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Music for the Mass in Bach's Time
By Douglas Cowling (September 2009)

1) Collect (Collecta, Oratio) for Christmas Week [PDF]:

The texts preserve the pre-Reformation form used in German Catholic churches. Seasonal versicles such as "Puer natus est" were suppressed in the Roman Missal which was imposed after the Council of Trent but ironically preserved by the Lutheran rite. The plainsong recitation tone also preserves a variant regional formula. The harmonized responses (fauxbourdons) are by an anonymous 17th century composer. All of these polyphonic fauxbourdons were sung from the Neu Leipzig Gesangbuch (New Leipzig Songbook) of 1682 which was one of the collections in constant use by Bach's choirs.

2) Epistle for the Second Day of Christmas [PDF]:

The Lutheran chant formula for the Epistle is different than the historic Roman form which can be found in the modern Liber Usualis, the collection of chants for the Tridentine mass. This may reflect a regional German tradition which Luther promoted. The chant contains an opening and closing melody, formulas for questions and ends of sentences, and three cadential figures for clauses (necessary for the complex grammar of the Pauline texts.) Luther's confidence that the German texts can be chanted in this way may indicate that there was a tradition of sung vernacular scripture before the Reformation.

3) Gospel for the Second Day of Christmas [PDF]:

The Neu Leipzig Gesungbuch provides two sets of polyphonic responses by anonymous 17th century composers: a four-part setting for ordinary Sundays, and an elaborate six-voice setting for festivals. The vernacular reading is introduced by the pre-Reformation Latin responses (again the German form of the plainsong is used). The six-voice setting is particularly elaborate with florid passagework. Luther abolished the old form for chanting the Gospel in favour of the Passion tone which used three registers for dramatic effect: a middle register for the narration, lower register for the word of Christ, and upper for other characters. In this example, the word of the shepherds are chanted in the upper register.

4) Preface for Christmas Week [PDF]:

Luther retained the original Latin text for the dialogue ("Sursum Corda") and preface ("Vere Dignum") which preceded the the Sanctus. Again the Lutheran rite used a regional variation of the chant which differs from the Italian form enshrined in the Tridentine mass. As with the Gospel responses, the Neu Leipzig Gesungbuch provides a four-voice setting for ordinary Sundays and a six-voice setting for festivals. The settings are true fauxboudons with the chant sung in sustained notes: "Et cum Spirtu" has the cantus firmus in the first tenors; the chant moves to the first sopranos for "Habemus ad Dominum" and "Dignum et justum est." The chant has formulas for the beginning and end, as well as intermediate cadences for ends of clauses. Concerted settings of the Sanctus in Bach's repertoire all have no orchestral introduction and began without interruption at the end of the preface. The Neu Leipzig Gesungbuch had several polyphonic settings of the Sanctus for ordinary Sundays.

 

The PDFs of the performing editions were edited by Douglas Cowling. The editions are copyright but may be used for study purposes.

Contributed by Douglas Cowling (September 13, 2009)

Feedback to the Article

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (September 14, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks Doug! Beautiful music engravings, what software do you use for your editions?

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 14, 2009):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I'm an indentured slave to FINALE.

Bruce Simonson wrote (September 22, 2009):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thanks for posting these. I am particularly interested in the fauxbourdons chants you provided ... do you know if this style of composition was common practice in Lutheran services in Bach's time? We'll be taking up the Monteverdi Vespers in rehearsal soon, and I'd like to have some additional context for this type of composition as it appeared in Bach's time (for contrast), in case folks ask.

If I recall correctly, BWV 18 has response elements in it which sound (to my ear) like chanted responses, albeit these are mensural (and if I recall correctly), include some moving parts in the harmonization.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 22, 2009):
[To Bruce Simonson] Harmonized plainsong was a constant feature of Bach's services. His choirs used a 1682 collection, the "New Leipzig Songbook" which contains primarily 17th century harmonizations by composers such as Schütz and the ubiquitous Praetorius. We see the same harmonizations in the Monteverdi "Vespers", especially in the opening "Deus in Adjutorium" where Monteverdi inserts instrumental interludes between the chant portions, but also in the Dixit Dominus where the choir freely chants the texts on a sustained chord, the same kind of fauxbourdons which were still being used by Bach's choirs when they chanted the psalms in Lutheran vespers. The "Deus in Adjutorium" of Demantius was the fauxbourdon used in Leipzig.

You're right about Cantata BWV 18: the recitative Mein Gott hier wird" is interrupted three times by the solo verse and choral response of the German Litany which replaced the Gloria in Lent. The three "-gesima" Sundays are a kind of preview of Lent, and this quotation on Sexagesima Sunday is pointing ahead to the penitential season when the entire Litany was sung, perhaps with this fauxbourdon by Bach. There is a brief quotation in "Jesu Nun Gepreiset" The Kyrie of the Mass in F quotes two themes from the Litany but as a sustained cantus firmus, not in the verse and respond form.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 22, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote (to Bruce Simonson):
"You're right about Cantata BWV 18: the recitative Mein Gott hier wird" is interrupted three times by the solo verse and choral response of the German Litany which replaced the Gloria in Lent. The three "-gesima" Sundays are a kind of preview of Lent, and this quotation on Sexagesima Sunday is pointing ahead to the penitential season when the entire Litany was sung, perhaps with this fauxbourdon by Bach. There is a brief quotation in "Jesu Nun Gepreiset" The Kyrie of the Mass in F quotes two themes from the Litany but as a sustained cantus firmus, not in the verse and respond form."
Wondering if something is missing from the CM page of Die Litanei on the BCW:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/CM/Die-Litanei.htm
I wrote to Thomas Braatz and received the response below:

****************************************************
The 'sustained cantus firmus" that Doug is referring to is "Das Agnus Dei" which is the liturgical chorale, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes". (This chorale melody has not yet been treated on the BCW).
One of the most spectacular and moving settings by Bach of this chorale is found in BWV 23/4. Luther provided the German text version of this chorale, which is derived from the Latin "Agnus Dei"; however, modifications (and extensions) of the chant (theme or melody) were undertaken by Johann Bugenhagen who first published this chorale (also found as the cantus firmus of BWV 233/1) in his collection entitled "Der Erbaren Stadt Brunswig Christelike ordninge" (Braunschweig, 1538). A similar, but shorter, plainsong congregational response in Greek or in German (somewhat abbreviated, but very similar nonetheless) is found in the liturgical responses for the Kyrie (listed as Lit.#3 in the EKG). There the German text is also attributed Martin Luther (1526). It simply reads as the translation of the Greek "Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison" "Herre Gott, erbarme dich. Christe erbarme dich. Herr Gott, erbarme dich."

There seems to be no thematic connection with "Die Litanei" listed on the BCW except that the text segment "Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy" is the same.

Hope this clears this up.
****************************************************

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 22, 2009):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< The 'sustained cantus firmus" that Doug is referring to is "Das Agnus Dei" which is the liturgical chorale, "Christe, du Lamm Gottes". (This chorale melody has not yet been treated on the BCW). >
I should have been more specific. There are actually two sustained cantus firmus (canti firmi) in the Kyrie of the Mass in F Major. The melody that the oboes and horns play is the "German Agnus," sung congregationally as "Christe, de Lamm Gottes." The choral basses have a second cantus firmus that is drawn from two melodies from the German Litany.

Bach's allusions to the Litany and German Agnus in the cantatas and mass may suggest that they were well-known because they were sung during weekday celebrations of mass. The elaborate harmonizations of the mass Ordinary in the Riemenschneider chorales may not be orphaned chorales from lost chorales, but settings used for sung weekday masses. That again might suggest that in Bach's mind there were rankings not only among Sundays and festivals, but between Sundays and weekdays -- were the chorales and not concerted settings sung at the latter?

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 22, 2009):
Ages of Boy Singers in Bach's Leipzig Choirs

In regard to the above topic being discussed on the BCML, Thomas Braatz asked me to share the following that discussion list.
See: http://bach-cantatas.com/Other/Thoman-List.htm

Note particularly Bach's use of 'supernumerarii' !

Here are some examples from the long list given above:

Bammler, Johann Nathanael (1722) Th 1737-47 UL 1748
became a Thomaner at age 15 and remained there until age 25 then attended Leipzig University beginning at age 25.

Heder, Samuel Gottlieb (1713) Th 1725-1734 UL 1734
entered as a Thomaner at age 12 and remained there until age 21 and possibly still performed with Bach as a university student

Hillmeyer, Johann Heinrich (1714*) Th 1729-1733; Bach (1730) "not yet ready to be used in the 1st choir (figural music)"
entered as a Thomaner at age 15 and stayed there until age 19

Kittler, Samuel (1715) Th 1729 -1737(?) UL 1737; his father's application for acceptance as Thomaner stated that he had a good soprano voice and was very interested in studying; Bach (1730) "usable for 1st Choir (figural music)"
entered as a Thomaner at age 14 and stayed there until age 22 when he enrolled at Leipzig University.

Krebs, Johann Ludwig (1713) Th 1726-1735 UL 1735 -1737; Bach (1730) "usable for 1st Choir (figural music)"; also studied keyboard and composition under Bach's personal guidance; Bach's letter of recommendation Leipzig, August 24, 1735 , during his university years, he assisted Bach with the Thomanerchor and played harpsichord with the Collegium musicum; a renowned keyboard performer and prolific composer who also played violin and lute.
entered as a Thomaner at age 13 and remained there until age 22 after which he was enrolled at the university for another two years until he was 24.

Lange, Johann Gottlob (1708*) Th 1722-1732 ; Bach (1730) "usable for 1st Choir (figural music)"; Prefect.
entered as a Thomaner at age 14 and stayed there until age 24.

Nagel, Maximilian (1712) Th 1732-1735) UL 1735; eventually became prefect of Bach's first choir and participated in Bach' s performances in church and with the Collegium musicum. A lutenist and violinist, he was appointed as court lutenist in Ansbach in 1744 where he died four years later at the age of 35.
entered as a Thomaner at age 20 and remained until age 23, attended Leipzig University after that and may have remained in Leipzig at Bach's disposal until his appointment at age 32.

Nützer (Nitzer), Johann Gottfried (1709*) Th 1724-1731; Bach (1730) "usable for 1st Choir (figural music)"; studied privately with Bach during this time, was listed by Bach as being among the more accomplished of the Thomaner singers; later became a teacher.
entered as a Thomaner at age 15 and stayed there until age 22

etc. etc.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (September 14, 2009):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< In regard to the above topic being discussed on the BCML, Thomas Braatz asked me to share the following that discussion list.
See:
http://bach-cantatas.com/Other/Thoman-List.htm
Note particularly Bach's use of 'supernumerarii' !
Here are some examples from the long list given above: >
Thank you Thomas for that! VERY informative!

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 22, 2009):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Note particularly Bach's use of 'supernumerarii' ! >
This is a terrific snapshot of Bach's personnel and of his extraordinary skill as an administrator. He had to assess and place everyone across a spectrum that ranged from musical dunces to the students who would succeed him as Cantor! This was not a quaint parochial school but a state-supported urban Conservatory of Music which maintained complex professional relationships with its alumni and musicians from the whole kingdom. Add to this the city instrumentalists and you have a municipal Department of Music.

I WISH there were minutes of Bach's staff meetings when he sat down with his four Assistant Conductors, the prefects, and planned the musical calendar and program for what is undeniably a large musical establishment. There is nothing comparable to this in modern churches: you would have to go to a large collegiate institution like King's College Cambridge (annual choir budget: $1,000,000) or a conservatory in France to see such an organization.

And he also had time to write music!

Extraordinary.

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