Sunday, March 31, 2013

Six Bach Dances: Part II: The B Minor Mass

And so flung wide are the doors of heaven.

IV. Gloria: Cum Sancto Spiritu

This festive trumpets-and-drums finale closes the ring of the Gloria which kicked off with another dancing D major fanfare. We begin vivace in 3/4 time with one of Bach's most rhythmically potent figures in the first of three sections of free declamatory material which sandwich the two fugues.

In the free sections dancing figures in the accompaniment leap and bound over sustained notes on patris  or ride virtuosic waves of ecstatic thirty-second notes on gloria, producing contrasts of texture and symbolism.

The two fugues utilize a variant of the opening figure for a theme against which he throws, "an animated countersubject, a weaving, conjunct idea on the word 'Amen,' which acts as a perfect foil for the leap filled main subject." [Stauffer, 93-94] The fervor and flurry of second fugue is charged by doubling instruments and false fugal entries, producing a feeling of spontaneous exuberance and, as Stauffer wisely observes, liberation.

It is one of soul's purest pleasures to be carried off in the glory of the Cum sancto stretti as they overflow into the rivers of amens and one grand affirmation: In gloria Dei Patris.

V. Credo: Et Resurrexit

Where the Cum Sancto Spiritu flowed easily and graciously from the noble bass aria Quoniam tu solus Dominus, the trumpets-and-drums Et Resurrexit is an epoch-making break from "the crown of thorns" that was the dissonant Crucifixus.

If the swelling elan of this movement, with rising figures every which way and a positively irresistible downbeat, don't quicken your pulse, check it. Bach has here combined the dignity of regal galanterie and the verve of spontaneous festal feast into a hymn of purest praise.

VI. Credo: Et Expecto

Like the Cum Sancto the Et Expecto flows without delay from the previous movement and like the Et Resurrexit this follows one of great gravity. Bach links the movements with an adagio bridge where a simple and declaratory anapestic figure on A in the first soprano which no sooner begins to fall through the voices than it falls into tempo Vivace e Allegro against a rising fanfare as the movement proper begins. 

After the orchestral ritornello of the fanfare figure the voices rejoin for a short fugato and every factor conspires to paint a clear sense of gesture, space, and scale. First, the leap of a fifth in the figure itself suggest the raising of one's senses to the celestial and divine. Second the rising entrances from the tenor to the second soprano draws the scale and gives a sense of graded escalation while the leap from the bass to first soprano suggests a spiritual vaulting to the heavens. 

The final fugal section achieves a similar sense of space and scale but here a contrast in both sustained and melismatic lines on saeculi, suggesting both the roll of ages and the constancy of the eternal firmament, all complemented by the heraldry of the paired fanfares in the trumpets above.


Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor: The Great Catholic Mass. Yale University Press. 2003.

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