Nottingham Harmonic Choir

Walton Belshazzar's Feast

Grieg Piano concerto

Elgar In the South

The Hallé Orchestra

nottingham classics

Saturday 27th May 2017 7:30pm

Further information on Belshazzar's Feast

Southwell 2014

Bach B Minor Mass

Conductor Richard Laing
Soprano Katie Trethewey
Soprano April Fredrick
Mezzo soprano Cathy Bell
Tenor Julian Forbes
Baritone Andrew Mahon

Saturday 10th May 2014 7.30pm
Southwell Minster

Bach's Mass in B Minor stands at the very pinnacle of achievement in the composition of sacred choral music. It is a work of monumental scale, quite impractical in a liturgical context; yet its sheer vastness is surely a reflection of the depth of its spiritual devotion.
Its history is unclear, researchers have never discovered quite how its various parts fit into the chronology of Bach's compositional output. At the heart of the enigma are two questions, which are still a source of speculation to musicologists:

i) At what point did Bach, a Lutheran Protestant, plan to write a full Catholic Mass?
ii) Did he himself really regard the resulting composition as a performable work?

Some parts of the Mass have a known history. Early in 1733, the King of Poland and Elector of Saxony died and during five months of mourning following his death all public music making was suspended. At the time Bach was Musical Director of thw two largest churches in Leipzig, cantor at St Thomas' School in the same town and had taken over as director of an orchestra of local professional town musicians and university students. His musical genius had already been well established during his Time at Leipzig, with the composition of complete cycles of church cantatas, Passion settings and many orchestral works and choral pieces. However he was often in conflict with his colleagues and the town authorities over disputes concerning fees, which were vital to him as he had a large family to support. As a result he was feeling somewhat unappreciated.

The enforced temporary musical inactivity gave Bach the opportunity to write a 'Missa' - a setting of the Kyrie and Gloria. Its ecumenical quaities stimulated Bach to produce a musical setting that he, a Lutheran, could duly dedicate to his new sovereign, Augustus III, a Catholic.

In July of 1733 Bach visited Dresden, where his son had recently started to work as an organist, and while there visited the new Elector's court, presenting the Missa as 'this insignificant example of the skill that I have acquired in Musique, along with a request to be given a court title. Bach hoped that such a title would improve his standing at Leipzig and give him some measure of security from what he conisidered to be the insulting treatment from the Leipzig authorities. Bach did eventually get his title, but not immediately. He was made court composer to Augustus in 1736.

Quite when the Missa was expanded to a full setting is not really known. The Credo may have been written between 1740 and 1742, but some think it predates the Missa and was first performed in 1732. The Benedictus, Angus Dei and Donna Nobis Pacem were added in the late 1740s along with the Sanctus, which was a reworking of a setting that Bach had produced about 20 years earlier.

We do know that Bach admired the Italian masters of sacred music from Palestrina to Pergolesi. Perhaps he wanted, like them, to leave his own musical essay on the subject of this timeless text. He certainly followed the Italian fashion of using a richly diverse mixture of styles and in choosing to re-use earlier material. He may have felt himself to be selecting his finest work, laying it out for inspection and putting it to the service of praising God. Whether or not he intended it, Bach has produced a moving, and notwithstanding its disparate origins and styles, a highly unified work, transcending religious denominations.

It is a magnificent and glorious work which did sound truely spectacular in Southwell Minster.

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