9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Style, expression and performance in the Second Kyrie of Bach’s B minor Mass

Uri Golomb

The Second Kyrie in Bach’s B minor Mass has attracted a wide spectrum of interpretations. The one extreme is represented by Philipp Spitta’s characterisation of this movement as “urgent and passionate”; the other by Christoph Wolff, who associates it with Bach’s dispassionate stile antico, suggesting that it should therefore be treated “[less] dynamically and expressively” than more modern movements. Others have viewed the movement as equivocal, both stylistically and expressively.

A survey of recorded performances of the Mass reveals a similar diversity. While many readings project a relatively dispassionate, uninflected profile for this movement, there are also examples of heatedly dramatic performances, as well as interpretations which project a sense of tension between calmer and more agitated elements.

In this paper, I propose to examine the stylistic and expressive profiles of several performances, and the ways in which performers employ specific performance parameters (e.g., tempo, articulation, timbre and so forth) in order to highlight or suppress specific elements in the score. I will also examine parallels (and possible patterns of mutual influence) between these performative interpretations on the one hand, and critical interpretations of this movement on the other.

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Last updated on 29 March 2000 by Yo Tomita