Monday, December 16, 2013

'Mass in B minor' - J. S. Bach

Bach wrote the first version of this as a job application in 1733 (from Wikipedia).
"On February 1, 1733 Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, died. Five months of mourning followed, during which all public music-making was suspended. Bach used the opportunity to work on the composition of a Missa, a portion of the liturgy sung in Latin and common to both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic rites. His aim was to dedicate the work to the new sovereign Augustus III, a Catholic, with the hope of obtaining the title "Electoral Saxon Court Composer".

Upon its completion, Bach visited Augustus III and presented him with a copy of the Missa, together with a petition to be given a court title, dated July 27, 1733; in the accompanying inscription on the wrapper of the mass he complains that he had "innocently suffered one injury or another" in Leipzig. The petition did not meet with immediate success, but Bach eventually got his title; he was made court composer to Augustus III in 1736."
The full work was completed just before Bach died.
"In the last years of his life, Bach expanded the Missa into a complete setting of the Latin Ordinary. It is not known what prompted this creative effort. Wolfgang Osthoff and other scholars have suggested that Bach intended the completed Mass in B minor for performance at the dedication of the new Hofkirche in Dresden, which was begun in 1738 and was nearing completion by the late 1740s. However, the building was not completed until 1751, and Bach's death in July, 1750 prevented his Mass from being submitted for use at the dedication. Instead, Johann Adolph Hasse's Mass in D minor was performed, a work with many similarities to Bach's Mass (the Credo movements in both works feature chant over a walking bass line, for example).

Other explanations are less event-specific, involving Bach's interest in "encyclopedic" projects (like the Art of Fugue) that display a wide range of styles, and Bach's desire to preserve some of his best vocal music in a format with wider potential future use than the church cantatas they originated in."
The Beaumont Singers and Orchestra were excellent last night: my favourite parts of the work are the quieter sections, where the violins and counterpoint base are in dialogue with the soloists.

The poster

The Orchestra with Singers

Here is the Mass in B minor, starting with the Kyrie Eleison - the Capella Amsterdam recorded at the Jacobi church, Utrech.