1. I. MISSA -  KYRIE
    Chorus: Kyrie eleison (10:29)
  2. Duet: Christe eleison (4:47)
    Juliannne Baird & Judith Nelson
  3. Chorus: Kyrie eleison (2:36)

    Chorus: Gloria in excelsis Deo (1:47)
  5. Chorus: Et in terra pax (4:05)

  6. Aria: Laudamus te (4:10)
    Judith Nelson
  7. Chorus: Gratias agimus tibi (2:39)

  8. Duet: Domine Deus (5:42)
    Nancy Zylstra, Patrick Romano
  9. Chorus: Qui tollis peccata mundi (3:05)

  10. Aria: Qui sedes ad dextram Patris (4:24)
    Zoila Muñoz
  11. Aria: Quoniam tu solus sanctus (4:24) 
    James Weaver
  12. Chorus: Cum Sancto Spiritu (3:43)

    Chorus: Credo in unum Deum (1:48)
  2. Chorus: Patrem omnipotentem (1:53)

  3. Duet: Et in unum Dominum (4:21)
    Julianne Baird, Steven Rickards
  4. Chorus: Et incarnatus est (3:31)

  5. Chorus: Crucifixus (3:10)

  6. Chorus: Et resurrexit (4:05)

  7. Aria: Et in Spiritum sanctum Dominum (5:20)
    William Sharp
  8. Chorus: Confiteor (3:43)

  9. Chorus: Et expecto (2:12)

    Chorus: Sanctus (4:51)
    Chorus: Osanna in excelsis (2:27)
  12. Aria: Benedictus (4:33)
    Jeffrey Thomas
  13. Chorus: Osanna in excelsis (2:32)

  14. Aria: Agnus Dei (6:15)
    Jennifer Lane
  15. Chorus: Dona nobis pacem (3:31)

Program Notes

Bach’s motivations to compile the Mass in B Minor, and the variety of styles that he chose to chronicle, give us tremendous insight into so many burning questions about his self-identity as composer, theologian, and craftsman. As a young man, he was fascinated by the styles of his forbears; mid-career, despite the criticisms from his contemporaries that his music was old-fashioned and fussy, he implemented modern devices from opera and dance better than any other; and at the end of his life—as evidenced by the 16th-century stile antico compositional techniques that he incorporated with never-before-realized perfection into the Mass in B Minor—he again looked backwards as if to bow in homage one last time to the great masters of the expired traditions that he honored and revered. Bach accepted his world and found no need to dismiss or look beyond the methodologies for the creation of art, or the answers to life’s most difficult questions that were provided by his culture, by his religion, and by his ancestry. Rather, he sought to perfect all of those ideals and solutions in a way that further glorified what he saw as the ideal expression of life’s meaning and purpose.

The genesis of the Mass in B Minor—so admired for its colossal dimensions and encyclopedic stylistic variety—is actually a long history of separable parts. Although Bach compiled the music for this work in the last years of his life (1748-1749), most of the movements had been composed long before or were reworked from earlier pieces. The origins of the Mass date back to Christmas day of 1724—the day on which the Sanctus was first performed. Indeed, it was entirely in keeping with Lutheran liturgical practice of this time to insert individual parts of the Latin Mass Ordinary into the predominantly vernacular liturgy.

Two other sections—the Kyrie and Gloria—anticipate the compilation of the Mass by a considerable amount of time. In 1733, Bach presented a manuscript of the Kyrie and Gloria (titled Missa) to the new Elector Friedrich August II in Dresden; he also attached to this an ingratiating petition for a titled position in the Elector’s Hofkapelle, which he hoped would give him additional stability in his post as Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Three years earlier, Bach had been threatened by the political machinations of the head Leipzig Burgermeister, Jakob Born, who tried to restore the original requisites for the position of Kantor and thus disqualify Bach from his job. Although this initiative failed, Bach continued to be frustrated with the limited musical resources in Leipzig and with the behavior of the authorities. (In the end, Bach had to wait until 1736 to receive the requested court title, that—though it perhaps gave to him a measurable increase in rank—did not dispel the difficulties that persisted in his career at the Thomaskirche.) As John Butt notes in the Cambridge Music Handbook on the Mass in B Minor, Bach seems to have composed the Kyrie and Gloria especially to suit the taste of the Dresden court, in that they demonstrate several style characteristics typical of mass settings at Dresden: the writing for two soprano parts, the setting of the “Christe eleison” as a duet, the absence of da capo arias, and the use of independent instrumental parts. (This invaluable guide examines the Mass from a variety of perspectives and provides an overview of the latest scholarly discoveries.) It is unknown whether these two sections were performed around the time of their presentation. The music for the Gloria, however, shows up again in the mid-1740s, appearing in Bach’s Latin cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191.

For most of the parts of the Mass, Bach borrowed music from his own compositions. Arias, duets, instrumental concertos, and cantata choruses all provide possible sources for the various movements. Some of the sections—such as the breathtaking aria “Agnus Dei”—represent the third version of a musical model; the music for the chorus, “Et expecto”, appears in at least three other settings.

Bach gathered the parts of the Mass in B Minor into four discrete manuscripts, to which he assigned a numerical order. Part I consists of the Kyrie/Gloria Missa of 1733; Part II the Symbolum Nicenum or Credo; Part III the Sanctus; and Part IV the Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, et Dona nobis pacem. Unlike the Missa and Sanctus, the Symbolum Nicenum seems not to have existed before the final compilation. This section also contains the only newly composed parts of the Mass. In fact, only the “Confiteor” is regarded without doubt to be an original composition; Bach’s alterations in the autograph of the opening fugue subject give evidence that no previous manuscript could have existed. Moreover, like the first “Credo” section, the “Confiteor” features a plainchant cantus firmus that corresponds to the specific text. The “Et incarnatus est” was added to the Symbolum Nicenum during the compilation and may also represent a new composition.

There is no record of a performance of the complete Mass in B Minor in Bach’s lifetime. Long after his father’s death, C.P.E. Bach conducted a performance in 1786 of the Symbolum Nicenum in a concert that included works by himself and Handel. Performances in the first part of the 19th century followed this example, presenting only extracts of the Mass. Only in the latter half of the century did the work see performance as an integral composition.

Johann Sebastian Bach holding a page of his manuscript of Fourteen Canons on the Goldberg Ground, circa 1748, by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (1695-1774).

Bach’s autograph score of Kyrie (detail): Note the “fair” hand at the bottom of the image, the less meticulous “revision” hand at the top, and the poorly aligned “composing” hand in the center where the text appears, especially in the soprano I, soprano II, and alto parts.

Recent scholarship that has illuminated the often difficult task of reliably dating the various elements of the complete Mass in B Minor has been all but conclusive. Debates still continue about the origins of a number of movements that seem to be parodies of pre-existing compositions. When used in the context of Bach’s compositional methods, “parody” simply refers to Bach’s practice of borrowing music from his own earlier compositions. Typically the context would change, but the music would not.

The methods of determining the origins of the various movements that Bach compiled to assemble the Mass in B Minor are several, but the most interesting, and problematic, is that of calligraphic analysis. Within the autograph score, three types of Bach’s handwriting have been identified: the so-called “fair” hand, characterized by meticulously spaced notes, vertically upright note stems, and calligraphic text; the “revision” hand, characterized by the fluent copying of notes for one group of instruments or voices, but poorly spaced and often corrected notes in another part, and often cluttered verbal underlay (the result of applying a new text to pre-existing musical material); and the “composing” hand, characterized by diagonal note stems, uneven note spacing, corrections, and generally poor calligraphy. Through the identification of these handwriting styles, much can be determined regarding the originality of the musical material; that is, whether or not a piece was pre-existing, a parody of an earlier work, or newly composed.

Several movements contain more than one type of handwriting. For example, the opening Kyrie contains all three. The initial four bars show the revision hand for the instrumental parts, which were put to paper first, and the composing hand for the vocal parts. Then, the main body of the Kyrie is in the fair hand, indicating a pre-existing work. Generally, those movements in the fair or revision hands are considered to be pre-existing or parodies. But Bach’s health was poor by the time he compiled the complete mass (or, missa tota), and there are arguments as to whether or not his infirmity led him to preliminarily sketch new music before committing it to the final version of the score, thus clouding the issue in the cases of music not in the composing hand and that cannot be found among his earlier surviving works.

Such technical detective work does not, however, shed light on the most burning question of all: Why did Bach compile, or assemble, a work for which he had no plans or need for performance? We know that in Bach’s last years, he set his hand to two other summative documents that would become monuments of his compositional legacy. In 1747, The Musical Offering was composed and very shortly thereafter published, and The Art of the Fugue, a collection of fugues and canons that exhaustively catalogues the contrapuntal possibilities of one predominant fugue subject, was copied out by Bach in 1745 and published in its final, yet incomplete, form in 1751 (one year after his death). Bach was clearly reading the writing on the wall regarding his “old school” craftsmanship. Compositional styles had already changed quite dramatically, and the fact that Bach’s music was more or less always considered to be old-fashioned further exacerbated his fears that a century of contrapuntal mastery—begun by his predecessors—was simply going down the drain. He had no reason to believe that any of his church cantatas would survive. Indeed, Bach’s own compositions essentially replaced those of the previous Leipzig Kantor, and newly composed works by whomever would be his successor would surely replace his. But complete settings of the choral movements from the Ordinary of the Mass had survived as time capsules from previous centuries. And new Age of Enlightenment trends would further secure the longevity of such “masterworks” (a concept that was still mostly outside of the consciousness of artists and their patrons). By encapsulating works from a span of at least thirty-five years—the “Crucifixus” is borrowed from music composed in 1714, and the new movements including “Confiteor” were composed in 1749—Bach was able to leave behind a lasting testament to his art.

— © 2019 Notes by Jeffrey Thomas & Kristi Brown-Montesano





Coro / Chorus

Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy

Duetto / Duet (Soprano I, Soprano II)
Julianne Baird, Judith Nelson

Christe eleison.

Christ, have mercy.

Coro / Chorus

Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.


Coro / Chorus

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Glory be to God in the highest.

Coro / Chorus

Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

And in earth peace to men of good will.

Aria / Aria (Soprano II)
Judith Nelson; Elizabeth Blumenstock, violino

Laudamus te; benedicimus te; adoramus te; glorificamus te.

We praise thee; we bless thee, we worship thee; we glorify thee.

Coro / Chorus

Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.

We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.

Duetto / Duet (Soprano I, Tenore)
Nancy Zylstra, Patrick Romano; Sandra Miller, flauto traverso

Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe altissime: Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris:

Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty. O Lord, the only-begotten Son Jesus Christ most high: Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father:

Coro / Chorus

Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis: Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram:

Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us: Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer:

Aria / Aria (Alto)
Zoila Muñoz; John Abberger, oboe

Qui sedes ad dextram Patris, miserere nobis:

Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us:

Aria / Aria (Basso)
James Weaver; Derek Conrod, corno da caccia

Quoniam tu solus sanctus, Tu solus Dominus, Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe:

For thou only art holy, thou only art the Lord, thou only art the most high, Jesus Christ:

Coro / Chorus

Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

With the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father. Amen.



Coro / Chorus

Credo in unum Deum.

I believe in one God.

Coro / Chorus

Patrem omnipotentem, Creator coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium:

the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:

Duetto / Duet (Soprano I, Alto)
Julianne Baird, Steven Rickards

Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula: Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, Genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri, per quem omnia facta sunt: Qui Propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de coelis:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds: God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made: who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven:

Coro / Chorus

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine, et homo factus est.

and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man.

Coro / Chorus

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est.

He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, he suffered and was buried.

Coro / Chorus

Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum scripturas: Et ascendit in coelum. Sedet ad dextram Dei Patris. Et iterum venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos, cujus regni non erit finis.

And the third day he rose again according to the scriptures; and ascended into heaven. He sitteth at the right hand of God the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Aria / Aria (Basso)
William Sharp (JA, GR, MB, SL, EM)

Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre Filioque procedit: Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per prophetas. Et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam.

And in the Holy Ghost the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets. And in one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Coro / Chorus

Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins,

Coro / Chorus

Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.


Coro / Chorus

Sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria ejus.

Holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of his glory.


Coro / Chorus

Osanna in excelsis.

Hosanna in the highest.

Aria / Aria (Tenore)
Jeffrey Thomas; Sandra Miller, flauto traverso (LO, SL, EM)

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Coro / Chorus

Osanna in excelsis.

Hosanna in the highest.

Aria / Aria (Alto)
Jennifer Lane

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

Coro / Chorus

Dona nobis pacem.

Grant us peace.

The Musicians

performing on period instruments
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Violino I
Elizabeth Blumenstock (leader)
Jörg-Michael Schwarz
Jolianne von Einem

Violino II
Michael Sand
Sandra Schwarz
Sally Butt

Katherine Kyme
Anthony Martin
George Thomson

Elisabeth LeGuin
Loretta O’Sullivan

Steven Lehning

Flauto traverso
Sandra Miller
Kathleen Kraft

John Abberger
Gonzalo Ruiz
Mark Maslow

Oboe d’amore
John Abberger
Gonzalo Ruiz

Marilyn Boenau
Thomas Sefcovic

Bassono grosso
Thomas Sefcovic

Corno da caccia
Derek Conrod

Fred Holmgren
Barry Baugess
Adam Gordon

John Grimes

Eric Milnes


Soprano I
Julianne Baird
Nancy Zylstra

Soprano II
Judith Nelson

Jennifer Lane
Zoila Muñoz
Steven Rickards

Patrick Romano
Jeffrey Thomas

William Sharp
James Weaver


Soprano I
Julianne Baird
Julia Earl
Ruth Escher
Lisa Mooyman
Nancy Zylstra

Soprano II
Jane Boothroyd
Alexandra Ivanoff
Claire Kelm
Judith Nelson
Magen Solomon

Jennifer Lane
Linda Liebschutz
Zoila Muñoz
Steven Rickards

Edward Betts
David Munderloh
Neal Rogers
Patrick Romano
John Rouse

Charles Fidlar
Thomas Hart
Richard Morrison
William Sharp
James Weaver

Additional Information

Session Producers: John Butt & Joseph Spencer

Recording Engineer & Editor: Peter Nothnagel

Cover Art: Detail from Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence.

  Recorded June 15-18, 1992 at St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, CA

This recording was made possible entirely through the contributions of the following individuals and corporations, to whom we are most grateful:

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Jose & Carol Alonso
Robert Andrews
Prof. & Mrs. Frederick Balderston
Mr. James F. Bartram
W. Dieter Bergman, M.D.
Ed & Gael Betts
Marilyn Boenau
Alan & Kerry Bostrom
Peter B. Brown
Melinda Buchanan
Steven E. Carl
Sean Casey
Mike Chastain
Eve Citrin
Dennis M. Clark
Robert Cook
Richard Crandall
Kent Crispin
Eleanor Crary
Syd Cushman
Mary Hall Deissler
Eric Denys & Sonja DeClereq
Jillon S. Dupree
Rona Elbert
G. Pete Encinas
F. Conger Fawcett
Barbara Thomas Fexa
Peter Fisher
George & Judy Fleming

Garrett & Ayame Flint 
Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Ford 
Mary Gerber 
Luanne Gilbert 
Franz Grumme 
John H. Gullett, M.D. 
Thalia Polos Guy 
Blanca Haendler 
William Hamilton 
Jean Hargrove 
Kenneth Hecht 
Dave Hedley 
F. Tracy Henderson 
Marilyn Hulter 
W. A. Humphries 
Ken Johnson 
Daniel Kahn 
Betty Kaplan 
Dr. Eugene Kaplan 
Dr. & Mrs. James Kelly 
Joseph Klems 
Patricia Kline 
Margarita L. Lacey 
Alfred J. Law 
Elisabeth LeGuin 
Dr. & Mrs. Richard Leonards 
Mary Linton 
David Lytle 
John Mark, M.D. 
In Memory of Gilbert J. Mata, Jr. 
Kathleen D. Mayer 
Patricia McEveney 
Lee & Alan McRae 
Laura Migliori 
Dr. & Mrs. Donald K. Mousel 
Owen Mulholland 
Gladys Nelson 
Anthony Newcomb 
Dr. & Mrs. Paul Ogden 
Gordon Orear 

Jeffrey & Monica Pawlan 
Timothy Pfaff 
Lindsey Phillips 
Elizabeth Pschorr 
Donald Pulver 
Ray Riess 
James & Maxine Risley
Timothy Sampson 
San Francisco Magnetic Resonance
Michael & Gini Savage 
Robert M. Scarlett 
Julius Schindler 
Vincent Schrupp 
James Schwabacher 
Pam & John Sebastian 
Nina Shoehalter 
Ellen Siegelman 
Genny Smith 
Kermit & Patricia Smith 
Sheryl Smith 
James R. Solomon 
Richard Stapper 
Mr. & Mrs. John Stuppin 
Ellen Thiel 
John W. Thomas 
Mitzi Thornton 
Barbara J. Trask & Ger van den Engh 
Dr. & Mrs. Kwei Sang U 
Marilyn Van de Loo 
Clyde Wahrhaftig 
Linda Walsh 
Phyllis A. Watts 
Eleanor Weil 
Irving & Thelma Wiener 
Warren & Nancy Wilson 
Peter & Barbara Winkelstein 
Marty & Barbara Winter 
Patrick Y. Wong, M.D. 
Thomas Wright

The Music Director and Artists of ABS would also like to thank the following for their support and assistance: The Board of Directors of the American Bach Soloists, Sandra M. Ogden, President; The Reverend William Rankin, the Staff, and the Parishioners of St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere, CA; Cal Performances, Robert Cole, Director; John Miner; and countless other individuals whose generosity and tirelessness helped bring this project to fruition. June, 1992

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