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Bach's Not-So-Minor B-Minor Mass

“There’s so much that’s mysterious about Bach’s Mass,” Bill says, and this week he attempts to demystify Bach’s grand work by setting its context in history, tracing relevant antecedents: Bach was writing a Latin mass despite his orientation as a Lutheran. Bill surmises that Bach went back to his musical heroes from the Renaissance. “They composed masses in Latin, and so would he.” Bill illustrates pertinent influences in Beethoven, Strauss, and Haydn as well as how Bach reformed some of his own work to inform his mass.

Program 1

This segment starts by examining the medieval masses that Bach used as inspiration when composing his B minor Mass. We begin with Desprez' Missa De Beata Vergine, and hear the "Kyrie" section. Next is Palestrina's "Kyrie" from Missa Papae Marcelli, a piece that, like many Palestrina pieces, proved the effectiveness of polyphonic music in the Church. We hear a very short excerpt from de Lassus' "Kyrie", then we finally listen to some Bach. It is not the B minor Mass, but in fact the Mass in F Major, which from the beginning bears resemblance to all three of the pieces we heard before. It is a wonderful piece indeed, and we will hear more of it later, but it is now time to jump into the Mass in B Minor itself. We hear the first three sections: "Kyrie eleison", "Christe eleison", and "Kyrie eleison". The segment then ends with a couple of excerpts from pieces that took away from the B minor Mass in some way: Haydn's happy-go-lucky Missa in Tempore Belli (Mass in Time of War), and Beethoven's magnificent Missa Solemnis in D Major.

Desprez: Missa De Beata Vergine – I. Kyrie; II. Christe; III. Kyrie
A Sei Voci Fabré/Garrus
Naïve 8892

Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli  Kyrie
Oxford Camerata/Summerly
Naxos 8.553238

de Lassus: Kyrie
The Hilliard Ensemble
ECM 453841
Excerpt :53

Bach: Mass In F Major, BWV 233: I. Kyrie
Stuttgart Bach Collegium/Rilling, Stuttgart Gachinger Kantorei
Stampfli, Russ & Speiser
Profil/Hännssler 7037

Bach: Mass In B Minor, BWV 232
  I. Kyrie eleison
  II. Christe eleison
  III. Kyrie eleison

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Chorus/ Shaw
McNair, Ziegler, Simpson, Aler, Stone, Paul
Telarc 80233
19:54 (excerpt 1:28, :35)

Haydn: Missa In Tempore Belli, H 22/9, “Paukenmesse” – I. Kyrie
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, RIAS Chamber Choir/Levine McNair, Ziegler
DG 435853

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis in D major Op. 123 – I. Kyrie
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Rundfunkchor Leipzig/Masur
Tomowa-Sintow, Burmeister, Schreier, Polster
Berlin 9150

Program 2

This segment again begins with a few comparisons to other work that inspired Bach's B minor Mass. We begin by hearing Palestrina's "Gloria" from Missa Papae Marcelli. Next is the same piece of mass from Bach's Mass in F Major, which demonstrates how like Palestrina, Bach used both of the "Gloria" texts together. Compare these pieces to what we hear next, the same segment from Bach's Mass in B minor. There is not enough time in this segment for the next piece, but we do have time to revisit Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, the "other great mountain range of masses". We hear the "Gloria", the same section we have heard all this segment. Next we return to Bach and hear the well-known Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major to end the segment on Bach. We hear the "Air" and "Gigue" sections.

Palestrina : Missa Papae Marcelli – Gloria
Oxford Camerata/Summerly
Naxos 8553238

Bach: Mass In F Major, BWV 233: Gloria
Stuttgart Bach Collegium/Rilling
Jakob Stampfli, Ingeborg Russ, & Elisabeth Speiser
Profil 7027

Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232 – Gloria in Excelsis; Et in terra pax; Laudamus te; Gracias agimus tibi; Domine Deus
Netherlands Bach Society/van Veldhoven
Mields, Zomer, White, Daniels, Harvey, Root, ft.
Channel Classics 25007

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis In D, Op. 123, Gloria; Qui Tollis
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Solti
Popp, Minton, Walker, Howell
London 455014

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 – II. Air & V. Gigue
La Stravaganza Köln/Manze
Brilliant Classics 93668

Bach: Orchestra Suite No.3 in D Major, BWV 1068 – ‘Air on a G String’ (excerpt)
English Chamber Orchestra/Barritt; Kennedy, v.
Anderson, ob.,Kennedy, vln., Lester, harpsichord
EMI Classics 56890
Program 3

In this segment, we leap straight into Bach with his Missa brevis in A Major and the segments we focus on this time, "Qui tollis peccata mundi" and "Cum Sancto Spiritu". Next is the B minor Mass, and we hear the same sections, but unlike the instrumentation of the A Major Mass, which is placed in the upper register, the B minor Mass is very deep and sorrowful. Next is a bit of a surprise: a late-Romantic composer, Richard Strauss, quoting Bach's B minor Mass in Also Sprach Zarathustra--the quoted lines come immediately after the famous opening. We then hear the next few segments of the B minor Mass: "Credo", "Credo in Unum Deum", "Patrem Omnipotentem", and "Et In Unum Dominum". The segment then ends on Bach's Fugue No. 2 in C minor, a lovely little chamber piece.

Bach: Missa brevis in A Major, BWV 234
Qui tollis peccata mundi; Cum Sancto Spiritu

Academy of Ancient Music/Cleobury
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Lisa Milne, s.
EMI 56994

Johann Sebastian Bach: B minor Mass, BWV 232
Qui tollis peccata mundi; Qui sedes ad dextram Patris; Quoniam tu solus sanctus; Cum Sancto Spiritu

New Phiharmonia Orchestra & BBC Chorus/Klemperer
Baker; Krauss; Sutcliffe, oboe d’amore; Busch, horn
EMI 63364

Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, op. 30
Von den Hinterweltlern

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Solti
London/Decca 440618

Anon.: Graduel d’Aliénor de Bretagne: Credo in unum Deum
Ensemble Organum/Pérés
Harmonia mundi 290652

Bach: B minor Mass, BWV 232
Credo; Credo In Unum Deum; Patrem Omnipotentem; Et In Unum Dominum

The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra/Christophers
Dubosc; James Bowman
Brilliant Classics 99361

Bach: Fugue No. 2 in C minor & Prelude No. 1 fr. WTC, Bk. 1
Lewis, Lester, vln; Martin, vla; Collins, g.; Johnson, bs.
Phillips 824 381
4:20, Prelude-excerpt 2:13

Program 4

This segment begins with Bach once again, this time starting with Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, a sad piece that served as the musical basis for part of B minor Mass. We hear it, then the sections of the B minor Mass it inspired: "Et Incarnatus est-Credo", "Crucifixus", "Et Resurrexit", "Et in Spiritum Sanctum", "Confiteor Unum Baptisma", and "Et Expecto Resurrectionem". This is the most serious and solemn part of the mass, and it shows, with its various elements explained to us in great detail afterwards. In order to properly understand the effect of the "Crucifixus" in particular, we hear a couple comparisons between different performances. Then, to lift our spirits, we go to the "Credo" from Mozart's Grosse Messe c-moll, a slightly more joyous version of the same part of the mass. Then, once again, we end on Bach, with "Ihr Menschen, Rühmet Gottes Liebe" and "Sei Lob Und Preis Mit Ehren", with the vocal parts replaced by cello.

Bach: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12
Academy of Ancient Music/Cleobury
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge College
Michael Chance; Michael George; Ian Bostridge;
Mark Radcliffe; Micaela Comberti; Peter Lissauer; David Blackadder
EMI 56994

Bach: Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Et Incarnatus est-Credo; Crucifixus; Et Resurrexit; Et in Spiritum Sanctum; Confiteor Unum Baptisma; Et Expecto Resurrectionem

New Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Giulini
Jenny Hill, Janet Baker, Peter Pears, John Shirley-Quirk
BBC 4062

Bach: Crucifixus (excerpt)
New Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Giulini; Jenny Hill, Janet Baker, Peter Pears, John Shirley-Quirk
BBC 4062

Bach: Crucifixus (excerpt)
Netherlands Bach Society/Van Veldhoven
Channel Classics 25007

Bach: Crucifixus (excerpt)
Les musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Minkowski
Naïve V 5145

Bach: Crucifixus (excerpt)
The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra/Christophers
Dubosc, Denley
Brilliant Classics 99361

Bach: Crucifixus (excerpt)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Klemperer
BBC Chorus
EMI 63364

Mozart: Grosse Messe c-moll KV 427 – Credo – Et incarnatus est
Bayerischen Rundfunks/Bernstein
Auger, s.
DG 431 791

Bach, arr. Koopman: Cantata #167, BWV 167, “Ihr Menschen, Rühmet Gottes Liebe” & “Sei Lob Und Preis Mit Ehren”
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Koopman
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Sony 60680
2:15, 2:29

Program 5

At the start of this, the final segment, we hear an excerpt from the "Gloria" of Bach's B minor Mass, to herald in the last process of different composers treating the same text as Bach. We start that process again with the "Sanctus" section from Mozart's Mass in C minor followed by the same section of text from Haydn's Mass in Time of War and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Then we conclude Bach's B minor Mass, with "Sanctus", "Osanna", "Benedictus", "Osanna #2", "Agnus Dei", and "Dona Nobis Pacem", the grand finale. The Mass in B minor was never performed during Bach's lifetime, even though he worked on it for 25 years, and as such mysteries abound in regards to some of its specifics. But as described, the B minor Mass is best performed with that kind of mystery in mind.

Bach: Gloria fr. B Minor Mass (excerpt)
Lon 430353

Mozart: Mass In C Minor, K 427, “Great” – Sanctus
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Bernstein
DG 431 791

Haydn: Missa In Tempore Belli, “Paukenmesse” H 22/9 – Sanctus
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, RIAS Chamber Choir/Levine
McNair, Ziegler, Blochwitz, Schmidt
DG 435 853

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis In D, Op. 123 – Sanctus; Benedictus
Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Solti
Popp, Minton, Walker, Howell
London 455014

Bach: Mass In B Minor – Sanctus; Osanna; Benedictus; Osanna #2; Agnus Dei; Dona Nobis Pacem
Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus/Shaw
McNair, Ziegler,Simpson, Aler, Stone, Paul
Telarc 80233
25:43 ( excerpts :57; 3:05)

Bach: Mass in B Minor – Qui Tollis Pecatta Mundi
Netherlands Bach Society/Van Veldhoven
Channel Classics 5007


The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
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