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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Missa Brevis in G major BWV 236

Discussions in the Week of May 9, 2004

John Reese wrote (May 21, 2004):
I was looking over the score to the G Major mass and had a couple of interesting thoughts. Although "interesting" is a relative term.

Fact: BWV 236 borrows two movements from BWV 79, the opening chorus and a duet.

Fact: BWV 79 contained a few "martial" elements, such as an unusually obstinate drum-beat in the opening chorus and a "stamping" theme in the duet. These were commented on by Schweitzer.

Fact: Schweitzer believed the cantata was written in 1735, and no doubt thought it was influenced by the War of Polish Succession, which ended that year. (He referred to "the special events of 1735" as a possible inspiration.)

Fact: Newer sources put the composition of the cantata at 1725, making its militaristic elements somewhat puzzling. (Although some of the text refers to "arrows" and "foes", there is not an overriding warlike theme to the libretto.)

Could it be that Schweitzer misinterpreted the cantata and the significance of its musical imagery?

Here comes the interesting part (I swear; don't go away yet!): The parodies used in the mass are close to the original, except they dispense with the martial elements. The tympani and horns are missing (the choir substitutes for the horns!), and the "stamping" theme is smoothed over in the duet.

Interesting? I think so. Significant? Maybe not. Maybe so.

Any thoughts?

Neil Halliday
wrote (May 21, 2004):
John Reese asks (of the 1st movement of BWV 79 "Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn und Schild", parodied in the 'Gloria' of BWV 236):
"Could it be that Schweitzer misinterpreted the cantata and the significance of its musical imagery?"

Robertson, in his book 'The Church Cantatas of J.S Bach', writes (of the perhaps mistaken association of BWV 79 with the 1735 war):

"the Reformation Festival (for which the cantata was written) was, as Whittaker says, 'the celebration of earthly victories in the cause of national religion' and so there is no need, in any case, to look further than this to account for this stupendous battle scene."

Therefore, I think a reasonable case, on textual grounds, can be made for the reduction in the martial character of the music which is shown in the 'Gloria' of BWV 236 (which is minus the horns and timpani), the text of which has nothing to do with spiritual or earthly battles.

BTW, you can check out various recordings of the the 1st movement of BWV 79 at:

Nanraella wrote (May 21, 2004):
Although I haven't heard the actual cantata, I've just gone to the site and looked the lyrics up, and I would agree with Neil as to the origin of the military attitude of the music. Seeing that it is on Reformation Sunday that the cantata was supposed to be sung, and the lyrics are taken from Psalm 84:12 (a Psalm about the church and the psalmist's love for it), I would think that Bach meant to illustrate the stance of the church as militant, on earth, as it certainly was for everyone to see during Martin Luther's time.

However, the events surrounding the composition of the cantata could well be influential on the piece. The glory of it is that the music is relevant to ANY period of time, since Bach wrote it from the Bible, which is the infallible word of eternal God, and itself relevant to any time. So Bach could write for the Reformation, the war of 1735, and even, unwittingly, for the church today, since the battle we fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil, is constant. The Lord is always sun and shield, even outside of 1735. Praise him.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantatas for Reformation [General Topics]


Discussions in the Week of October 13, 2013

William Hoffman wrote (October 13, 2013):
Missa Kyrie-Gloria in G Major, BWV 236: Intro.

(BCW Weekly Discussions: final “Masses”: Oct 13, 2013, BWV 236, “Missa Brevis” in G major; and Oct 20, 2013, BWV 237-242, 5 Sanctus & Christe eleison. They can be accessed through BCW, “Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242,” .)

By the end of the 1730s, Bach virtually ceased production of both sacred and secular cantatas, whether for special events such as feast days or birthdays of notables. Only on rare occasions sometimes did he turn a cantata through parody to serve both spiritual and profane realms, such as BWV 30(a), 193(a), and 195. Instead, Bach turned to contrafaction of arias and choruses from mature, biblically-based church year cantatas composed between 1723 and 1726, and sung in German. Originally they were part of his tree annual cycles, appropriate mostly for the omnes tempore Trinity Time in the Propers. Later, they were set to the text of the Latin Mass Ordinary opening Missa Kyrie-Gloria movements through new text underlay of music in concerted settings similar in both affect and text with compatible in instrumental accompaniment. The result in the latter 1730s is a collection of four fairly compact cantata-style Missae Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-236.

These so-called Missa Brevis, able to be presented primarily during the main Lutheran service on feast days, may have done double duty in the Catholic services at the Saxon Court on Dresden and possibly at special Lutheran services of allegiance or thanksgiving at Leipzig’s official Nikolaus Church. In comparison with the hour-long Kyrie-Gloria of the Mass in B Minor, BWV 232I, composed for the court in 1733 with Bach’s petition to be designated a court composer, the four Missae Kyrie-Gloria, BWV 233-236 run about half an hour and are appropriate for both Lutheran and Catholic services. Like the extended Kyrie-Gloria in B Minor, the movements used as settings of the Mass Ordinary are usually based on choruses and arias from Bach’s church year cantatas, set to original German poetry that has a similar mood -- sorrow in the Kyrie (Lord have mercy), and often joyous in the Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest).

Bach’s Missa Kyrie-Gloria in G Major, BWV 236 is distinguished through its use of traditional fugue-style in the three choral movements of the strict fugue “Kyrie eleison,” the three-fugue “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” and the closing prelude and fugue, “Cum Sancto Spiritu.” In contrast are the three more intimate, progressive movements of the “Gratias agimus tibi” menuett-style dance bass aria, the personal soprano-alto duet “Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,” and the tenor trio aria “Quoniam to solus sanctus.” Bach skillfully adapts mostly music originally set to Old Testament biblical texts in German and a chorale from four cantatas (BWV 17, 79, 138, and 179) and composed the Middle Trinity Time thematic Sundays and the Reformation Festival.

Here is the BCW Details information:

*Composed: Leipzig, c1738-1739 | 1st performance: 1738-1739 ? – Leipzig
*Sources: Parodies of Mvts. from Cantatas BWV 17, BWV 79, BWV 138, BWV 179
*Text: Latin Mass; Latin-1, | Translations: English-1, Philip Ambrose)
*Scoring: Soloists: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; 4-part Chorus (SATB); Orchestra: 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, continuo
*Score: BGA [4.72 MB],
*References: BGA: VIII | NBA: II/2 | BC: E 4 | Zwang: - | First Published: Bonn, 1828
*Commentary: AMG | Count Frantisek Antonin von Sporck and Bach’s Four Shorter Masses, “Baroque Composers and Musicians,” online: .
*Music Examples (BWV 233-242 selective),
*Discussions: “Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works,” Week of May 9, 2004, .
*Recording (YouTube), Michel Corboz, Ensemble Lausanne,
*Recording Listings: “Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242, Recordings of Complete Works: Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242” lists 54 recordings including many two-volume versions of all four Missae, BCW .

The Missa Kyrie-Gloria in G Major, BWV 236 has an autograph score that dates to 1738-39 and is based on six movements drawn from four cantatas, BWV 17, 79, 138, and 179. “As in all these later parodies, Bach makes an effort to differentiate and embellish the music more strongly,” says Dr. Andreas Bomba, Bach Akademie Stuttgart (English translation Dr. Miguel Carazo & Assoc.), Helmut Rilling, Hänssler v. 72 (BCW Recordings No. 21).

There is no evidence in the parts that Missa Kyrie-Gloria in G Major, BWV 236, was repeated in the 1740s, although it was part of a collection of the four Missae, BWV 233-236, copied by Bach son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnikol, c.1747/48 and found in the Emmanuel Bach 1790 estate catalogue. The original autograph score probably was inherited by Friedemann Bach and was listed in the Breitkopf fall 1761 catalogue under “Missae” with instrumentation, with the “Gloria” copied on 29 October 1761 by Bach student and copyist Christian Friedrich Penzel. Writing in 1754, theorist Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, part of the Berlin School that included Emmanuel Bach, cited the opening “Kyrie” in his Treatise on the Fugue, as a fine example of contrapuntal writing. The collection was first published in 1807 at the beginning of the so-called Bach Revival.

1. “Kyrie eleison” This chorus is a strict, old-fashion motet fugue in traditional <alle breve> 2/2 cut time for four voices with doubled string parts and continuo, needing no instrumental introduction. It is a straightforward contrafaction [“nearly unaltered,” Dr. Bomba (Ibid.)] of the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 179, Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei (See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy, Ecclesiasticus 1:28), for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, 1723. The original text, Ecclesiasticus 1:28, is the preacher’s admonition against hypocrisy and a false heart while in the Mass text, known as the Great Litany, “the music contrasts the Kyrie, an invocation to God the Father, with the Christe, an invocation to the Son made flesh, and omits the third traditional invocation,” repeat of the Kyrie. “Rising from the depths of the bass line, the great work also recalls the antiquity of the musical tradition [fugue] and the Litany itself; as in the Mass in B Minor, Bach displays all musical forms and places himself at the end of a huge family tree” [Carl de Nys liner notes, 1994; Michel Corboz, Ensemble Lausanne, Erato, 3 CDs 97236 (BCW Recording No. 9, 1976).

Text Comparison (BWV 236/1 Latin to BWV 179/1 German)

BWV 236/1
Kyrie eleison:
Lord have mercy,
BWV 179/1
Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei,
See that your fear of God is not hypocrisy

BWV 236/1
Christe eleison
Christ have mercy,
BWV 179/1
und diene Gott nicht mit falschem Herzen!
and do not serve god with a false heart!

“In the Mass in G major all the movements are parodies and it is fascinating to find Bach choosing earlier compositions, whose musical architecture (if not the surface detail) suits his purpose, and completely altering their emotional impact by extensive recomposition of the individual lines” [© 2000 Richard Campbell [liner notes, Purcell Quartet (OVPP), Chandos Chaconne CHAN-0653 (BWV 233, 236): No. 25, Vol. 2,[Chandos-CD-CHAN0653].pdf ]. “The (Greek) text (‘Kyrie eleison’ – ‘Christe eleison’ – ‘Kyrie eleison’) exhibits both duality and tripartite structure and in the music borrowed for the Mass in G (the opening chorus of BWV 179 the emphasis is on duality. Bach naturally chooses a piece with two distinct and metrically appropriate themes, each of them treated fugally in turn and, importantly (a theological point informing the choice?), combining towards the end of the movement.”

2. Chorus "Gloria in excelsis Deo," is borrowed from the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 79, “Gott der Herr ist Sonn’ und Schild” (God the Lord is sun and shield), originally composed inm 1725 for the Reformationfest. Like the opening Kyrie chorus, it is written in untransposed G Major. It has an introductory 45-bar orchestral sinfonia (with later interludes) for the accompanying two oboes, strings and continuo. The opening original two horn and two flute parts are adapted to sopranos and altos for the first “Vivace” 12 measures, singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” (Glory be to God on high), followed by the instrumental ensemble alone for 21 measures and then the “Gloria” reentrance of the sopranos and altos for 12 measures, followed by the full chorus beginning with the actual choral music of the original cantata now singing the contrasting text “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” (and on earth peace to men of good will), etc.

“Does it really weaken the music if Bach decides to rescore the original’s military opening for horns and kettledrums, giving the horn parts to the angels of heaven (the high voices) and jettisoning the literal drumbeats altogether?, asks Campbell. “The underlying principle of abrupt contrast is, after all, strictly preserved at what had previously been the colossal first entry of all four voices with the words from Psalm 84: ‘For the Lord God is a light and defence’. Now it is, if anything, enhanced by transposition of the outer parts downwards for ‘et in terra pax’, a heartfelt expression of the desire for peace on earth.”

The relevance of the original setting to the new Latin text “commands attention” and Bach’s reshaping of the opening sinfonia into the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” “is yet anther proof of the genius of the fully mature Bach; the whole movement contains three large polyphonic sections [Gloria, p.162; et in terra pax p.166, Laudamus te, p.171] with a central fugue on the theme which is stated in the first bars of the introduction,” says de Nys (Ibid.).

Text comparison (BWV 236/2 and BWV 79/1)

BWV 236/2
Laudamus te,
We praise thee,
benedicimus te,
we bless thee,
doramus te,
we worship thee,
glorificamus te.
We glorify thee

Text BWV 79/1
Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild.
God the Lord is sun and shield,
Der Herr gibt Gnade und Ehre,
the Lord gives mercy and honour,
er wird kein Gutes mangeln lassen den Frommen.
he will allow no good thing to be lacking to the righteous.

3. Gratias agimus tibi. The meter changes to ¾ menuett and the tonality to D Major in this extended free da-capo rondo-like aria for bass voice with strings. It is taken from Chorale Cantata 138 Warum betrübst du dich, mein Hertz? (Why do you cause distress to yourself, my heart?), for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, 1723]. “Bach rewrites the vocal solo in almost all matters of detail and clarifies many points of articulation in the instrumental accompaniment, although leaving their notes largely unchanged,” says Campbell (Ibid.). The original aria in D Major “speaks of the perfect peace and safety of him who puts his trust in God; this is why we thank him, “Gratias agimus tibi,” says de Nys (Ibid.). “Rhythm and melodic structure are reminiscent of some dance movements and perfectly expressed the joyful and confident gratitude: these are the angels in the frescoes of Fra Angelico in Fiesole.”

[See Thomas Braatz, BCW, Examples from the Score, BWV 138/4 vs. BWV 236/3, for the two vocal lines for bass voice, ] . The opening , “Gratias agimus tibi,” is repeated to close the movement. The next phrase, beginning “Domine Deus” is repeated as the Soprano Bass duet, Movement No. 4.

Text comparison (BWV 236/3 and BWV 138/5)

BWV 236/3
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.
We give thee thanks for thy great glory.
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
O Lord God, heavenly King,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
God the Father Almighty,
Domine Fili unigenite,
O Lord, the only-begotten Son,
Jesu Chrste.
Jesus Christ.

Text (BWV 138/5)
Auf Gott steht meine Zuversicht,
On God depends my confidence,
Mein Glaube lässt ihn walten.
my faith lets him rule.
Nun kann mich keine Sorge nagen,
Now no care can eat away at me,
Nun kann mich auch kein Armut plagen.
Now no poverty also can cause me distress.
Auch mitten in dem größten Leide
Even in the greatest suffering
Bleibt er mein Vater, meine Freude,
he remains my father, my joy,
Er will mich wunderlich erhalten.
He will support me in a marvellous way.

4. Domine Deus, Rex coelestis. This duet for soprano and alto with two violins in unison and continuo in 2/2 time is derived from the soprano-bass duet fifth movement, “Gott, ach Gott, verlaß die Deinen/ Nimmermehr!” (God, ah God, forsake your people never again!), transposed from B Minor to A Minor, from Cantata BWV 79, that also provided the Gloria chorus (No. 2 above). The aria is in tri-partite ABB form and “all the parts have been so thoroughly rethought in terms of affect that it is at least halfway to being a new piece entirely,” says Campbell. “The words of this cantata [Psalm 84:12] begged God not to abandon his people: it was easy to adapt this text for the <Qui tollis peccate mundi”> section, says de Nys (Ibid.). “The plea for mercy in this section corresponds well with the words of the cantata and is underscored by the eloquent up and down movement of the unisono violins,” says Dr. Bomba (Ibid.).

Text comparison (BWV 236/4 and BWV 79/5)

BWV 236/4
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
O Lord God, heavenly King,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
God the Father Almighty,
Domine Fili unigenite,
O Lord, the only-begotten Son,
Jesu Christe altissime,
Jesus Christ, the Most High,
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
miserere nobis,
have mercy upon us.
qui tollis peccata mundi,
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
receive our prayer.
Qui sedes ad dextram Patris, miserere nobis.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.

Text (BWV 79/5)
Gott, ach Gott, verlaß die Deinen
God, ah God, forsake your people
never again!
Laß dein Wort uns helle scheinen;
Let your word shine clearly for us;
Obgleich sehr
Wider uns die Feinde toben,
although our enemies rage very greatly against us,
So soll unser Mund dich loben.
our mouth will then praise you.

No. 5 Quoniam tu solus sanctus, Bach returns to Cantata BWV 179, for the trio aria for tenor, oboe, strings and continuo in two parts with ritornelli, “Falscher Heuchler Ebenbild/ Können Sodomsäpfel heißen (The appearance of false hypocrites can be called Sodom’s apples, original text possibly by Dr. Christian Weiss Sr.). In the Missa the music is expanded but the accompaniment reduced to solo oboe and continuo, untransposed in E Minor, 4/4 time, and marked “Adagio.” This fluid aria “leads to an extraordinary concentration of expression,” says de Nys (ibid.). “When one reads the words of the original aria one can understand what lead Bach to select this piece: the hypocrites stand before the Lord, they are destroyed in the face of God who alone is holy.” The adaptation “makes it as pensive piece – unusual for such an affirmative [Latin] text , and even more so when we contrast the German words to the cantata,” says Dr. Bomba (Ibid.). “Baroque sentiment seems to have made no great distinction between the representation of truth and criticism of the same!”

Text comparison (BWV 236/5 and BWV 179/3)

BWV 236/5
For thou only art holy;
tu solus Dominus,
thou only art the Lord;
tu solus altissimus Jesu Christe.
thou only, O Jesus Christ, art most high.

BWV 179/3
Falscher Heuchler Ebenbild
The appearance of false hypocrites
Können Sodomsäpfel heißen,
can be called Sodom’s apples
Die mit Unflat angefüllt
that are filled with filth
Und von außen herrlich gleißen.
and from outside glisten splendidly.
Heuchler, die von außen schön,
Hypocrites, who are outwardly fine,
Können nicht vor Gott bestehn.
cannot stand before God.

No. 6 chorus Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris, Amen. “For the final chorus of the Mass, Bach chooses once again the introductory chorus of a cantata: the large-scale fugue in BWV 17,” “Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich,” (Who gives thanks praises me), transposed from A Major to G Major, “to which the Mass adds a brief, homophonic introduction in the place of an instrumental prelude,” says Dr. Bomba (Ibid.). Cantata BWV 17 originally was composed for the 14th Sunday after Trinity in 1726 to a Rudolstdat text as part of the third annual cantata service cycle. “The Mass in G Major also ends with a huge chorus, a dazzling illustration of his genius, reconstructed from Cantata BWV 17: two great fugues of marvelously compact writing to verse 23 of Psalm 50” says de Nys (ibid.). “The most striking aspect of this chorus is the manner in which Bach has combined the many forms of the old motet, the origin of the great polyphonic choral compositions, into one powerful unit of huge dimensions.”

Text comparison (BWV 236/6 and BWV 17/1)

BWV 236/6
Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris, Amen.
With the Holy Ghost in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

BWV 17/1
Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich,
Who gives thanks praises me
und das ist der Weg,
and this is the way
dass ich ihm zeige das Heil Gottes. Psalm 50:23
that I show him God's salvation.

For Systematic Discussion of Bach’s Missae, including forms, history and Bach’s motives, see:
*BCW, “Douglas Cowling wrote (October 10, 2011)”: BWV 234 -- Bach's Five Masses, .
*“Bach’s Four Missae” [PDF], Uri Golomb, Dec 2008, ; includes topics “The works’ genesis,” “Parody and theological message,” “Smoothing the rough edges,” “Backing away from his own dark vision?,” “The purely-musical consideration,” and “Summary,” “List of sources cited,” and “Missae discography” © Uri Golomb, 2008

For further information on the Missa Brevis, see Wikipedia, .

BCW Articles:
*“Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works: Missae Brevis BWV 233-236, ; includes “Uri Golomb wrote (May 1, 2004): "Lutheran" Masses” and
“Thomas Braatz wrote (May 7, 2004): Lutheran Masses BWV 233-236”
*Thomas Braatz’ “Missae Brevis BWV 233-236, Diagram of Borrowings,” ,
*“Latin Church Music,” William Hoffman, Jul 2011,


Discussions in the Week of June 12, 2016 (4th round)

William Hoffman wrote wrote (June 17, 2016):
Missao. 4 in G Major, BWV 236: Intro

The previous discussion is sufficient, go to BCW “Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works: Missa Brevis in G major BWV 236,” BCW, Systematic Discussions of Bach's Other Vocal Works: Missa Brevis in G major BWV 236, Discussions in the Week of October 13, 2013. Also, the first Missa of 233 is detailed at "Mass for the Dresden court (Bach), BWV 233a," Mass for the Dresden court (Bach) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Google)


Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242: Details
Complete Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Recordings of Individual Movements | Sanctus BWV 241 | Christe Eleison BWV 242
General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Systematic Discussions: BWV 233 | BWV 234 | BWV 235 | BWV 236 | BWV 233-236 | BWV 237-242

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127


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