The Mass in B Minor is probably the last vocal work of Bach career. It was completed and compiled between 1746 and 1748 while Bach was also working on the Art of the Fugue and the Musical Offering. Many of the movements as was customary, were borrowed from earlier works. The whole is a synthesis of the most important styles of composition and devices then current, ranging from the sixteenth century fugal writing particularly by Palestrina (stile antico) to the contemporary galant style of the Dresden court with its coloratura writing. All was transformed under Bach's hand into what the Buddhist scholar Yoshitake Kobayashi declared is, even for him, a work of great spiritual significance (see John Butt's book on the Mass).
The Kyrie and Gloria were written in 1733 as part of an application for the position of Court Composer at Dresden The Kyrie begins with four measures of black chords followed by a fugue, a departure from Bach's usual practice of elaborating a text with the same musical material. Also unusual is the five part choral texture, a luxury for Bach but common at Dresden. Also note that with the exception of A all the notes of the chromatic scale are to be found in the fugue.
Perhaps to impress the Dresden court, the Christe eleison is in a fluid style with lots of syncopations, sixteenth note triplets, and passages in thirds and sixths with feminine cadences. The Kyrie which follows returns to the stile antico (except for the bass), although Bach uses the more modern practice of instrumental doubling of the voices.
The Gloria, as is usual in Neapolitan style, is divided into several movements. It opens in D major the key of rejoicing, and for the first time, the whole orchestra is heard and the oboes replace the two oboes d'amore. The movement leads directly into a more peaceful et in terra, which is follows by the more coloratura writing of the Laudamus. Unlike the Christe where the voices are almost entirely independent, the soprano intertwines with a virtuosic violin whose extensive range carries it atypically high for the Baroque period. Another alteration with stile antico - the Gratias - leads to the Domine Deus with its use of Lombardy rhythm, especially by the flute. This long-short pattern is typical of galant style. The pastoral-like Qui tollis with its unusually independent cello part follows directly. After the Qui sedes, in Quoniam tu solus sanctus offers a startling contrast, appropriate for a period in which the basso continuo provided the foundation of ensemble music. The three lowest obbligato instruments - two bassoons and corno da caccia (the latter never heard again!) and the lowest voice, the bass - are heard. The Gloria closes with the Cum sancto the most virtuoso music composed so far.
The opening movement of the Credo evolves over a continuo of steady quarter notes demonstrating steadfast faith. Although writing in stile antico and using the fourteenth century Credo chant, Bach adds two independent instrumental lines resulting with the five part chorus, in a seven-voice texture. The Patrem follows without pause 'omnipotentem' illustrated by a downward leap of a major seventh.
The first duet in this section is Et in Unum, in which the soprano and alto are in strict canon a quarter note apart. Yet diversity is also recognized, for while one voice is detached, the other slurs the phrase. The Sarabande related Et incarnatus returns to B minor and makes multiple reference to the cross. The second and fifth notes of the violin motif as well as the third and fourth notes can be connected to form a cross, which is also the Greek letter chi as well as the first letter of Christos. There are numerous sharps in all parts as well, and the German word for sharp and cross is identical.
The Crucifixus represents the center of a huge palindrome shaping in movements of the Credo Dissonance, chromatic descents, and voices in their lowest register (the basses sing a low E) represent pain and death. Another typical motif of grief is the passacaglia bass line descending in chromatic tetrachords, a favorite musical device to herald the death of an operatic character.
With Et ressurexit and rejoicing comes a return to D major and the first tutti in the Credo, The main theme is identical forward and backward. Instruments predominate and the voices soar (sopranos go to B-flat and the basses to E). Appropriately Bach uses the sparest writing in the Et in spiritum.
In the middle of Confiteor, a Gregorian melody over 1,000 years old emerges in the lower parts and affirmation of belief is bolstered by octave leaps on "Confiteor." There are also moments of doubts. The confident D major tonality (2 sharps is destroyed within one measure as Bach goes to E flat minor (6 flats). However, forgiveness will be forthcoming since the dissonant sevenths he introduces on "remissionem" are resolved and both the basses and tenors sing a D major arpeggio on "ressurectionem mortuorum".
This movement leads directly into Et expecto. An 'Amen' begins in the tenor range and as voices and instruments are added climbs higher until everyone has joined in the final measures of the Credo The remaining choruses are tutti with the exception of the flutes.
The six-part Sanctus is the oldest part of in Mass (1723). The eight part Osanna is the only polychoral movement. These two movements are also united in that they both use the same motif (the first solo entry of the bass in "plenti sunt coeli"), but the Osanna, unlike the constant tutti of in Sanctus, begins with the chords a capella and ends with an instrumental ritornello.
The Osanna, which employs the most instruments and voices, is followed by the Benedictus which uses only one voice and one obbligato instrument. Bach did not specify whether it should be violin or flute. The flute seems more likely (the part does not use the g string of a violin since it does not go below D-flat).
The Osanna returns, followed by the Agnus Dei with its tritone leaps and sighs, and finally the Dona nobis, appropriately set as was often the custom in Neapolitan masses, to the music of an earlier movement, in this case the Gratias in gratitude for the hopes of Peace.
It is unlikely that Bach heard a performance of the complete Mass in B Minor. It was not until 85 years after his death that a performance of the complete work was given by the Berlin Singakademie and not until ten years later, in 1845, that all four sections of the work were published by Simrock in Bonn. The first American performance took place on March 27, 1900. The Mass is not only much too long to be part of a religious service, but it also does not meet the requirements of either the Lutheran or Catholic liturgy. It owes its popularity instead to the numerous secular performances by amateur choral societies, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out, Bach, like every "lofty religious mind," belongs not to a church but to humanity, any room can become a place at which his sacred works can be performed and listened to with devotion. In fact, the Mass lives on because of "the quiet, modest work of many unknown people who go to Bach for nothing more than their own inner satisfaction and love and a wish to communicate these riches to their neighbors."
Notes prepared by Arlene Sagan
British-born Elspeth Franks (soprano), is known for an unusually wide vocal range and engaging and characterful stage presence, and performs a wide array of operatic and concert roles throughout the mezzo, alto and soprano repertoires.
A frequent soloist with many concert groups including the San Francisco Bach Choir, SF Choral Society, and Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, Franks made a solo debut with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, under the baton of Nicholas McGegan, stepping in at the last minute for an indisposed mezzo soloist for performances of Handel’s Messiah, to excellent reviews, and debuted last December with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, also in Messiah.
Franks’s European debut was in performances of Haydn’s Harmoniemesse in Munich, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Awarded a Virginia Best Adams Fellowship at the Carmel Bach Festival for the 2002 & 2003 seasons, Franks returned there in 2005 as soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and the seldom heard Trauer-Kantate.
On the west coast, Franks has also appeared with the Berkeley Symphony; Sacramento Opera; Bear Valley Music Festival; the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival; Rogue Opera (OR); Rimrock Opera (MT); West Bay Opera; Pocket Opera; Eugene Opera. On the east coast, Franks debuted with Virginia Opera in the role of Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), and with the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York in the role of Commère (Four Saints in Three Acts). Vocal training has included scholarship study at England’s prestigious Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester) and as a Rotary International Foundation Scholar at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Franks was also designated as the James Bird Anderson Young Artist on the prestigious young artist program with Florida Grand Opera.
Continuing vocal training with noted tenor, David Gordon, Franks now resides in San Francisco, CA, and is a cantor at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church. Recent engagements have included: Bach’s Mass in B minor with the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Ruggiero in Handel’s Alcina with Opera Vivente (Baltimore); Guido in Flavio with Pocket Opera; soprano soloist in Mozart’s Coronation Mass (Midsummer Mozart); soloist Durufle Requiem (Music in the Mountains); soprano II soloist, Mass in C minor (Masterworks Chorale); mezzo soloist, Mozart’s Requiem (Santa Clara Chorale); Bach cantatas (Baltimore, MD); mezzo soloist, Rossini’s Stabat mater and Bach’s Easter Oratorio (Bach Festival Florida, FL); Strauss’s Vier Letzte Lieder (Prometheus Symphony Orchestra); Ruggiero – Alcina (Pocket Opera).
Upcoming: J.C. Bach’s Dies irae (SONOS Chamber Orchestra, NY); soloist, Purcell works (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra); soloist Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Santa Clara Chorale); soloist Bach’s Magnificat (Viva la Musica); Juno, Semele (City Concert Chorale); Rinaldo, Rinaldo – Handel (Pocket Opera).
Mezzo soprano SONIA GARIAEFF has received critical acclaim for her "vocal opulence" and "theatrical poise." Her operatic roles include Rosina, Cherubino, Carmen, Dorabella, Orlovsky, Nicklausse, and the title roles in La Cenerentola and Ariodante. Recent appearances have included Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette with Opera San José, La Cenerentola with Fresno Grand Opera, soloist in the world premiere of Thea Musgrave's Voices for Peace in New York City, Preziosilla in Verdi's La Forza del Destino with Da Corneto Opera in Chicago, and Zita and the Mistress of Novices in Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica with the Union Avenue Opera in St. Louis. Ms. Gariaeff recently appeared at Virginia Opera as Nicklausse, The Muse and Voice of the Mother in Les Contes d'Hoffmann and Cherubino with Houston's Opera in the Heights. She performs as soloist in Bach's Christmas Oratorio and various Cantatas with American Bach Soloists.
As a member of Portland Opera's Young Artist program she made her mainstage début as the Voice of Antonia's Mother in Les contes d'Hoffmann. Ms. Gariaeff has garnered major recognition in many prestigious vocal competitions including Grand Prize in the Carmel Music Society Vocal Competition, National Grand Finalist in the Loren L. Zachary Competition (2002 and 2004) district finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Awards (2000, 2003 and 2004) and Resident Artist with the San Francisco Opera Center in 2005 and 2006 season.
She was also awarded the Virginia Best Adams Fellowship, through which she has performed with the Carmel Bach Festival. Her oratorio and concert work includes The Courtesan in a staged production of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol with the San Francisco Symphony and her New York concert début as Ariel in Sibelius's suites from The Tempest with the Sonos Chamber Orchestra.
She recently returned to New York to sing Saint Theresa 2 in Four Saints in Three Acts with the Mark Morris Dance Group. She performed Schoenberg's Brettl-lieder as part of the Olympic Music Festival in Washington State. Of Russian descent, Sonia Gariaeff is originally from Gilroy, Calif. She received her Master's degree in Vocal Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and her Bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz. She currently divides her time between San Francisco and New York.
Since taking to the operatic stage in 2001, tenor Brian Thorsett has been seen and heard in over 70 diverse operatic roles, ranging from Monteverdi to Britten, back to Rameau and ahead again to works composed especially for his talents. During 2010, he returns to the roles Ernesto in Don Pasquale and Jupiter and Apollo in Semele, while taking on two new roles composed for him.
As a concert singer Brian fosters a stylistically diversified repertoire of over 90 works, which has taken him to concert halls across the US and Europe. Future engagements include Evangelist in both Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, Mass in B Minor, Cantata BWV 98 and Missa Brevis in G and G minor, the Lord Nelson Mass and Creation of Haydn, Handel’s Messiah and Saul, Monteverdi’s Tirsi e Clori, Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge, Choral Fantasy and Mass in C, Mendelssohn’s Christus and Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem, a concert of Bach arias and duets with the California Bach Society, Schubert’s Intende Voci Orationis, Psalm 92 and Mass in E-Flat, Respighi’s Laud to the Nativity, Finzi’s Dies Natalis and Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, the latter with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra.
This past summer he studied and performed the St. Matthew Passion with Masaaki Suzuki (Bach Collegium Japan) at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme at the Aldeburgh Festival in England. An avid recitalist, Brian will be featured in recitals in San Francisco, San Jose and Half Moon Bay, CA presenting the music of Monteverdi, Grieg, Enescu, Coates, Ginastera, Turina, Britten, and premieres of Nicolas Carlozzi. He is a graduate of San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, Glimmerglass Opera’s Young American Artist program and spent two summers at the Music Academy of the West.
Hugh Davies (bass) was born and educated in England, and started his singing career as a boy chorister at St. Albans Abbey under the direction of Peter Hurford and Simon Preston. While a student at Cambridge University, he was a Choral Scholar at King's College, where the director of music was David Willcocks.
As a professional singer based in London, he appeared with Glyndebourne Opera and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and performed as a soloist with leading choirs and orchestras throughout Europe. He was a member of the Monteverdi Choir, the Schütz Choir and the John Alldis Choir, and made many recordings and broadcasts on television and radio.
After teaching music in Australia for two years, Hugh moved to California in 1986. He now sings, mostly in the San Francisco area, both as a soloist and as a member of several professional ensembles, and has appeared with groups such as Theatre of Voices, American Bach Soloists, California Bach Society, Magnificat, Albany Consort, San Francisco Bach Choir, Santa Rosa Symphony, Sonoma County Bach Choir and Symphony Silicon Valley. He has also appeared with Boston-based Cut Circle and, in Southern California, with Pacific Chorale and Musica Angelica.
He is also President of ACFEA Tour Consultants, an organization that arranges international tours for amateur performing arts ensembles, and serves on the board of Chorus America and as President of American Bach Soloists.