Belfast, 2-4 November 2007



Some observations on the formal design of Bach’s B-minor Mass

Ulrich Siegele

(University of Tübingen, Germany)

To musicians of today (and to musicologists as well), it seems a strange notion that a fixed number of bars is directly equivalent to a fixed duration of time irrespective of metre and tempo. But that's just the procedure Lorenz Mizler recommends in 1754 to a composer of church music for controlling the extent of a work. Indeed, the actual correlation values given prove to be retrospective and have to be altered with regard to Bach, for in his work 162 bars correspond to seven and a half minutes as a rule, the total of 162 subdivided in six units of 27. The bar numbers relate to groups of pieces rather than to each individual piece. The resulting sums reveal their import when split into their components. These are the basic value and its modifications, i. e. large, structural and small, pragmatic ones. On the one hand, the basic values tend towards round numbers in the general computation of time (e. g. 90, 45 or 30 minutes); on the other hand, the modifications only grant the practicability of this procedure as a working tool in designing, in so far as they allow to react upon compositional or even practical needs. Eventually the averages, particularly of the basic values, but sometimes of the structural modifications too, hint at standard values of the single pieces making up the sums. Following the investigation of this issue in collections containing preludes and fugues, suites and sonatas, the present paper is going to examine the B minor Mass, thereby combining the aspect of the formal design with the aspects of key structure and scoring.

Last updated on 24 June 2007