Mass in B minor Program Notes
By ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Annotator, Los Angeles Master Chorale
Mass in B minor
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
When the Zurich publisher Hans Georg Nageli (1773-1836) decided to undertake the first publication of Bach's B minor Mass, he invited subscriptions in the following words:
Ankündigung des grössten musikalischen Kunstwerks aller Zeiten und Völker.
Announcing the greatest musical work of art of all times and peoples.
At that time it was a bold statement; now it is a simple declaration of fact.
Recent research has greatly clarified the origins of the Mass. In the first place a comment should be made on the extremely unequal divisions and unusual headings on the program page. The work has been divided exactly as Bach himself organized it, using the headings that he wrote on the four title pages inserted before each section. There are most logical reasons for these seemingly arbitrary divisions.
In the year 1733, at the end of Bach's first decade in Leipzig, the Elector Friedrich August II succeeded his father of the same name (known as the Strong). His first visit to Leipzig was on April 21, 1733, at which time he accepted the town's oath of allegiance. A solemn service was held at St. Thomas' to celebrate this occasion. Geiringer joins Schering in assuming that the Missa (the short Lutheran mass consisting of Kyrie and Gloria only) was probably composed for and performed at this service. Since no polyphonic music had been performed at any Leipzig church during the official period of mourning for the deceased Elector, Bach had a rare freedom from routine duties and time to concentrate on a major work. Very possibly the Kyrie was designed to express the mourning for the old Elector and the Gloria after the sermon a paean of joy over the heir's ascension to the throne. Unfortunately the object of all this acclaim could not attend the servi ce since he was a Catholic - a necessity for his forthcoming ascension to the throne of Poland. However, he may have heard encouraging reports from those in his entourage attending the ceremony. In any case, Bach sent the parts of the Missa to the Elector on July 27, 1733, and accompanied the music with a letter asking to be placed under "your Majesty's most powerful protection. For some years past I have exercised the directorium of the music in the two principal churches in Leipzig, a situation in which I have been exposed to one or the other undeserved affront, and even the diminution of the accidentia due to me, annoyances not likely to recur should your Majesty deign to admit me to your Court Capelle and direct a Praedicat to be issued to that effect by the proper authority." Bach goes on with the high-flown flattery necessary in those days when seeking a favor from royalty. Bach kept the full score of the Missa and it is this that forms the first half of the autograph.
Of the remaining parts of the Mass, the Sanctus was probably originally written in 1724 and performed on Christmas day. It was not until the closing years of his life, probably as late as 1747, that Bach conceived the idea of adding to these existing sections. Whether the Credo, or rather Symbolum Nicenum, was written and performed at an earlier date and recopied at this time is not known. However, it is easily observed that No. 15 Et incarnatus est was written on the two sides of a separate sheet inserted after the original writing of the Credo. It is necessary to turn back before this sheet for the first 4 measures of the Crucifixus.
The remainder of the Mass, from the Osanna onward, was a comparatively simple task, the majority of the work being adaptations of existing compositions. The Osanna, for example, is an arrangement of the opening movement of Cantata No. 215.
Preise dein Glücke: gesegnetes Sachsen, a secular cantata written in three days for a surprise visit of the Elector in October, 1734. The inclusion of a chorus of secular origins does not jar the listener in this great sacred work. Bach, a man of his time, believed a ruler received his power from God so when praising the earthly ruler he still praised the Creator.
This monumental work, written over a period of 20 years and utilizing all forms of composition from Renaissance polyphony to the aria of Italian Baroque opera, from the French overture to the Abendmusik of Buxtehude, shows a singular unity in realization. As Spitta points out, "the liturgical elements in the Mass are four – the consciousness of sin in man (the Kyrie), the Atonement through Christ (the Gloria), the Christian Church as proceeding from Him (the Credo), the memorial supper in which the Church celebrates its union with and in the founder (the Sanctus and subsequent parts." (Vol. III, p. 53)
1. Chorus a 5
Lord, have mercy upon us.
2. Duet: Sopranos I and II
Christ, have mercy upon us.
3. Chorus a 4
Lord, have mercy upon us.
4. Chorus a 5
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.
5. Soprano II Solo
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify thee.
6. Chorus a 4
We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
7. Duet: Soprano I and Tenor
Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty, Lord, the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the most high, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son. of the Father.
8. Chorus a 4
Thou who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us, receive our prayer.
9. Alto Solo
Thou who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
10. Bass Solo
For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord, Thou only, Jesus Christ, art most high.
11. Chorus a 5
With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
12. Chorus a 5
I believe in one God.
13. Chorus a 4
Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
14. Duet: Soprano I and Alto
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, of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.
15. Chorus a 5
And became flesh by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
16. Chorus a 4
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried.
17. Chorus a 5
And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
18. Bass Solo
And in the Holy Spirit the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the Prophets. And in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
19. Chorus a 5
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
20. Chorus a 5
And I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
21. Chorus a 6
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of His glory.
22. Double Chorus a 8
Hosanna in the highest.
23. Tenor Solo
Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord.
(Hosanna in the highest)
24. Alto Solo
Lamb of God… who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
25. Chorus a 4
Grant us peace.