Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) Mass in B minor BWV 232
Urtext edited by Joshua Rifkin [solos,mix ch,orch] duration: 110'
solos: SSATB – choir: SSATB – 2.3(2ob d’am).0.2. – 184.108.40.206. – timp – str – Bc
150 years of publication history had to elapse until a music text of the Mass in B minor was published that truly goes back to Johann Sebastian Bach's “definitive version", inasmuch as it can be determined.
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The new "Breitkopf Urtext" edition by Joshua Rifkin draws on all relevant sources to restore the Mass to the state in which Bach left it for posterity. This means, first, a clear separation of the Kyrie and Gloria from the earlier Missa of 1733. Moreover, in the Credo the "Symbolum Nicenum" Rifkin has faced the challenge of sweeping away the overlay of additions by C.P.E. Bach and eliminating his alterations more thoroughly than Friedrich Smend had in the Neue Bach Ausgabe of 1954 and in later editions as well.
"The NBA edition of this work has long been thought to be unsatisfactory, so in this case Breitkopf study score is better as well as a few euros cheaper." (Early Music Review)
The Mass in B minor is Bach’s last great work of art. Its genesis goes back to the period immediately preceding his death, in all likelihood between August 1748 and spring 1750. During this period, no other major project occupied Bach other than the revision and printing of the Kunst der Fuge, the substantial part of which had been written earlier. Of course, the Mass in B minor can only be considered as a new work to a limited extent. Bach had compiled the first part – the Missa comprising the Kyrie and Gloria – from earlier works in 1733 when he applied for a Kapellmeister title at the Electoral court of Dresden. He now revised the autograph score, which supplied the groundwork for his new project, the complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass. Yet even the newly composed sections – the Credo, called Symbolum Nicenum here; the Sanctus that ends on the “Pleni” following the Lutheran practice; and the remaining movements placed under the collective title Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei et Dona nobis pacem – also trace their parentage to earlier sources, most of which had different texts. Only the “Confiteor” and perhaps also the “Et incarnatus est” do not seem to be parodies of earlier pieces. We still do not know why he set to music “the great Catholic Mass,” as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach calls it in his “catalogue of effects,” the Nachlassverzeichnis. Many attempts have been made to identify an outward reason for the work, but none seem immediately plausible. It is certainly conceivable that Bach wanted to present a paragon of vocal composition while at the same time contributing to the venerable musical genre of the Mass, still the most sophisticated outside of the opera.
The Mass seems to have acquired a certain reputation already within a few years after the composer’s death. In 1755 Bach’s former pupil Christoph Nichelmann printed the opening measures along with laudatory comments in his treatise Die Melodie nach ihrem Wesen sowohl, als nach ihren Eigenschaften. About 1765 the Berlin musician Johann Friedrich Hering, an avid collector of Bach’s works, transcribed a copy of the autograph score bequeathed to Carl Philipp Emanuel; in 1769 another Bach pupil, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, also commissioned a copy of the score. C. P. E. Bach apparently attached a special importance to the Symbolum Nicenum, which he performed at a benefit concert in Hamburg in 1786 and possibly even earlier. No fewer than three copies of the score stem from his immediate circle.
A series of copies made from the score commissioned by Kirnberger ensured that the Mass was further disseminated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Through Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the work made it to Vienna and a copy was acquired by Joseph Haydn. The fact that Beethoven also tried to obtain a copy of the Mass in B minor testifies to the interest that the work was arousing at that time – most likely the only vocal work of Bach’s to attract such a great deal of attention before Mendelssohn’s first nineteenth century performance of the St. Matthew Passion. In 1818 the Zurich publisher Hans Georg Nägeli, who had acquired the autograph score from the estate of Carl Philipp Emanuel, announced the forthcoming publication of “the greatest musical artwork of all times and peoples.” Yet it took him until 1833 to bring out the Missa in a joint edition with the Bonn publisher N. Simrock, and twelve more years before his son Hermann Nägeli printed the remaining sections, again in conjunction with Simrock. Shortly thereafter Simrock issued his own newly engraved reprint of the complete Mass.
The Mass in B minor was published in the complete edition of the Bach-Gesellschaft in 1856. The genesis of this edition was anything but uncomplicated. Since Hermann Nägeli blocked all access to the autograph, the editor Julius Rietz was obliged to base his work mostly on descendants of the Kirnberger copy. For Part I, he was able to consult the parts of the Missa – chiefly autographic and diverging from the score in several respects – which Bach had presented to the Dresden court in 1733. However, a few months after Rietz had concluded his work, the Bach-Gesellschaft obtained the autograph through a ruse, and shortly thereafter produced a revised new edition of Parts II–IV. Nevertheless, Rietz apparently then undertook only a cursory examination of the autograph; in particular, he did not recognize the many entries made by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in the Symbolum Nicenum as such, and thus incorporated them into his edition. Part I was also not free of error: here the editor combined the readings of the score and parts rather indiscriminately.
Almost a century later, Friedrich Smend produced an edition of the Mass in Volume II/1 of the Neue Bach- Ausgabe. Yet even though the state of knowledge about the sources had grown, it, too, basically suffered from the same inadequacies as its predecessor. All in all, however, it remained an admirable accomplishment. In Part I, Smend also offered an ultimately arbitrary compilation of the score and parts; and although he recognized more clearly than Rietz the problem of the later alterations made in the Symbolum Nicenum, it soon emerged that he held many of Carl Philipp Emanuel’s emendations to be autographic on the basis of an erroneous evaluation of some copies.
The edition on which the present piano-vocal score is based attempts to offer a critical text of the Mass in B minor. This means that the earlier Missa is consistently kept distinct from Part I of the Mass, as it was found in the autograph score around the time of Bach’s death; moreover, this edition reproduces Part II in a form that eliminates Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s interventions as much as possible. Both of these points require further explanation.
In spite of occasional divergences, both Gesamtausgaben publicized a version of the Mass in which much of Part I was drawn exclusively from the set of performance parts written in 1733. But since Bach had left the parts in Dresden, he was only able to guide himself on the score for his further work on the Missa. Thus the reworking of Nos. 4, 5, 8 and 12 into the Christmas cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV 191, which was most likely carried out in 1745, betrays no influence of the earlier musical material. In any event, the score was revised when it became the first part of the missa tota a few years later, with the result that some readings now differed considerably from those of the parts. The changes affected above all the tutti movements Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 9, and, more conspicuously, the solo pieces Nos. 10 and 11. From this perspective alone, one must rule out a mixture (which ultimately cannot be carried out with any consequence) of the Missa, in its final form as an independent work as found in the parts of 1733, and the later Part I of the Mass in B minor. The text on which this piano-vocal score is based draws exclusively on the autograph source; the parts serve solely to clarify ambivalent passages.
The legibility of the autograph of the Mass was apparently already creating problems at the time that the first copy was made: Hering left a number of passages empty, particularly in Part II; these were supplemented by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach during his revision and, it appears, corrected accordingly in the autograph. When Emanuel sent the score to Kirnberger in Berlin a short while later, not long after he had relocated to Hamburg, he had to revise the manuscript once again in order to ensure that the text was properly legible. This led to further clarifications and additions. However, the first truly major alterations were made in conjunction with Emanuel’s endeavors to perform the Symbolum Nicenum. Proceeding from his copies, it is possible to broadly retrace how Emanuel not only supplied the autograph with an increasing amount of performance instructions, but also attempted to improve allegedly erroneous passages. During this process, several readings arose which have since stamped the text of Part II.
The handwriting alone also does not suffice in every case to separate the entries of Carl Philipp Emanuel unequivocally from those of Johann Sebastian, even after the most careful examination of the original. Moreover, Emanuel often made corrections with the help of a razor blade, especially in the later phases of his work with the autograph, whereby he mangled the original reading to such an extent that it became unrecognizable. The most reliable procedure for reinstating the original reading is to compare the readings of the most important copies. Nevertheless, it is obvious that a number of problematic passages will remain; these passages are pointed out in the Kritischer Bericht and in footnotes within the score. Through detailed comparisons of readings, the editor feels that he has come as closely as it is possible to come today to the form of the Symbolum Nicenum as Bach left it.
The editor did not face such problems in the remaining parts of the Mass, the Sanctus and the series of movements Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei et Dona nobis pacem. Yet even here, better readings have been obtained through a new examination of the source findings.
The Kritischer Bericht of the score (Breitkopf Partitur- Bibliothek 5363) gives interested musicians a wealth of information on the textual elaboration of the new edition.
As was his custom in his scores, Bach did not make any specific provisions for the strength of the vocal and instrumental ensemble. Since this is a late work, his previous practice, which can be reconstructed on the basis of his instrumental parts, cannot necessarily be laid down as authoritative for this Mass; there is, after all, nothing in the score which contradicts the practice of the composer’s Leipzig years, which he maintained for a long time without any major changes.
The great majority of Bach’s performance materials contains only one single copy of each obbligato vocal part. Inasmuch as this can be confirmed, only one singer sang from each part; only sporadically do separate vocal parts provide a reinforcement. The fact that there are no hints in the Mass about such “ripieno performers” does not necessarily preclude their participation. Bach did not always lay down such details in his score; he did so only when writing out the parts. Nevertheless, in Parts II–IV of the Mass it is conspicuous how carefully – perhaps because the performing parts did not have to be produced immediately – he indicated details pertaining to the scoring, such as the distribution of the soprano parts of Nos. 14, 15 and 17, the pairwise grouping of the vocal parts in No. 27 or the entrance and rest of the supporting oboes in No. 15. Seen against this background, the absence of information concerning a possible ripieno doubling takes on an undeniable importance.
The Preface of the edition of the score offers further considerations on matters of scoring and performance, as well as on special features of the new edition.
Cambridge/Ma, Spring 2006