Transanational Research Associates

Mass in B Minor

(1733 Ė 1748)

Johann Sebastian Bach

Philippe Herrweghe, Director, Collegium Vocale of Ghent on Harmonia Mundi


For someone who has no idea of what a Catholic Mass is, or perhaps should be each Sunday, this piece provides quite an earful. Bachís Mass in B Minor, written over a 15 year period, combines the magnificent glory of Catholic worship with the somber penitential mood of the Lutheran tradition. Musically, the key of B Minor affords a workable balance and mixture of moods, achieving a stunning and captivating effect throughout.

The Collegium Vocale, a twenty-three member chorus financed in part by the Provincial Government of East Flanders in Belgium, does more than justice to Bachís intentions. They use period instrumentation as orchestral support and reflect the scholarly interpretive insight of an experienced director known worldwide.

The opening Kyrie Eleison, somewhat less Baroque in its rendering than one expects, evokes an emotional response in the listener who recognizes in this prayer manís fundamental need to solicit Godís mercy. These plaintiff tones gradually break into pure excitement in the shattering Gloria in Excelsis Deo, with trumpets, winds and strings combining with voice in echoing crescendos producing breathtaking beauty. The Et Resurrexit and Sanctus also mirror the composerís original intent, one of ultimate glorification of God by man. The awe-inspiring Sanctus is probably the high point of the B Minor Mass in terms of sheer choral and orchestral force, whereas the countertenor (or alto) who sings the Agnus Dei, accompanied by strings, is arguably the single most convincing soloist.

It seems as if the Mass in B Minor is the summation of Bachís contribution to the Baroque music of his era, since it contains a full range of compositional expertise, whether purposefully pious and reflective in the Lutheran sense, or uplifting, illuminating and majestic in the Catholic tradition.

--Art Madsen, M.Ed.