H minor Mass by J.S. Bach

Bach's H minor Mass is one of the monumental works in classical music. However, I haven't listened to it so often, honestly speaking. Especially compared with St. Matthew's Passion. The ritual words in Latin have prevented me from getting familiar with it. It sounded a kind of formalism to me. The question why he has composed in the style of Mass for Roman Catholic despite of his standpoint as an eager Protestant also made me stand before the gate of this great music.

The book "Johann Sebastian Bach Messe in H Moll" by Christopf Wolff has taught me that the church music had still been in the influence of the old mass in Latin those days. The reformation by Luther has given a discontinuity from the orthodox Roman Catholic in Christianity doctrine. Actually, Bach has been educated in the school of Latin. Even the service at the Lutheran church has taken the form of mass those days even though it had undergone changes. Anyway, mass, as a genre of music, seems to have been not strange to Bach at all.

In the end of his life, Bach seemed to intend to make grand sum of his music activity in his life. One of them was the Art of the Fugue. The other was this mass. He seemed to realize the music in German won't live long due to the changes in doctrine. Wolff has pointed out that was why he did it with the style of mass in Latin. Because of the playing time for longer than 1.5 hours of this music, it was not practical to perform it as a actual mass at church. It must have been of concern to him while composing this music what he has achieved in polyphonic vocal music in eternal phase. Latin and the traditional style of mass must have been suitable for his purpose. 

One of the ritual words, Kyrie Eleison, in mass is thought to be as old as that in pre-christianity establishment era. This mass as the other masses, starts with this ritual in forte unison. It seems to express the entire character of this music in its size, objective and style. It impresses me a lot that it startes with such strong yearn for mercy on us. It has been the main concern to human since such ancient time. It has given birth to such an art as this mass. You won't forget this Kyrie once you listen to it.    

The source I always listen to is the performance of Muenchen Bach Ensemble conducted by karl Richter. In the internet, the following one is also quite moving. English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.  


As I have introduced about it elsewhere in this blog, Carmel Bach Festival will be held again in Carmel California this summer. Bob, W6CYX, has kindly sent me the pamphlet of that festival. The main program is this music. Owing to various reasons, I could not attend it with him this year. I just would share this music in mind with him. That is a reason why I have been listening to it repeatedly.    


  1. Thanks Shin. This year's performance at the Carmel Bach Festival is special in that they will use baroque period instruments.

    1. That's good, Bob. Gardiner is also making an authentic performance. The music sounds transparent and pure.Imagining how you would enjoy this piece in Carmel, I would go on listening to it. Some people say it is the best works in vocal polyphonic music. I am glad that I could appreciate it this time.

  2. Shin, thanks for posting. I spent yesterday afternoon watching that clip on my new smart TV with a good sound system, and played it through twice. All these years I have somehow avoided it, thinking it was too difficult. Not knowing the liturgy or the language is a disadvantage, so I believed. But when approaching the piece as a sound -world in it's entirety, it makes sense to a non-musician like me. It draws one back again to discover more, and I will be returning to it many times in the future.
    On another subject, I am a subscriber to Berlin Philharmoniker which is an HD internet channel. It costs around Euro 130 per year, but you can see any concerts you want for free for one week. There are some great live performances by the BPO going back to Karajan's time, plus of course all the new stuff with Rattle.

    1. I need that good audio system for Youtube here. Terrible audio with the PC.

      The liturgy of mass has also prevented me from listening to such as H minor Mass. But I was really impressed knowing Kyrie had been a ritual word long before Christianity was established. Gardiner says in his book this liturgy in this mass seems like physical act of imploration for mercy. Considering of that background, Kyrie and even the other liturgies seem to go through into my mind.

      I will check BPO site. I wonder if there is any good quality chmaber music accessible through the internet.

  3. Chamber Music: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBjoEdEVMABI9IiOPJzW6lBGrYyuqunRw

    Shin, there are some high quality chamber music videos there at the You Tube EuroArts channel.

    1. John,

      Thanks for the info. I will enjoy the clips there.