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Published on Nov 4, 2009
Dresdner Philharmonic, dir.: Martin Flämig
Bach did not give the work a title; instead, in the score the four parts of the Latin Mass are each given their own title page—"Kyrie", "Gloria", "Symbolum Nicenum" (otherwise known as the "Credo"), and "Sanctus, Hosanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei"—and simply bundled together. Indeed, the different sections call for different numbers and arrangements of performers, giving rise to the theory that Bach did not ever expect the work to be performed in its entirety. On the other hand, the parts in the manuscript are numbered from 1 to 4, and Bach's usual closing formula (S.D.G = Soli Deo Gloria) is only found at the end of the Dona Nobis Pacem. Because of its length—nearly two hours of music—it was never performed in its entirety as part of a church liturgy.
Although Bach was a committed Lutheran, it is uncertain whether he composed it for the Lutheran liturgy or composed it for the Elector of Saxony who had just been elected king of Poland and therefore had to convert to Catholicism. Bach produced four short masses (comprising [these two sections] the Kyrie and Gloria only) for liturgical use.
Early in 1733 Augustus II, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, died. Five months of mourning followed, during which all public music-making was temporarily suspended. Bach used the opportunity to work on the composition of a Missa, a portion of the liturgy sung in Latin and common to both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic rites.
His aim was to dedicate the work to the new sovereign Augustus III, a Catholic, and by doing so to hope to improve his own standing. On its completion, Bach visited Augustus and presented him with a copy of the Missa, together with a petition to be given a court title, dated July 27, 1733. The petition did not meet with immediate success, but Bach did eventually get his title: he was made court composer to Augustus in 1736.
Some scholars have assumed that the Missa was first performed in Leipzig in April, 1733 during the festival of the Oath of Allegiance to Augustus III. It consisted of settings of the Kyrie and Gloria that now comprise the first part of the Mass in B Minor. There is, however, no proof for this assumption and no performance parts for a performance in Leipzig exist.
The performance material Bach submitted to Augustus on July 27, 1733 was written on Dresden-made paper, in the hand of Bach, his wife Anna Magdalena, sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, and a Dresden copyist. This suggests the piece was written out in Dresden by the Bach family for a July performance in the Sophienkirche (where Wilhelm Friedemann was organist), or perhaps the Hofkirche im Theater.
At what point Bach decided to expand the Missa into a full-blown setting of the Catholic Mass is not known. Some researchers believe that the Symbolum Nicenum (or the Credo) was composed between 1742 and 1745, but others think it predates the Missa and was first heard in 1732. The remaining parts (Sanctus, Osanna, Benedictus and Agnus Dei et Dona nobis pacem) were all added in the late 1740s.
Wolfgang Osthoff and other scholars have suggested that Bach assembled the Missa Tota for performance at the dedication of the new Hofkirche in Dresden, which was begun in 1738 and was nearing completion by the late 1740s. However, the building was not completed until 1751, and Bach's death in July, 1750 prevented his Mass from being submitted for use at the dedication. Instead, Johann Adolph Hasse's Mass in D minor was performed, a work with many similarities to Bach's Mass.(Wikipedia)