied neutrality of BachÍs stile antico is often juxtaposed with music of a strikingly expressive style. Just as the setting Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist BWV 671 from Clavieruebung III concludes with an unexpected chromatic coda, alluding to the human plea of "eleison" (have mercy), the "Confiteor" ends with an intensely chromatic bridge, one of the most remarkable examples of its kind. While the integrity of the part-writing and chromaticism are not foreign to the madrigal style of the late sixteenth century, this passage is essentially tonal in its background structure. Indeed its enharmonic progressions seem to stretch Ü rather than predate Ü tonal conventions. This section contrasts the more strongly with the stile antico portion, shooting off the scale of Baroque expressive vocabulary. Here the effect is not one of emotion, rather one which seems to complement the sheer mystery of the statement "and I expect the resurrection of the dead", something which contrasts both with the joy of the succeeding music (to the same text) and the timeless doctrine of "one baptism for the forgiveness of sins", which precedes it.

If you would like to download the musical score in PDF format please click here.

 I. Kyrie and Gloria ("Missa")

0:05 Kyrie eleison (Coro)
11:07 Christe eleison (Duetto)
15:56 Kyrie eleison (Coro)
19:43 Gloria in excelsis Deo (Coro)
21:25 Et in terra pax (Coro)
26:06 Laudamus te (Aria)
30:09 Gratias agimus tibi (Coro)
33:19 Domine Deus (Duetto)
38:39 Qui tollis peccata mundi (Coro)
41:39 Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (Aria)
45:50 Quoniam tu solus sanctus (Aria)
50:33 Cum Sancto Spiritu (Coro)

II. Credo ("Symbolum Nicenum")

54:14 Credo in unum Deum (Coro)
56:13 Patrem omnipotentem (Coro)
58:15 Et in enum Dominim (Duetto)
1:02:38 Et incarnatus est (Coro)
1:05:52 Crucifixus (Coro)
1:08:58 Et resurrecit (Coro)
1:12:56 Et in Spiritum Sanctum (Aria)
1:18:13 Confiteor (Coro)
1:22:18 Et expecto (Coro)

III. Sanctus

1:24:30 Sanctus (Coro)
1:26:58 Pleni sunt caeli

IV. Agnus Dei ("Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Dona Nobis Pacem")

1:29:19 Osanna in excelsis (Coro)
1:31:59 Benedictus qui venit (Aria)
1:36:22 Osanno in excelsis (Coro)
1:39:05 Agnus Dei (Aria)
1:45:17 Dona nobis pacem (Coro)


Original Text

English Translation




Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.


Soprano & Alto Duet


Christe eleison.

Christ, have mercy.




Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.




Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Glory be to God in the highest.




Et in terra pax
hominibus bonæ voluntatis.

And in earth peace
to men of good will.


Soprano Aria


Laudamus te; benedicimus te;
adoramus te; glorificamus te.

We praise Thee; we bless Thee;
we worship Thee; we glorify Thee.




Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.

We give thanks to Thee
for Thy great glory.


Soprano & Tenor Duet


Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris.

O Lord God, Heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father.




Qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.

Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.


Alto Aria


Qui sedes ad dextram Patris,
O miserere nobis.

Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy upon us.


Bass Aria


Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe.

For thou only art holy,
thou only art the Lord,
thou only art the most high, Jesus Christ.




Cum Sancto Spiritu
in gloria Dei Patris.

Together with the Holy Ghost
in the glory of God the Father.




Credo in unum Deum.

I believe in one God.




Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

The Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.


Soprano & Alto Duet


Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero,
Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines,
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de coelis.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, light of light,
true God of true God,
begotten not made;
being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made.
Who for us men
and for our salvation
descended from heaven.




Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine: et homo factus est.

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost,
of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.




Crucifixus etiam pro nobis
sub Pontio Pilato,
passus et sepultus est.

He was crucified also for us,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
and was buried.




Et resurrexit tertia die
secundum Scripturas.
Et ascendit in coelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.

And on the third day He rose again
according to the Scriptures:
and ascended into heaven.
He sitteth at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead;
and His kingdom shall have no end.


Bass Aria


Et in Spiritum Sanctum,
Dominum, et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul
adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Credo in unam sanctam
catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Lord and giver of life,
Who prodeedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the Prophets.
And I believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.




Confiteor unum baptisma,
in remissionem peccatorum.

I acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins.




Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum
et vitam venturi sæculi.

And I await the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.




Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.




Osanna in excelsis.

Hosanna in the highest.


Tenor Aria


Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.

Blessed is He that cometh
in the name of the Lord.




Osanna in excelsis.

Hosanna in the highest.


Alto Aria


Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei.

Lamb of God,
Who takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God.




Dona nobis pacem.

Grant us peace.







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