Missa brevis

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A Missa brevis (Latin, pl. Missae breves) is literally a "short Mass".

The term is applied to musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass that are either (a) partial, such as when only the Kyrie and Gloria are set, or (b) concise, so that most or all of the sections can be sung in a short period of time.

The concise approach is found in the mostly syllabic settings of the 16th century, e.g. in Lassus' Missa venatorum (Hunters' Mass) and in the custom of "telescoping" (or simultaneous singing by different voices) in 18th-century masses.

Partial settings are seen in both the Roman and Lutheran traditions, where many works consist of the Kyrie and Gloria. Short Lutheran settings are often called simply "Missa" or "Messe," as opposed to "Missa tota," or complete Mass, and similar terminology is used for many Anglican Masses that omit, or rather leave to be spoken, the Creed.

Missa brevis is also occasionally applied to the Deutsche Singmesse where the spoken Low Mass is accompanied by music.

A weekday Mass (when the Gloria and Credo are not said) is usually called Missa ferialis instead.


Missa is the Latin word for Mass and can refer both to the invariable words of the Mass and also to their musical setting:

Lutheran Missa[edit]

See also: Missa (Bach)

Johann Sebastian Bach and other Lutherans composed works called Missae consisting only of Kyrie in Greek and Gloria in Latin. These masses came to be called Missae breves because they are shorter in words, the opposite being Missae totae (complete Masses).

Bach wrote four so-called Lutherische Messen"[1] and in 1733 the Mass for the Dresden court (Kyrie and Gloria) that later became part of his only missa tota, to be called Mass in B minor.

The four masses are

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel wrote a Deutsche Messe on the words of Kyrie and Gloria in German.

Classical period Missa brevis[edit]

For composers of the classical period such as Mozart missa brevis meant "short in duration" – as opposed to "missa longa" (long mass), a term that Leopold Mozart used for his son's K. 262[3] – rendering the complete words of the liturgy. As the words were well known some composers had different voice parts recite simultaneously different sections of long texts. This is especially characteristic of Austrian masses in the Gloria and the Credo.

French Messe basse[edit]

A messe basse is simply a Low Mass, which may be entirely spoken in a low voice to the accompaniment of music. It is the equivalent of the Deutsche Singmesse. Fauré's Messe basse is a famous example.

German and Austrian Romantic masses[edit]

Schubert's Deutsche Messe, D. 872, is based on German songs, set for 4-part-choir, to be sung during the recitation of the parts of the liturgy. The three Choral-Messen (Windhaager Messe, Kronstorfer Messe and Messe für den Gründonnerstag), which Bruckner composed between 1842 and 1844, were intended for the celebration of the Mass in the villages Windhaag and Kronstorf, where he was schoolteacher's assistant. The Missa canonica of Johannes Brahms is composed of Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, reflecting the widespread practice of mixing settings.[citation needed]


Notable examples are by composers such as


  1. ^ Bach Lutherische Messen, Study Score based on the NBA, Bärenreiter-Verlag (1987)
  2. ^ Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233–242 on bach-cantatas
  3. ^ Missa longa in C Carus