|The concept that art should imitate life, and that music can reflect, and indeed affect, our emotional state, is nowhere more clearly felt than in Bach's music. In the B Minor Mass, Bach takes us through the whole gamut of emotions, through joy, sorrow, anger, not least sheer merriment and playfulness. Textures vary from a single voice accompanied by flute and cello to movements employing full choir and orchestra, resplendent with trumpets, oboes and timpani. |
|Bach completed the Mass in the last years of his life. It was never performed in his lifetime - in fact it was not until a hundred years or so had elapsed that the Mass was rediscovered and finally performed.|
|One of the most striking features of the B Minor Mass is Bach's use of 'canon' or 'fugue' in every single movement. Bach was eternally fascinated by the intellectual challenges and possibilities presented by the writing of fugues. For an explanation of fugue the following, written by Norman Lloyd, can hardly be bettered: |
'A fugue is one of the most exciting of contrapuntal forms. It is like a musical conversation with three or more people discussing the same idea. One voice announces the subject then a second answers, usually starting from a different note. The rest of the voices enter in turn. When all the voices have entered the discussion gets hotter - the subject flies from voice to voice. Episodes move the subject from one key to another as it builds up to a climax.
Sometimes the voices are no longer polite. Instead of waiting until one voice has finished stating the whole subject, they pile in on top of one another. Finally the music comes back to the original key and the fugue comes to an end with a final cadence.'
|The music historian Johann Nicolaus Forkel wrote in 1802 that Bach was 'the greatest musical poet and the greatest musical orator that ever existed and probably ever will exist'. In the alternating chorus and solo numbers of the Mass we see some of the finest examples of both these aspects of his art.|
|Many of the movements of this huge work can be found to be re-workings of earlier works by the composer, perhaps strangely, not all of them sacred. The Osanna for instance, comes from a secular cantata. The Kyrie section was originally composed as mourning music for the death of Frederick Augustus Elector of Saxony, while the Gloria was written in celebration of the accession of his successor. |
|Some may see the fact that Bach borrowed from his own writing as a 'cop-out'. More interesting is the fact that he was able, from works written over a span of more than 30 years, to produce a work that hangs together so perfectly. |
|Questions arise as to why Bach, a staunch Lutheran all his life, should have written a Catholic Mass at all. Its length and shape clearly indicate that it was never intended to be used in a church service. The most likely explanation seems to be that Bach wanted to leave to posterity a consummate work in each genre (the Art of Fugue and A Musical Offering, which, like the Mass, were completed towards the end of his life, may have been similarly conceived) as a monument to his own life and work, and as a celebration of life itself. |
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