Mass (music)

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Beginning of the Symbolum Nicenum of Bach's B minor Mass
with a Gregorian head motif

Mass (Missa) is the name of a genre of musical compositions based on the texts of the Holy Mass of the Catholic liturgy . In addition to the constant texts ( ordinarium ), some of the texts ( proprium ) that change according to the church year or occasion are set to music in some compositions .

The Lutheran liturgy largely retained the ordinarium. The typical Lutheran mass consists of the parts Kyrie and Gloria . Johann Sebastian Bach wrote four Latin Lutheran masses . Towards the end of his life, he added Kyrie and Gloria from 1733 to a complete mass, the B minor mass . Many other Lutheran composers composed German Lutheran masses . The analog setting of Anglican church services is called service .

While the individual parts of the mass are named after their opening words, the mass itself is called “Ite, missa est” (literally, for example: “Go, now is broadcast”). A mass for the deceased is called a requiem .


The early occidental church chant, from which the polyphonic and orchestral masses developed, is contained in the missal , the kyrial and the antiphonary . It is called Gregorian chant because Pope Gregory I ordered it.

Based on Gregorian chant, in the Carolingian period BC a. the proprium parts expanded. Two compositional means were used for this: the trope and the sequence . But masses are not yet composed as a self-contained whole, only individual parts. The traditions only contain collections of individual pieces according to their liturgical function, i.e. Kyrie, Gloria etc. A first step towards a multi-part composition was taken in the 13th and 14th centuries. B. Gloria and Credo or Sanctus and Agnus Dei summarized as pairs. Ultimately, collections are also created that consist of musical settings of all sets of the fair. However, these have been passed down anonymously and it is not clear whether the different parts go back to a single composer.

A turning point is the Mass de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut around 1364. This is the first extant setting of a complete Mass ordinary by a composer known by name, and at the same time the oldest known mass in four-part setting. Isorhythmy is a special musical device in this composition .

In the Renaissance, especially the Franco-Flemish vocal polyphony, the composition of connected masses is meant, since that time the ordinarium, the rule. Most of the time the composition is based on a cantus firmus , with L'homme armé being particularly popular. (On the means of composition see counterpoint .) The outstanding composers of masses at that time included u. a. Guillaume Dufay and Johannes Ockeghem .

Around 1500 this music reached its first climax with Josquin Desprez . He develops u. a. the parody fair, in which a template, e.g. B. a motet , is taken up and used in parts for the mass. Longer polyphonic passages can also be parodied.

The Council of Trent from 1545 called for church music to return to simple forms. It was thought that the word was too incomprehensible in the complicated polyphonic compositions. The strong influence of secular music as a model is also inappropriate for liturgical use. Some voices even want a return to unanimous Gregorian chant. In this context stands the historically not guaranteed, but later emerged in the form of a legend, the rescue of modern church music by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli .

Up to the end of the 18th century, mass compositions had been created almost exclusively for liturgical use in high mass . In the 19th century, the genre of concert masses developed which, due to their size and performance requirements, go beyond the scope of the worship service (e.g. Beethoven's Missa solemnis ). To the present day, however, new compositions of the text for the service are still being made.

The classical mass composition used the Latin or (in the case of Kyrie) Greek text, which was the only permitted text in the Catholic liturgy until the Second Vatican Council . In addition, there were and are an increasing number of national language fairs. However, some mass compositions, such as Gioachino Rossini's Petite Messe solennelle , contain parts outside the ordinarium. In his German Mass , Franz Schubert set poems to music that paraphrase parts of the Proprium and Ordinarium, for example the well-known “Heilig, Heilig, Heilig” represents the Sanctus . Leoš Janáček set the Ordinarium to music in the Czech language in his Glagolitic Mass .


As a rule, the fixed components of the Holy Mass ( Ordinarium ) are set to music, named after the opening words of the text. In some mass compositions, additional parts are set to music that belong to the proprium , the pieces of the mass that change according to the occasion. This is regularly the case with the Requiem , the celebration of mass for the deceased. There the introit “Requiem aeternam”, often also the offertory, and the sequence are partially or completely set to music. In some compositions, liturgical texts of the burial ( exsequien ) are also taken into account.

Order and affiliation are as follows:

Ordinarium Proprium
Introitus (choir)
Kyrie eleison / Christe eleison
Gradual with Alleluia
and verse (choir and soloist)
or tract (from the 9th century.
In sequence )
( Creed )
Offertory with verses
for choir and soloist
Sanctus with
Hosanna and Benedictus
Agnus Dei
Communio (choir)
Ite, missa est or

The heart of the mass, the prayer with the institution report , was spoken softly by the priest until the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council. In high mass with choral music, the Sanctus was divided into the two movements Sanctus and Benedictus - initially for reasons of time . The Sanctus was played in the liturgical place immediately after the prefecture , the Benedictus was moved to a place after the Conversion since the 16th century and began after the quiet elevation . In classical compositions, the Benedictus is therefore often designed to be particularly “ mystical ” and long.

Originally the term Missa brevis was used to denote a (complete) mass of shorter duration or without the Gloria, Credo and the proprium parts. The opposite in the Catholic tradition is the Missa solemnis , which did not necessarily have to last longer, but was more complex.

In the Protestant tradition, the Missa brevis , also known as the Lutheran Mass , is a composition by Kyrie and Gloria . The counterpart to this is the Missa tota , which, however, does not occur very often and probably reaches its climax in Bach's B minor Mass . Bach composed four Lutheran masses in Latin. Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel composed a German Mass in German.

Significant compositions

The most famous mass composition of the Ars nova today is the Mass de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut . A number of masses have come down to us from the Renaissance. Important composers include Palestrina ( Missa papae Marcelli ), Orlando di Lasso , Guillaume Du Fay ( Missa Sancti Jacobi ), Josquin Desprez ( Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae) , Hans Leo Haßler and Jacobus Gallus .

Lutheran composers also composed Latin mass chants and masses, so Michael Praetorius published a collection of such pieces in 1611, Missodia Sionia , which contains an eight-part mass.

From the 17th century onwards, the original unity of the singing disappeared in favor of independent instrumental accompaniment and the use of vocal soloists. Such masses were composed among others: Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber ( Missa Salisburgensis ), Johann Sebastian Bach ( B minor Mass ), Jan Dismas Zelenka , Joseph Haydn ( Missa in angustiis ), Michael Haydn , Antonio Salieri , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ( Great Mass in C minor ), Ludwig van Beethoven ( Missa solemnis ), Franz Schubert , Luigi Cherubini , Gioacchino Rossini ( Petite Messe solennelle ), Joseph von Eybler , Anton Bruckner , Franz Liszt , a. v. a.

See also


  • Horst Leuchtmann, Siegfried Mauser (Hrsg.): Mass and Motet (= manual of the musical genres 9). Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1998, ISBN 3-89007-132-5 .
  • Karlheinz Schlager, Peter Ackermann, Charles M. Atkinson, Franz Zagiba, Jerko Bezic, Christian Hannick, Ludwig Finscher, Laurenz Lütteken, Christiane Wiesenfeldt:  Messe. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present . Second edition, factual part, volume 6 (Meißen - Musique concrete). Bärenreiter / Metzler, Kassel et al. 1997, ISBN 3-7618-1107-1 , Sp. 174–228 ( online edition , subscription required for full access)
  • Hans Musch (ed.): Music in worship. Volume 1: Historical basics, liturgy, liturgical chant. 5th edition. ConBrio, Regensburg 1994, ISBN 3-930079-21-6 .
  • Karl Gustav Fellerer (Ed.): History of Catholic Church Music . Vol. 1. From the beginnings to the Tridentinum , Kassel / Basel 1972. Vol. 2. From the Tridentinum to the present , Kassel / Basel 1976, ISBN 3-7618-0225-0 .
  • Maria Helfgott : The Organ Mass. An examination of the organ-accompanied masses from the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century . Diss. Univ. Vienna 2009 ( full text online ; PDF; 43 MB).
  • Ernst Tittel: Austrian church music. Becoming-growing-working . Vienna 1961.
  • Franz Karl Praßl : Mass, Missa. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 3, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-7001-3045-7 .

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