Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Latin Church Music

Author: William Hoffman (July 2011)

Following his death in 1750, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Latin Church Music for the Lutheran Liturgy merited being listed second in the category of unpublished vocal works, after cantata annual cycles, in the miscellaneous category of “Many oratorios, Masses, Magnificats, several Sanctus,” and secular works, followed by the third category of “Five Passions,” according to his 1752 published “Obituary,” authors Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola. Exactly a half-century later, before the Bach revival, in Sebastian’s first published biography by Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1802), the service pieces had fallen to third place, behind the Passions yet still ahead of the motets, the other category of “learned” music with which Bach had earned his initial reputation as a composer.

Needless to say, Bach’s standard service settings experienced the 19th century’s general disinterest in matters religious, except for a handful of major works – the “Great” Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew and St. John Passions, and a few cantatas. In addition, the Romantic Era valued the latest compositional techniques and relegated the studied motets and fugues to the dust bin of musicological studies. While the cantatas and oratorios are gaining much favor beyond just respect, the other pillars of Bach’s “well ordered church music” -- the chorale four-part settings and the organ chorale preludes -- have remained the providence of composition students for the hymns and organists for virtuoso church demonstrations. The learned Latin liturgy, with the exception of Bach’s two settings of the <Magnificat>, BWV 243(a), have remained the providence of Bach specialists. In essence, Bach provided occasional original composition insertions into larger works, primarily <Masses> for the main Sunday services and <Magnificats> for the Saturday and Sunday Vesper services as well as major feast day main services (including the three Marian feasts), and well as additional instrumental accompaniment and, presumably, straightforward accounts of original music by other composers.

Bach’s figural Latin Church music was discovered in the last half of the 20th century, beginning with its inherent compositional values as so-called “stile antico,” “prima prattica,” or learned style, as revealed and championed by today’s leading Bach scholar and author, Christoph Wolff (see Bibliography). Previously, like the so-called parodied works of Bach (except for the “Great Mass”), the liturgical settings had been ignored or treated at best as orphans or bastards in Bach’s <oeuvre>. Bach studies, having spent the past half-century pursuing all facets of the treasure chest of compositions, have turned to these “lesser,” “secondary” works – including the parodied compositions – and have begun to secure a greater, wider appreciation, especially while casting large nets and connecting the dots of Bach’s wide and deep interests.

Today, the focal point of Bach scholarship, the Neue Bach Ausgabe (New Bach Edition), has accepted some adaptations with the latest vocal study edition, NBA II/9(KB). <Lateinische Kirchenmusik/Passionen: Bearbeitungen fremder Werke, Werke zweifelhafter Echtheit> (Latin Church Music/Passions: Adaptations of Extraneous Works, Works of Doubtful Authenticity) by Kirsten Beißwenger, 2000. Its contents are now part of the Bach Cantata Website (BCW) on-going weekly discussions, including:

*This week (July 3), BWV 1081, <Credo Intonation> to Bassini <Mass>; and BWV 1082, <Suscepit Israel> in Caldara’s <Magnificat)>.
To come are:
*BWV 1083, Motet <Tilge Höchster, meine Sünden> (Psalm 51) adaptation of Pergolesi <Stabat Mater> (BCW Discussion, Week of Jun. 24, 2012;
*BWV Anh. Missae (Kyrie-Gloria): BWV Anh. 24-26 (Johann Christoph Pez, Johann Ludwig Bach, Francesco Durante), BCW Discussion, Week of Aug. 18, 2013);
*BWV 1088, <”Arioso” aus einem Passions-Pasticcio (BCW Discussion, Week of Mar. 31, 2013).
The chorale, “Aus der Tiefe” (Out of the depths) from the anonymous St. Luke Passion, BWV 246/40a, was recently discussed. Also, there is a recent BCW Article, “Johann Sebastian Bach’s Adaptation of the Kyrie and Gloria from Palestrina’s <Missa sine nomine> (1590), Provenance and Description of Source Materials,” based on the NBA KB II/9 pp. 23-30, prepared by Thomas Braatz © 2010

They are a part of whole category of works Bach performed in Leipzig as part of his “well-ordered church music” (some of it still being discovered). This involves works of both well-known contemporary German colleagues such as Georg Philipp Telemann, Georg Frideric Handel, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, C.H. Graun and Reinhard Keiser, as well as respected figures of the far- and near-past such as Palestrina, Frescobaldi, Fux, Lotti, Pergolesi, and Caldara. See: BCW: . In fact, these composers were listed in Bach’s “Obituary” as influences and acquaintances, yet virtually ignored by mainline German Bach scholarship, beginning in the early 19th century when originality and struggle were championed over learning still treasured by many practicing contemporary composers.

The “discovery” of Bach’s Latin Church Music began with the well-known composer, Palestrina, and his <Missa sine nomine> (Mass without name), and it continues. Bach scholar Wilhelm Rust in his introduction to the Bach Gesellschaft (BG) first Bach Edition, 1862, Vol. 11/1, “mentioned its existence in a list of works by other composers in Bach’s hand,” c.1742, says Braatz in his BCW article: . The BG volume printed the music of Bach’s <Magnificat>, BWV 243(a), and Mass Ordinary movements (four Sanctus), BWV 237-40. It was Rust who soon after discovered the “lost” parodies, the St. Mark Passion, BWV 247; and the Köthen Funeral Music, BWV 244a. One of the latest findings is Palestrina’s <Missa Ecce sacerdos magnus a 4> (J.S. Bach added bass and instruments), c1745, occasion unknown; Source: Barbara Wiermann, ‘Bach und Palestrina - Neue Quellen (Sources) aus Johann Sebastian Bachs Notenbibliothek (Music Library)’, Bach-Jahrbuch (2002), 9-25. BCW Details & Recording: (Aryeh Oron, May 2010).

In Wolff’s studies, he points out the <stile antico> features of many Latin church pieces, including the <Credo> Intonation, BWV 1081, and the <Magnificat” movement <Suscepit Israel>, BWV 1082: large-note values in <Alle Breve> tempo 2/2 cut time or 4/2 compound, consonant and dissonant syncopations, and strict vocal polyphony. Wolff says the thrice-repeated eight-bar ostinato in the continuo is a repetition of the central theme of “One God” (“Bach and the Tradition of the Palestrina Style,” in <Bach, Essays on his Life and Music: Outlines of a Musical Portrait> (Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 96ff.

After Wolff’s seminal study of Bach’s involvement in Latin music (Der stile antico in der Musik Johann Sebastian Bachs [Wiesbaden, 1968]), other Bach scholars such as Kirsten Beißwenger have made major contributions to the understanding of this music as well as and its impact on Bach’s creativity. See: Kirsten Beißwenger, “Bachs Einggriffe in Werke fermder Komponisten Beobachtungen an den Notenhandschriften aus seiner Bibliothek unter besonderer Berüucksichtigung der latinischen Kirchenmusik” (Bach’s Involvement in Extraneous Work Compositions in Adherence With Musical Manuscripts in His Library, With Separate Consideration of Latin Church Music), <Bach Jahrbuch>, 1991; pp. l27-47

Bach’s interest in and involvement with “Catholic” music occurred after the suof his <Missa Kyrie-Gloria> in 1733, for a Saxon Court composer title, of what would become his compete Missa tota,” BWV 232, completed at the end of his life. Lutheran tradition enabled Bach to provide liturgical settings of sections of the Mass Ordinary, primarily the Kyrie-Gloria as a so-called <Missa Brevis> for the main service as well as the <Magnificat> for feast day services as well as the daily vespers.

Having composed his <Magnficat> and <Sanctus> settings, Bach in the late 1730’s turned his vocal composition activity to settings of Luther’s Catechism and <Deutsche Messe> vernacular German Mass chorales (1526). This eventually culminated in the achievement of the central Mass section of the Christian Creed (Credo), following intensive studies at the Saxon Court library in Dresden as well as the acquisition of important music collections such as Frescobaldi’s 1635 <Fiori Musicali> (Musical Flowers) settings of Kyrie verset keyboard music, Bassani’s 1709 <Acroama missale> complete Mass settings, and Fux’s 1725 “Gradus ed Parnassum” settings of Masses and motets in the old, so-called Palestrina polyphonic style.

The shaping of the <Credo> section involved five vital, non-Bach compositions between 1739 and 1748, as outlined by George B. Stauffer in his study <Bach: the Mass in B Minor: The Great Catholic Mass> (Yale University Press: 2003), p. 105. The “Credo in unum Deum” music marks the culmination of a long series of studies on Bach’s part:
“[1] The studies began with his growing interest in Renaissance vocal style in the late 1730s and early 1740s, and more particularly with his [1739] composition of the <stile antico> pedal settings of <Clavierübung> III (The Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie complex [BWV 669-674] and the six-part <Aus tiefer Not Schrei ich zu dir> [From deep distress I cry to you, (Confession, Penitence, and Justification), BWV 686-687]).
[2] They continued with his arrangement, around 1740, of Caldara’s Magnificat in C Major, in which he augmented the four-part chorus of the “Suscepit Israel” with two obbigato instruments, much in the manner of the violin lines in the “Credo” [BWV 232II] (the instrumental lines are unlabeled in the “Suscepit” score, but they seem to be for violins). (See below)
[3] Around 1742, Bach studied Palestrina’s <Missa sine nomine>, which includes an imitative Credo in Renaissance style.
[4] About five years later [1747-48] he composed the polyphonic “Credo in unum Deum,” BWV 1081, for Mass 5 of Bassani’s <Acroama missale> (Bach Compendium (BC) E-9, first published in Wiesbaden, 1968. Though only sixteen measures long, the F-major movement displays the same type of writing as the “Credo” [<Symbolum Nicenum> or Nicene Creed] of the B-Minor Mass: Renaissance vocal counterpoint over quarter-note continuo ostinato [manuscript reproduction below]. The setting leads without pause to Bassani’s “Patrem ominiptentem,” which, like the “Patrem” on the B-Minor Mass, is in Baroque concerted style.
[5] Finally, seemingly at a later point [1748] , Bach wrote the G-mixolydian version of the “Credo”. . . . Whether he intended this music, entitled “Credo in unum Deum. Fuga a 8 Voci obligate” in the only surviving manuscript (which is in the hand of his student Johann Friedrich Agricola [c.1755]), to serve as a preface for anther composer’s “Patrem” in the manner of BWV 1081, or whether he conceived it as a dry run for his own <Symbolum> (which he may have invisioned in aonther key at first) is an intriguing question that cannot yet be answered. The G-mixolydian vsersion resembled the A-mixolydian version in all but a few details.”

A closer examination of the <Credo> Intonation, BWV 1081, shows the intense interest Bach had in the Bassani collection of concerted, full Masses, especially the method of intoning the traditional opening chant in a polyphonic setting leading to the concerted full <Credo> with its individual choruses, primarily in <stile antico>, and the arias, often in the <stile moderno> of the Italian opera Second Neopolitan style favored by the Catholic Habsburg Court in Vienna and the Saxon Court in Dresden. [BCW Details and Recording: , “Intonation Credo in unum Deum for Mass in F major by Giovanni Battista Bassani” (c1657-1716). (BCW short biography: )]:

J.S. Bach Connection
About 1736-1740 [c.1735] J. S. Bach called upon an anonymous scribe (perhaps his son Gottfried Heinrich Bach, 1724-1763) to copy the entire contents of Bassani's Acroama missale (Augsburg, 1709), which consisted of six masses, each with Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus. Later, in 1747-1748, J. S. Bach himself composed ex novo the intonation (Credo in unum Deum) for the fifth of these. This brief composition (16 bars in length) in F major for four voices (SATB) and continuo (BWV 1081) follows the style of the collection and introduces the same plainchant intonation that J. S. Bach used in the Symbolum Nicenum of his Mass in B minor (BWV 232).”

Another source says: “In the mid 1740s, before the assembly of the B-Minor Mass, Bach composed the earlier version of the Mass centerpiece, the Credo in G-mixolydian. During the 1740s, Bach was studying older Mass music from the Dresden archives and in particular the handing of the Credo chant intonation in the Giovanni Battista Bassini “Credo,” which he realized in 1747-48 as BWV 1081.” (Michael Maul, “How Relevant are Counts Sporck and Questenberg for the Genesis and Early Reception of the B-minor Mass?” <International Symposium: Understanding Bach’s B-minor Mass, Discussion Book>, Volume II; Edited by Yo Tomita and Tanja Kovačević (School of Music & Sonic Arts, Queen’s University Belfast, September 2007).


Credo in unum Deum (I believe in one God). BWV 1081, Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis. Kleine Ausgabe, (Bach Works Catalog. Short Edition), 1998.

Bach’s manuscript copy of these six Bassani Massses, found in his library, probably was copied from the 1709 print edition acquired through a
Leipzig bookseller. It is a study in <stile antico> of the original <Credo Intonation> chant, as well as musical techniques and treatments of the full Latin Mass Ordinary of the Catholic Church. Stauffer in his monograph of the <B-Minor Mass> (p. 39f) offers some interesting details of Bach’s manuscript. <Acroama> means “that which is heard with pleasure” for these “six small concerted Mass settings of the Venetian/Viennese type, each composed of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus (through the “Osanna” I).” Examining all six Mass settings of the <Credo>, Stauffer observed that Mass No. 3 began with a musical setting of the initial phrase (<Credo in unum Deum) while the rest began with the chant intonation. He noted that Bach set four of the five other Gregorian intonations as text overlay to the next, musical phrase, “Patrem ominpotentem.” The <Credo> Intonation of Mass No. 5 could not be set as parody; thus Bach composed his short, polyphonic, four-voice setting with continuo, BWV 1081, as a one-page insert (see below) on page 168 of the six-Mass manuscript.

This interpolation, says Stauffer, “displays the “same amalgamative style” as the opening “Credo in unum Deum” of the <B-Minor Mass>, with the movement’s “Renaissance <a capella> vocal parts supported by a baroque walking-bass ostinato.” The G-Mixolydian “Credo in unum Deum” treatment of 45 measures was Bach’s elaboration and completion of the opening phrase, a <stile misto. (mixed style) contrast between the full <stile antico> “Credo in unum Deum” and the <stile moderno> of the succeeding “Patrem” of the B-Minor Mass. This enabled Bach to parody through contrafaction movements in the same mood from cantatas for the remainder of this largest section of the Mass Ordinary. Bach achieved this through the symmetrical palindrome formal structure called “Herzstücke (heart-piece), “chiastic” (cross-like) or diamshape, balancing choruses with arias. Bach’s motivation was the opportunity to use such symmetry in the central statement of the Mass, the unique Creed or oath, surrounded in the Mass Ordinary palindrome form of the reflective, pleading opening and closing litanies of the <Kyrie> (Lord have mercy, from the Greek) and the <Agnus Dei> refrain, “misereri nobis” (have mercy on us) as well as the celebratory <Gloria in excelsis Deo> (Glory to God in the Highest) and “<Sanctus-Benedictus, Osanna> (Holy, Blessed, Hosanna).

While Lutheran liturgical tradition and practice allowed for the use of the opening <Kyrie-Gloria> and the <Sanctus>, there is no record of the use of a separate Latin <Credo> musical setting, called the <Symbolum Nicenum>. Individual <Credos> were set by composers such as Antonio Vivaldi in Venice, RV 591, for chorus and orchestra, c.1715, in concerted contemporary style with four movements (fast <Credo in unum Deum> and closing <Et resurrexit>, slow “Et in carnatus est” and “Crucifixus”). “We do not know, however, when Latin <Credo> compositions would have been performed in Leipzig church services. A Latin <Credo> was not provided for the liturgy,” says Uwe Wolf in the “Preface” to the <Early Versions of the Mass in B Minor>, Bärenreiter, vocal score, based on the Urtext of the New Bach Edition by Andrea Köhs, 2006, supplement to NBA II/1a, ed. Uwe Wolf, 2005.

As evidence that no Latin <Credo> was performed in Leipzig, Bach salvaged a <Sanctus> from the complete <Missa Superba> (before 1674) of Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-1693), Munich Court Capellmeister, which was purchased for the St. Thomas School library in 1677. Bach’s adaptation used music from the original <Sanctus>’ succeeding “Osanna” to replace the original music of <Pleni sunt coeli> since he had no use for the rest of the <Sanctus> as well as the preceding <Credo>, and the closing <Agnus Dei. A complete recording of the concerted <Missa Superba> is found in music from the Bach Library, Vol. 2; Thomas Hangelbrock conducting, Hänssler CD 518104. A description of the adaptation process of the <Sanctus>, BWV 241, is found in “Sacred Music in Latin, Vol. 2, Helmutn Rilling conducting, Hänssler Complete Bach, CD Vol. 72.

Luther’s setting of the <Credo> from the <Deutsche Messe> (German Mass), “Wir glauben all an einen Gott (We all believe in one God, D Dorian mode), based on the Latin chant, is a vernacular liturgical setting in three verses (the Trinity) with closing Amen sung during the main service after the Gospel reading and the cantata performance and before the Sermon, and in the Catechism pre-vesper service on Sunday afternoons. Bach harmonized Luther’s original setting of the second stanza (Jesus Christ), BWV 437, with 32 measures in D Major in his complex style of the 1730s with full voicing, elaborate rhythm and chromaticism. This four-part chorale could have been presented during the congregation singing of Luther’s original version, preceded by one of the organ chorale prelude settings, probably in the <Clavierübung> III elaborate, fugal version, BWV 680, or the more concise version, BWV 681.

Magnificat, Mary’s Canticle

According to Lutheran tradition, Bach presented figural musical versions of Mary’s canticle of praise and expectation, <Magnificat anima mea> (My soul doth magnify the Lord, Luke 1:46-55), in Latin for the major feast days and in vernacular German for ordinary Sundays and Saturday ad Sunday Vespers. Both types use ancient chant recitation tones and actual chant verses. Bach composed two Latin settings of the <Magnificat> in Eb Major, BWV 243a for Christmas 1723, using German hymn interpolations found in his
Leipzig predecessor Johann Kuhnau’s “Magnificat in C.” Some 10 years later, Bach deleted the hymns for a new version in E-Flat Major, BWV 243, for presentation during the three Marian Feasts (Purification, February 2; Annunciation, March 25, and Visitation, July 2).

Bach composed a German chorale Cantata BWV 10, “Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn” (My Soul magnifies the Lord), for Purification, 1724, based on Martin Luther’s vernacular translation hymn with adaptation of the medieval plainchant. Bach also has been linked the to two German paraphrase cantatas
by Georg Melchior Hoffmann (Telemann successor as music director at the Leipzig Neue Kirche, 1704-15). The Luther setting, “Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn,” Cantata BWV 189, formerly attributed to Bach, may have been performed on July 2, 1725 for Visitation, based on a surviving libretto book. The performance possibly was lead by Georg Balthasar Schott, music director of the progressive Leipzig New Church and Kuhnau’s successor. The other Kuhnau cantata setting, also formerly attributed to Bach, is “Meine Seele rühmt und preist” (My soul extols and praises), BWV Anh. 21. It is known as the “Little German Magnificat with a paraphrase of Luther by an unknown writer, possibly Neumeister.

Details & Recordings (3): BCW:
<Suscepit Israel puerum suum> (He protects Israel, his servant), BWV 1082
Composed: Leipzig, 1740-1742. After Magnificat in C major by Antonio Caldara.
1st performance: 1739-1742 – Leipzig
J.S. Bach copied and performed A. Caldara's Magnificat in C major, adding parts for 2 violins in stile antico to the verse <Suscepit Israel puerum suum> (59 measures).
Scoring: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; Accompaniment: 2 violins, basso continuo
<Magnificat>: Mvt. 1: Grave - Allegro | Mvt.2: Deposuit potentes: Andante | Mvt. 3: Suscepit Israel: Alla breve | Mvt. 4: Sicut erat
Catalog: Bach Compendium BC - E15, first published: Wiesbaden, 1968
Provenance: Estate, CPEB; later collection, Georg Pölchau
Other Magnificats, attributed to or performed by Bach, are:
*BWV Anh. 30, Vocal <Magnificat in C major> for double chorus, NBA II/9; Antonio Lotti ?
*Possibly performed, 1729-1735; <Magnificat> in D major, ZWV 108, Jan Dismas Zelenka.
Thus, Bach’s original Latin Music focused on the “Great Mass,” Kyrie-Gloria” Missae, and Sanctus settings as well as two <Magnificats> and some 40 presentations of music by other composers.


Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis. Kleine Ausgabe. Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV, 2a.); ed. Wolfgang Schmieder, Breitkopf and Hartel, Wiesbaden. 1998 ISBN 3-7651-0249-0.
This is a complete catalog, in German, of every piece Bach wrote, with abbreviated information. The first few measures of each movement of every piece are shown, with words when applicable. It is updated to include the music added to the catalog since 1990.
NBA II/9(KB). <Lateinische Kirchenmusik/Passionen: Bearbeitungen fremder Werke, Werke zweifelhafter Echtheit> (Latin Church Music/Passions: Adaptations of Extraneous Works, Works of Doubtful Authenticity) by Kirsten Beißwenger, 2000.
Stauffer, George B. <Bach: the Mass in B Minor: The Great Catholic Mass> (Yale University Press: 2003).
Wiermann, Barbara. ‘Bach und Palestrina - Neue Quellen (Sources) aus Johann Sebastian Bachs Notenbibliothek (Music Library)’, Bach-Jahrbuch (2002), 9-25.
Wolff, Christoph. Der stile antico in der Musik Johann Sebastian Bachs (Wiesbaden, 1968).
Wolff, Christoph. “Bach and the Tradition of the Palestrina Style,” <Bach, Essays on his Life and Music: Outlines of a Musical Portrait> (Harvard University Press, 1991).


Contributed by William Hoffman (July 3, 2011)



Back to the Top

Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 14:18