J.S.Bach Mass in B minor
Saturday 28 March 2015 at 7.30pm
  Date:  Saturday 28 March 2015
  Time: 7.30pm
  Venue:  St Matthew’s Church, Kettering Road, Northampton, NN1 4RY
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In a questionnaire to the Northampton Bach Choir last year, Bach’s Mass in B minor was voted their favourite choral work. The undisputed masterpiece of Baroque choral music makes a perfect start to our celebration of Masses of Masses, and with the period orchestra Charivari Agréable and a stellar cast of soloists, this concert is not to be missed!

Bach completed the Mass in 1749, a year before his death in 1750. Despite its sheer scale and grandeur, Bach didn't even give the work a name, and it exists only as a collection of itinerant manuscripts. These were clearly intended to form one whole work, for Bach only signed his usual ascription S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be glory) at the conclusion of the Agnus Dei. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel labelled the score Die große catholische Messe (the “Great Catholic Mass”). By 1833 the Swiss collector Nägeli named it simply Messe (Mass), and by 1845 it was known as the Hohe Messe in h-moll (the “High Mass in B minor”). Only in the twentieth century did we finally settle on the title Mass in B minor.

When the work is heard in its entirety, the listener comes away with the impression that this is a piece of music the composer had been building up to writing for the whole of his life. It therefore seems ironic that much of this best-loved work was ‘bottom-drawer’ music – music that Bach had either put by earlier or recycled. The Kyrie and Gloria were written in 1733 for the Elector of Saxony at Dresden, and the Sanctus dates back to 1724. The Qui tollis dates back even earlier, and was most probably based on a cantata from 1714. Add a Credo and an Et incarnatus est movement, however, and the whole piece is given a new lease of life.

The work’s magnificence is evident from the opening bars of the Kyrie, which begins with a mighty five-part setting of the words, followed by a weighty fugue, but the work is as diverse as it is long. The beautiful flighty soprano solo in the Laudamus te, coupled with a violin, is an outpouring of musical religious fervour.

Bach never heard the Mass performed in its entirety; in fact, it was not until 1859, more than a century after Bach died, that the entire work was performed at a single sitting.


Northampton Bach Choir
Charivari Agréable

Soprano: Philippa Hyde
Mezzo Soprano: Vanessa Williamson
Countertenor: James Laing
Tenor: Joseph Cornwell
Bass: Ian Caddy

Bach Mass in B minor, BWV 232 (110’)