Return to Homepage

On-line Book Review


Dimension: 23.9 x 16 x 0.9 cm
TITLE De Missae breves (BWV 233-236) van Johann Sebastian Bach by Ignace Bossuyt
PUBL. DETAILS Peer (Belgium): Alamire (2000) 90p (text) + 60p (music examples); paper back; Price: 595 Belgian Franks (c.15 Euro)
ISBN 90-6853-145-X
TO ORDER Alamire, PB 45 - B 3990 Peer, Belgium (
DESCRIPTION Detailed overview of Bach's Missa breves
READERSHIP Students and music lovers who want to find the first insight into the forms, structures and characteristics of Bach's vocal works
Systematic discussion on the works concerned

Missa was a genre Bach explored fairly late in his life; it was first explored in 1733 (i.e. Bach was 48) when he sought a royal title from the Dresden court so as to increase his influence in Leipzig. This work, the Kyrie and Gloria, was dedicated to the new Elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II; Bach later revisited the work and expanded it to make the only full Roman Ordinary, the B-minor Mass (BWV 232).

Four Missae (BWV 233–36) are believed to have been written in c.1738. They were not as well known as Bach’s other works using Latin text such as the B-minor Mass and Magnificat; yet they are important works to be studied carefully when examining Bach’s compositional activities in this period, especially since it overlaps in time with his most ambitious organ work, Clavier-Übung III that is based on the same theme of ‘Mass’; it was also the period when Bach was revisiting his earlier compositions for various collections of works (e.g. the ‘Great 18’ and the Well-Tempered Clavier II) for which the study of Bach’s parody techniques should be put in context: each Missa consists of six movements, and out of the total of 24 movements, at least 19 are known to have existed earlier as cantata movements.

Contents in brief
Johann Sebastian Bach en de missa brevis
Latijn en Duits in de lutherse eredienst
Missae breves of lutherse missen
De opbouw van de missae breves
Stile antico en stile concertato: motetstijl en concerterende stijl
De parodie in de missae breves
De vier Missae breves (BWV 233-236)
De koren in Kyrie en Gloria
   Koren in stile antico of otetstijl
   Koren in concerterende stijl
De concerterende aria’s in het Gloria
   De aria’s binnen de totaalstructuur van het Gloria
Appendix: Muziektheorie in een notendop
Consonanten, dissonanten, akkoorden
Toonaard of tonaliteit
Modulatie en cadens

The published literatures on these four Missae are not numerous; it is particularly disappointing when compared with the famous counterpart, BWV 232. Although there is a quite healthy collection of articles (including half a dozen articles discussing a specific aspect of the work, plus one facsimile edition of Bach’s autograph) on BWV 234, it appears that this book by Bossuyt is the only monograph currently available, dealing with all four Missae in a systematic manner, covering from the discussion of ‘Missa brevis’ in its historical context to the issues of compositional styles, structure and parodies.

The book is written in Dutch, and for this reason it can be a problem to many readers (including myself); yet the discussion of various topics is well structured and rich in information, making many references to the most recent publications in both German and English. The book also makes generous use of music examples that are provided in a separate booklet.

The appendix provides fairly basic music theory materials, useful for students who do not have a secure theoretical foundation. The omission of index, the list of abbreviations (e.g. A. Dürr-K) and bibliography can be frustrating when used as a reference book.

musical examples are given separately 
Published online on 14 December 2000

Return to the previous page