With the 18th Century Sinfonia.
Bach composed the Mass in B Minor towards the end of his life although, in reality, it is a compendium of a number of earlier works combined with compositions designed to complete a full mass setting. The earlier works include movements composed for the Mass text, for example the Sanctus, but others, for example, Et resurrexit, have been shown to have their origin in non-religious music, such as concertos. This should come as no surprise, as the eighteenth century convention was to write music for performance without an assumption that the music would be heard again in its original form. Such borrowings are common in other well-known works of the time, including Handel’s Messiah. We owe much to Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel and, in the nineteenth century, Mendelssohn, for ensuring the survival of the work and its gradual re-introduction into frequent performance.
There is a stylistic continuity in the mass because each movement speaks in Bach’s voice. The diversity of styles reflects the diverse interests of the composer. Thus the opening movement of the Credo and it’s Confiteor towards the end are fugal movements with plainsong as their basis – perhaps the ‘strict’ style associated with Bach’s organ music. Other movements sound much more operatic, such as the Laudamus te. There is much florid writing for the choral voices, demanding coloratura (‘runs’ for the voice) technique of a very high level which reflects Bach’s interest in Italian opera. Within such diversity there is often much careful scaffolding in terms of musical structure – the Credo has been shown to have an overall arch-like structure which lends its varied movements convincing shape.
The use of orchestra and voices in the mass is one of its strongest features. Once again, diversity is the key. The choral movements employ between four and eight-part writing (the Osanna movement) with a characteristic use of two soprano lines in many movements to give a rich, five-part texture overall. The trumpets and drums are often a key feature of the choral movements, lending brilliance and sonority. Other movements make striking use of wind instruments, for example the oboe in Qui sedes and the flutes in Crucifixus. Underpinning these are the strings, which move between doubling the voices and providing strong rhythmic drive in many choral and solo movements.
Tickets: £18, £12 and £6
(students and children £5)
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