‘The greatest product of the human mind’ – Australian historian, Manning Clark shared his thoughts on Bach’s Mass in B Minor in a conversation with the ACC’s Artistic Director, Douglas Lawrence. Composition of the Mass occupied Bach over many years and was not completed until 1749, one year before his death. In the Lutheran church, there was never any call for a completely sung mass, such as was customary in the Catholic church. For this reason, the B Minor was never performed in its entirety during Bach’s lifetime. It is possible that Bach intended it for the dedication of the new Hofkirche – now the Frauenkirche – in Dresden, which was scheduled for completion by 1748 but not finished until one year after his death (1751). In the event the inaugural mass chosen was by Johann Adolph Hasse. The Mass in B Minor seems to have resulted from Bach’s desire for a complete working out of various genres in the final years of his life. This also resulted in the Musical Offering, the Art of Fugue and the publication of a collection of keyboard music known as the Clavierübung. One of the special characteristics of this Mass is the use of a wide array of instruments including trumpet, horn, flute, oboe, bassoon and timpani. The ACC’s performance brings together an orchestra of specialist musicians playing period instruments.
Bach’s Mass in B Minor is known in Germany as the h-moll Messe. For an explanation, continue reading below.
St Paul’s Anglican Church GEELONG Wed 16 March at 8.00pm
Peninsula Community Theatre MORNINGTON Sat 19 March at 7.30pm
Church of the Resurrection MACEDON Sat 2 April at 3.00pm
Our Lady of Mount Carmel MIDDLE PARK Sun 3 April at 3.00pm
Germans, Scandinavians and most Eastern Europeans use the letter “H” for the note that we call “B” and they use the letter “B” for the note that we call “B flat”. Why? The difference probably originates in Medieval times.
From the 11th century, several theorists and teachers used the human hand as a map for teaching musical notation and sight singing. The main practical function of diagrams such as the “Guidonian Hand” was to teach people to recognize patterns of tones and semi-tones. In these diagrams and other theoretical documents, the note names C, D, E, F, G and A are used consistently. In Medieval modes, however, the note “B” was used in two forms – the “soft b”, which we call “B flat” was denoted by a lower case “b” and the “hard B”, which we now call “B natural” was sometimes denoted by an upper case “B”, sometimes by a “natural sign”. It seems likely that this is where our modern signs for flats and naturals originate. It has been suggested that the upper case B and/or the natural sign in such diagrams was misinterpreted as a capital letter “H”.