Belfast, 2-4 November 2007


Viennese Traditions of the Mass in B Minor

Ulrich Leisinger

(Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, Austria)

From the early 1800s on Bach’s B Minor Mass was easily accessible for connoisseurs in Vienna. Copies are documented in sales catalogues (Johann Traeg 1804) and private collections (Joseph Haydn). The early history of the B Minor Mass remained entirely in the dark, however, since the oldest known copy (D-B, Mus. ms. Bach P 11) stems from the time around 1800.

The copy from Joseph Haydn’s music library plays a crucial role in the reception history of the mass in Vienna. After the composer’s death the manuscript became part of the Esterházy collection and was long believed to have been lost. It survived World War II hidden in a chimney of Eisenstadt castle and has never since been studied by Bach scholars. It comes as a great surprise that this copy is among the earliest sources for the mass: The manuscript originated in Berlin and can securely be dated to the time around 1770; it is closely related to the copy in the Amalienbibliothek and thus to an early and authorized transmission (via C. P. E. Bach and Kirnberger). It shall be shown that the manuscript is very likely to have belonged to the Austrian Ambassador to the Prussian Court Gottfried van Swieten before it came into Haydn’s hands.

It is commonly known that van Swieten, who settled in Vienna in 1777, initiated Mozart to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and in the light of the statement “that he gave me all the works of Handel and Sebastian Bach to take home with me” (Mozart’s letter to his sister, 24 April 1782) we must conclude that Mozart was able to study in detail Bach’s mass, a work of unprecedented scope and complexity, shortly before he started working on his Mass in C Minor K. 427.

The discovery of the Eisenstadt score therefore provides an entirely new basis for exploring the astonishing similarities between two of the most demanding mass compositions of the 18th century. These go far beyond the use of a five-part “chorus” with two sopranos for the Kyrie and an eight-part double chorus for the Osanna. Bachian (and Handelian) traits can also be observed e.g. in Mozart’s Duetto “Domine Deus”, and the “Jesu Christe” chorus with the subsequent “Cum Sancto Spiritu” fugue. The most striking example is arguably Mozart’s “Qui tollis” which seems to have been derived from Bach’s “Crucifixus”. Reports by Friedrich Rochlitz and Maximilian Stadler about Mozart indebtedness to Handel (and Bach) make it obvious that allusions to Baroque masters in his operas and church music were regarded as deliberate stylistic choices by the composer.

Last updated on 12 October 2007