Johann Sebastian Bach

Mass in B minor, for soloists, chorus & orchestra, BWV 232 (BC E1)

    Description by Donato Mancini

    In 1733, Bach wrote a letter petitioning Friedrich August II, the Catholic Elector of Saxony, to grant him a courtly title that might be of value to him in getting his due respect from the powers in Leipzig. To warm up the sovereign to his cause, he enclosed two pieces of music as special proof of his dedication to the composition of church music; these pieces were the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass in B minor, a juggernaut of religious music that Bach didn't complete until the very end of his life. Why a composer who must have normally worked at blinding speed took 15 years with a single mass is not known, since there was no opportunity for its performance. As a mass, it's far too vast for liturgical use, and earnest religious music couldn't have been welcomed in secular, courtly programs. It definitely wasn't entirely performed while Bach lived, but it seems possible he didn't intend it to be performed that way at all. Many movements are highly effective revisions of past works, often cantatas, spanning much of his career, and the others were composed expressly for the mass. These facts, and the wide differences in style the work contains, suggest it was intended as a summation of his whole oeuvre, but that can never be known.

    Of course, the mystery of its purpose and origins have fed the fire of enthusiasm that surrounds the mass. For once, the hype is mostly worth believing. Commentators stumble over each other to praise it, treating it like a St. Peter's of music for good reasons; the Mass in B minor positively crackles with energy, and almost everything that is good about Bach is found in it. Hearing even the brooding Kyrie for the first time can be like having of a pair of jumper cables applied to the heart. Unfortunately, the size, scale, and historical importance of the mass, taken together, seems to confuse certain interpreters into performing it with the overblown orchestral forces and exaggerated expression of late Romantic music. It becomes an overstated banality when treated that way; smaller orchestras can bring out of it an amazing, galvanized lyricism and mechanical power. The range and depth of moods is itself incredible enough; listeners almost prefer to hear the movements discretely to be able to properly take them in. From the most ecstatic, trumpeting orchestral jubilation of the start of the Gloria, to the tender, pained longing in the soprano and tenor duet of the Laudamus te, or the unstoppable fugue of the Cum sancto Spiritu, the Mass in B minor is as exhilarating to the listeners as it is exhausting to performers. Some lighter, simpler choral movements, like the Gratias agimus tibi, have a minor function of granting needed rest, but there don't seem to be quite enough of them to make it really functional as a concert piece. For the highly trainable medium of the compact disc, however, it's just right.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Kyrie eleison
    2. Christe eleison
    3. Kyrie eleison
    4. Gloria in excelsis Deo
    5. Et in terra pax
    6. Laudamus te
    7. Gratias agimus tibi
    8. Domine Deus, rex coelestis
    9. Qui tollis peccata mundi
    10. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
    11. Quoniam tu solus sanctus
    12. Cum Sancto Spiritu
    13. Credo in unum Deum
    14. Patrem omnipotentem
    15. Et in unum Dominum
    16. Et incarnatus est
    17. Crucifixus
    18. Et resurrexit
    19. Et in Spiritum Sanctum
    20. Confiteor in unum baptisma
    21. Et expecto
    22. Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth
    23. Pleni sunt coeli et terra
    24. Osanna in excelsis
    25. Benedictus qui venit
    26. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
    27. Dona nobis pacem

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 DG Archiv 0002894795814
    2016 BR Klassik 900513
    2016 CPO 7778512
    2016 Rondeau / Rondeau Productions ROP 404849
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) SDG 722
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646076048
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95110BR
    2015 Carus CARUS 83314
    2015 Carus CARUS 83315
    2015 Berlin Classics 0300601BC
    2014 United Classics T 2CD2013026
    2014 Hyperion CDA 68051
    2014 Sony Classical 88843014642
    2014 Warner Classics 2564633629
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843003502
    2014 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Archiv Produktion 002894791045AB55
    2013 Accent ACC 24283
    2013 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 13034
    2013 Alia Vox AVDVD 9896AD
    2013 Rondeau ROP 400910
    2013 Decca
    2013 Erato 2564647351
    2012 Denon Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967831
    2012 ZYX Music CLA 101452
    2012 DG Archiv
    2012 Phi LPH 004
    2012 Naxos 8501062
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94359
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099995628424
    2012 Naïve V 5313
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 EMI Classics 18694
    2011 Signum Classics SIGCD 265
    2011 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 11050
    2011 Harmonia Mundi 501813
    2011 Decca 468 363-2
    2011 K&K Verlagsanstalt 43
    2010 Virgin Classics 50999070193
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Berlin Classics 0300034
    2010 Linn Records 354
    2010 Decca
    2010 Archiv Produktion / DG Archiv / DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778735
    2010 DG Archiv 477 873-5
    2010 Tahra 708-709
    2010 Newton Classics 8802001
    2010 Glossa 921112
    2009 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon / DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778167
    2009 Challenge Classics 72316
    2009 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099969319
    2009 Erato
    2009 Documents / Membran 232674
    2009 Mirare 81
    2009 Naïve 5145
    2009 Coro COR16072
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 EMI Classics 2292072
    2008 Das Alte Werk 69853
    2008 Naïve V 5317
    2008 EMI Classics 367668
    2008 Corona Records 0002312CCC
    2008 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697281822
    2008 Berlin Classics 0184192
    2008 Carus 83211
    2008 Doremi Records DHR7916-9
    2008 EMI Classics 11973
    2007 Rondeau 3023/3024
    2007 BIS 1701/02
    2007 Channel Classics 25007
    2007 Urania URN 22312
    2006 Brilliant 93102
    2006 DG Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    2006 Berlin / Berlin Classics 0184012
    2006 Haenssler 98274
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 5901614.15
    2006 Ariadne Records 5000
    2006 Coro 16044
    2006 Brilliant 99452
    2005 EMI Classics 57844
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 76817
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586537
    2005 Naxos 6110102-03
    2005 Hyperion 22051
    2005 Nonesuch
    2005 Naxos 5110102-03
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586838
    2005 Berlin Classics 0091712
    2005 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) / BCI-Eclipse Distribution 40527
    2005 Document 222381
    2004 Rca Red Seal 55701
    2004 Guild Historical 2260/61/62
    2004 DG Archiv 000345102
    2004 Harmonia Mundi 901813/14
    2004 Harmonia Mundi 801813/14
    2003 Erato / Virgin 7243562068
    2003 Bach Guild 1242
    2002 Archipel 31
    2002 Haenssler 94036
    2002 Westminster 471253
    2002 Veritas 561998
    2001 BBC Legends / BBC Music 40622
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 2908110/12
    2001 Teldec 81149
    2001 Urania 194
    2000 Telarc Distribution 80517
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 67207
    2000 DG Deutsche Grammophon 459460
    2000 Haenssler 92070
    2000 DG Deutsche Grammophon 463701
    2000 Direct Source 30702
    1999 Teldec 25705
    1999 Teldec 25704
    1999 BMG 635292
    1999 Arts Music 47525
    1999 BBC Music 4008
    1999 Philips Classics 416415
    1999 DG Deutsche Grammophon 415622
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 2951614/15
    1999 Teldec 25711
    1998 Dorian 90253
    1998 Harmonia Mundi 901614
    1998 Berlin Classics 0021232
    1998 Swedish Society Discofil 1092
    1998 London 455783
    1997 Hyperion 67201
    1997 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 277380
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 68640
    1996 Vox 7524
    1996 Disques Pierre Verany 730060
    1995 Newport Classic 85582
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 65334
    1995 Haenssler 98959
    1995 Erato 98478
    1995 Capriccio Records 60033
    1994 DG Archiv 439885
    1994 Naxos 550585
    1994 Berlin Classics 0010632
    1994 Chandos 0533
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 66354
    1994 Koch Schwann 312512
    1994 DG Deutsche Grammophon 439969
    1994 Philips Classics 438 739-2PM2
    1994 Teldec 95517
    1994 Collins Records 70322
    1993 Koch International Classics 37194-2
    1993 Pearl 9900
    1992 Nonesuch 79036
    1991 London 430353
    1991 CBS Records 45615
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80233
    1990 EMI Music Distribution 63364
    1990 Philips 426238
    1990 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77040
    1986 DG Archiv 415514
    Brilliant 93102-VOL5
    Vanguard 58/59
    Proprius-AudioSource 9070-1
    6w 33
    Exultate 109
    Naxos 8557448-49
    EMI Music Distribution 63505
    American Bach Soloists
    Koch 7194
    Foyer Records 2022
    EMI Music Distribution 47292
    Hunt Productions 727
    Erato
    Brilliant 99457
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 38209-10
    Polygram 191619