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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Bach: Mass in B Minor

12/01/2013 1:00 pm
12/01/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Bach's magnum opus choral composition is a monument in the history of Western art music. It's also one of the most recorded sacred works in the classical music repertoire. Yet, there is no hard historical evidence that it was ever performed in Bach's lifetime. Certainly not in an actual liturgical context, because Bach's musical settings of the Latin text are too long for practical use in church. To be specific about the genre into which it falls, Bach's Mass in B Minor is a "parody mass." Between 1733 and 1738 Bach assembled and adapted its segments from previously composed items from his Lutheran church cantatas and separate numbers he had set of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic liturgy.

Our station has acquired the latest historically-informed recorded interpretation of the B Minor Mass. It was made in Prague at the beginning of this year for release later in 2013 through the Accent label. Vaclav Luks directs the group of Czech singers and players he organized in 2005,,the Collegium 1704 period instrumentalists and the Collegium Vocale 1704. This group and its leader won international praise for their two previous recordings for Accent of the sacred choral works of the Bohemian bass viol player and composer Johann Dismas Zelenka (1679-1743). Zelenka composed in a conservative musical style very similar to that of the Cantor of Leipzig.

Musicological research reveals that Bach and Zelenka knew of each other and were familiar with each other's music and were in correspondence. There was a long existing cultural connection between Prague in Bohemia and Dresden in Saxony. As a Bohemian musician employed at the royal Saxon court in Dresden, Zelenka seems to have facilitated Bach's submission of the complete score of the Mass in B Minor to his patron, the royal Elector of Saxony. Zelenka may even have been trying to set up a performance of Bach's mass in Vienna.