Mass in B minor : Work information

Johann Sebastian Bach ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Guy Touvron (Trumpet), Camerata de Versailles, Amaury du Closel (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Mass in B minor
Work number
BWV 232
B minor
1749-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Ivan Pastor
Jean-Martial Golaz
Recording date
1987-01-01 00:00:00

Track listing

  • Agnus Dei 6:25 min


One of the greatest works of the Baroque, the B minor Mass was assembled toward the end of Bach's life in 1748-9 and brings together large-scale mass movements composed over a period of twenty years or more. The Sanctus, for example, dates from 1724 while the Kyrie and Gloria are taken from a Mass of 1733 dedicated to the Dresden court. In contrast, the Credo was composed at the time of assembly, resulting in a deliberate contrast of archaic and modern styles. Such contrast can be seen most clearly in the juxtaposition of the modern 'Et incarnatus', with its unusual vocal lines, and the 'Crucifixus', the earliest music in the Mass.

Bach never heard the Mass performed in its entirety and it wasn't until 1859 that the entire work was performed in Leipzig in a single sitting. In spite of its odd genesis, the 
Mass forms a wonderfully complete survey of Bach's compositional career, assembled during the last days of a great master who was almost completely blind at the time.

The Composers

Johann Sebastian Bach

One of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach (father of C.P.E, J. C. and W. F. Bach) was by far the most significant member of the Bach dynasty of musicians.

He outshone his forebears and contemporaries, but did not always receive the respect he deserved in his own lifetime. After a brief engagement as a violinist in the court of Weimar, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt. In June 1707 he moved to St. Blasius, Mühlhausen, and married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he was appointed court organist in Weimar where he composed most of his works for organ. In 1717, he was appointed Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold at Cöthen, but was refused permission to leave Weimar. The Duke only allowed Bach to go after holding him prisoner for nearly a month.

While at Weimar, Bach wrote his violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos, as well as several suites, sonatas and keyboard works, including several, such as the Inventions and Book I of the 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-tempered Clavier). In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and the next year Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke. Bach resigned the post in Weimar in 1723 to become cantor at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig where he was responsible for music in the four main churches of the city. Here he wrote the Magnificat and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a large quantity of other church music. In Leipzig he eventually took charge of the University “Collegium Musicum” and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.

Over the years that followed, Bach’s interest in composing church music declined somewhat, and he took to writing more keyboard music and cantatas. As his eyesight began to fail, he underwent operations to try and correct the problem, and these may have weakened him in his old age. He died at age 65, having fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers and is still an inexhaustible source of inspiration for musicians. Bach’s compositions are catalogued by means of the prefix BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) and a numbering system which is generally accepted for convenience of reference.

Related Composers: Pachelbel, Telemann, Handel, Couperin

Also influenced: Mendelssohn, Brahms, Stravinsky, Hindemith