Bach's church music in Latin

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Church music in Latin
  • 191
  • 232 to 243
Cantata, Mass, Short masses and Magnificat by J. S. Bach
Zamek v Lyse nad Labem.jpg
Lysa castle, possibly the location of performances of BWV 233 to 236
Related most movements derived from cantata movements
Composed 1723 (1723)-1749 (1749) – Leipzig
Text Magnificat — one or more parts of Latin mass liturgical texts
Scoring soloists, choir and orchestra

Bach's church music in Latin is limited to about ten compositions: as he was a Lutheran church musician, and devoted to the composition of sacred music in German, he wrote more than 200 cantatas for the liturgy, most of them in Leipzig. Also in Leipzig he made a German version of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater.

Bach's liturgical compositions in Latin, from the first version of his Magnificat to the final vesion of his Mass in B minor, all originated in his Leipzig period.


Further information: Magnificat (Bach)

Bach composed a setting of the Magnificat in 1723 (BWV 243a), and then significantly revised it in 1733 (BWV 243).

Settings of (parts of) the Latin mass liturgy[edit]

A mass or missa of Johann Sebastian Bach is in general a composition of the Latin Mass by the German Baroque composer. More specifically, Missa (sometimes Missa brevis or Lutheran Mass) refers to one of his four short masses in F major, A major, G minor and G major, BWV 233 to 236. These masses consist of a Kyrie and a Gloria. Bach composed an especially extensive setting, the Missa in B minor, in 1733 for presentation to the royal court in Dresden. It became, in the last years of his life and in revised form, the first two sections of his only setting of the complete ordinary of the Mass, known today as the Mass in B minor, BWV 232.

Separate settings of the Sanctus and Gloria - Mass in B minor[edit]

BWV 237 to 241 are separate settings of the Sanctus. The first two of these (C major, BWV 237 and D major, BWV 238) were composed in 1723, his first year in Leipzig. The next year he composed a Sanctus for six vocal parts and elaborate orchestral score for the Christmas service. This Sanctus was in Bach's last few years added to the 1733 Missa, and so integrated into wat became his Mass in B minor.

For a Christmas service sometime in the mid-1740s (between 1743 and 1746) Bach used four movements of the Gloria from the 1733 Missa for the cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191.[1]

Bach's short masses[edit]

Bach wrote four other settings of Kyrie and Gloria, sometimes called Missa brevis (plural: Missae breves). The attribute brevis in this case means short in words, unlike the Missa brevis of the classical period which is short in duration. Sometimes the works are termed Lutheran mass, because the combination of only Kyrie and Gloria was used more frequently in the Lutheran liturgy.

They seem to have been intended for liturgical use, considering a performance time of about 20 minutes each, the average duration of a Bach cantata. They may have been composed around 1738/39.[2] Possibly they were written for Count Franz Anton von Sporck or performed by him in Lysá.[3]

Each Missa is in six movements, the Kyrie one choral movement in three sections, the Gloria in five movements. The first and last movement of the Gloria are also choral, framing three arias for different voice types. The music consists mostly of parodies of cantata movements.[4] He changed the music slightly to adjust to the Latin words, but kept the original instrumentation. The opening chorus of Es wartet alles auf dich, BWV 187, became the final movement of the Missa in G minor, Cum sancto spiritu. Occasionally he switched a voice part, for example he asked for a tenor in the Quoniam of that Missa, a parody of the soprano aria Halt ich nur fest an ihm of that cantata.

The four masses are

Recordings of all Missae breves[edit]


  1. ^ Peter Williams, J.S. Bach: A Life in Music, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 259, ISBN=978-0-521-87074-0}
  2. ^ Christoph Wolff: Johann Sebastian Bach, 2nd edition 2007. S. Fischer, Frankfurt, ISBN 978-3-596-16739-5
  3. ^ "Count Frantisek Antonin von Sporck". Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Margaret Steinitz. "Bach's Latin Church Music". London Bach Society. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  5. ^ Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233–242 on
  6. ^ "Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 Recordings - Part 1". Retrieved 20 September 2010. 

External links[edit]