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Bach: MASS IN B MINOR
May 8, 2017, 8:00 pm
Carnegie Hall

Notes on the Program
by Marie Gangemi

Johann Sebastian Bach
born, Eisenach, March 21, 1685; died, Leipzig, July 28, 1750

     The youngest son of Elizabeth and Johann Ambrosius Bach and part of the fifth generation of Bach musicians in Thuringia, Johann Sebastian Bach received his earliest musical training from his father who expected his sons to go into the family business. Orphaned by age 10, he was raised by his brother until he was sent to Lüneburg to complete his studies while singing in the church choir. After his voice changed, he stayed on until 1703 as a harpsichordist and violinist. From there he went to St. Boniface Church in Arnstadt where he was chastised for “confusing” the congregation by “accompanying the hymns with curious variations and irrelevant ornaments.” They also disapproved of other indiscretions, including bringing his cousin Maria Barbara (whom he later married) into the choirloft to sing, an outrageous flaunting of rules and mores. Subsequent posts took him to Weimar, Cöthen, and finally Leipzig, where in 1723 he became Cantor of St. Thomas Church. Bach was the church's third choice for the position, which included responsibility for all the choral and instrumental music at St. Thomas and nearby St. Nicholas. Compared to his earlier positions, this one was quite prestigious and by eighteenth-century standards well paying. Nevertheless, six of the first eight of his children born in Leipzig died, quite possibly as a result of their impoverished living conditions.
     Ten years later, upon the death of Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, Bach sent the performance parts of a newly composed Kyrie and Gloria to his successor, Johann, in an attempt to secure a position in Dresden or at least to improve his standing in Leipzig where he was frequently at odds with his superiors. He also wanted to secure the position of organist at St. Sophie for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann. In this he was successful. For himself, finally, in 1736 he received a certificate appointing him court composer. The position, however, was unpaid and did not help his situation in Leipzig, where he remained for the rest of his life. 
     In 1747, his health and eyesight failing, Bach began to craft the monumental Mass in B minor. It is not known why Bach, a Lutheran, would compose a Roman Mass, nor is it known why he relied so extensively on previously composed music. Bach opened with the Kyrie and Gloria he had composed in 1733 and to this added some new music, a Latin Sanctus performed at the 1724 Christmas service and music composed for other purposes, much of it for religious texts in German. The use of Latin is understandable. Although Luther wanted services conducted in the vernacular, if a congregation understood Latin (and one of Bach’s duties was teaching Latin) that language was permitted. Bach did, however, use the Lutheran applelation, “Symbolum Nicenum,” instead of the Roman Catholic “Credo.”
     The reuse of older works has suggested to some scholars that Bach’s creative abilities were drying up in his old age, that his failing eyesight impeded his work, or that he did not have enough time to compose an original work. More reasonable, however, is the view that Bach was following in the Renaissance tradition that a Mass was the culmination of musical obligation and that he created his Mass in B minor to preserve the best of his compositions in a timeless context. 
     The structure of the Mass reveals the careful and attentive hand of a master. The Credo, for example, is symmetrical around the Crucifixus: nine movements paired by chorus or solo and stile antico or contemporary, the two styles serving to present the traditional statement of faith in the context of a vibrant and forward-looking testimony. Symmetries can also be found in the other sections, as well as in the Mass as a whole. So too can plays on the sacred numbers—three (the Trinity), five (Christ’s wounds), and so on.
     Recent scholarship holds that the Mass in B minor was Bach’s last work. It was not performed in his lifetime, or even named. (Its title derives from the key of the first movement.) As the trends in musical taste drifted from baroque to classical after Bach's death, his works, while not completely forgotten, fell into musty neglect. Even Carl Philipp Emanuel, who did much to preserve his father's music, referred to him as "the old wig." In 1811 the Berlin Singakademie began rehearsing the complete Mass; young Felix Mendelssohn became familiar with it when he joined the Singakademie in 1819. His performance of the St. Matthew Passion ten years later is credited with reintroducing Bach to European audiences. For the Mass in B minor the process was a slow one, in part because of the complexity of the work and the difficulty of copying enough performance parts for the fashionably large nineteenth-century productions. The Bach revival also faced critiques such as reviewer Ludwig Rellstab’s comment that although Bach was a great composer, he was unable to “pronounce his profoundest ideas simply.” (A century later Albert Einstein told a critic, “I have this to say about Bach’s works: listen, play, love, revere—and keep your trap shut.”) Quite likely, the first complete performance of the Mass was in Leipzig in 1859. 
     The Mass in B minor plays a crucial role in the Oratorio Society’s history. On April 5, 1900, nine days after the Bach Bethlehem Choir presented the U.S. premiere, the Society performed all but five movements at Carnegie Hall. In 1926 the Society began a 30-year practice of annual spring performances of the complete Mass and in April 1961 performed the Mass in celebration of the Society’s return to Carnegie Hall, only recently saved from demolition. It last presented the Mass in 2009. Tonight, with unspeakable pleasure and awe, the Society again presents the boundless genius of Johann Sebastian Bach.
 
Text and Translation
Johann Sebastian Bach: Mass in B minor
 
Kyrie

5-Part Chorus
Kyrie eleison.
 
Soprano & Countertenor Duet
Christe eleison.
 
4-Part Chorus
Kyrie eleison. 
 
 
 
 
Lord have mercy.
 
 
Christ have mercy.
 
 
Lord have mercy.
Gloria
 

5-Part Chorus
Gloria in excelsis Deo. 
 
5-Part Chorus
Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
 
Countertenor Aria 
Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te.
 
4-Part Chorus
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.
 
Soprano & Tenor Duet
Domine Deus, rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christ, altissime, Domine Deus, agnus Dei, Filius Patris.
 
4-Part Chorus
Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
 
Countertenor Aria
Qui sedes ad dextram Patris, miserere nobis.
 
Bass Aria
Quoniam tu solus sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe.
 
5-Part Chorus
Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

 
 
 
 
Glory to God in the highest.
  

And on earth peace to men of good will.
 
 
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you.
 
 
We give thanks to you for your great glory.
 
 
Lord God, king of heaven, God the Father almighty. Lord, the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the most high, Lord God, lamb of God, Son of the Father.
 
 
Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Who takes away the sins of the world, hear our prayer.
 
Who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
 
You alone are holy, you alone are the Lord, you alone, Jesus Christ are most high.
 
 
With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
 
 
Intermission
 
Symbolum Nicenum
 
5-Part Chorus
Credo in unum Deum.
 
4-Part Chorus
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
 
Soprano & Countertenor Duet
Et in unum dominum, Jesum Christum, filium Dei unigenitum, et ex patre natum ante omnia saecula, 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.
 
5-Part Chorus
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine, et homo factus est.
 
4-Part Chorus
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus, et sepultus est.
 
5-Part Chorus
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.
 
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. Et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
 
5-Part Chorus
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
 
5-part Chorus
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

 
 
 
 
I believe in one God.
 
 
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible.
 
 
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father by whom all things were made. Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven.
 
 
And was conceived by the Virgin Mary of the Holy Spirit, and was made man.
 
 
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried.
 
 
And on the third day he rose again as foretold by the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And he willl come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. His reign will never end.
 
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life, who continues with the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who was spoken of by the prophets. And in one holy, universal, and apostolic church.
 
 
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
 
 
And I await the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting. Amen.
 
Sanctus
 
6-Part Chorus
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria ejus.
 
8-Part Double Chorus
Osanna in excelsis.
 
Tenor Aria
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
 
8-Part Double Chorus
Osanna in excelsis.

 
 
 
 
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of multitudes. Heaven and earth are filled with his glory.
 
 
Praise in the highest to God.
 
 
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
 
 
Praise in the highest to God.
 
Agnus Dei
 
Countertenor Aria
Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
 
4-Part Chorus
Dona nobis pacem.
  
 
 
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
 
 
Give us peace.

 

 
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