Bach, B minor Mass, Part 2. T. Herbert Dimmock provides discusses the Gloria. BDP #287.

 <music: J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1>

Two movements after the opening Kyrie, is the Gloria.  [Text: ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.’] Bach’s musical setting of the Gloria is completely different from the Kyrie. After the long, thoughtful, introspective, beseeching Kyrie, suddenly in the Gloria of the B Minor Mass the music explodes with overwhelming brilliance and vitality. All three trumpets, which have been silent up till now, play for the first time. They are joined by the timpani. The brass and timpani are also joined by all the other musicians onstage: flutes, oboes, bassoon, strings, the continuo group and – of course - the full, five-part choir.
Let explore the beginning of the Gloria. Immediately we notice how active the full orchestra is. The three trumpets have very prominent, rhythmic and exhilarating music. They play [music]. Everything within this music is imbued with dance figures. It is amazingly joyful and merrily perks along.

The Gloria text is “Glory to God in the highest.” So, as we have so often discovered in the past, Bach finds a plethora of musical gestures to bring out the ideas within the text. In fact, Bach’s remarkable sensitivity to the text is one of the most consistent and most prominent hallmarks of his approach to setting sacred texts to music. For example, the Sopranos sing [music]. That is a notably high note for them to sing [music]. Gloria, gloria [singing]. The melody soars upward to affirm the point that the ‘glorification’ is directed to the One who lives on high - God. Bach then elaborates on the quality of this glorification. His musical lines on the word ‘gloria’ are significantly long. Bach’s evident point is that we here on earth should offer glory to God incessantly.

Bach accomplishes this in part with word painting. [word painting is music that sounds like what the words actually mean. Action verbs (turn, run, fall, and walk) present ready opportunities for word painting] As noted, in this case, the singers sustain a single note for a long time. Immediately upon finishing their long note, the singer’s line explodes [fast music]. Again and again Bach calls upon his chorus to sing lines composed of one long note followed by a joyful eruption of faster notes. The idea is clear. The combination of the long notes, the dancing musical figures - which move upwards - and the exuberant orchestral accompaniment make a compelling musical case that all of humanity is to offer praise to God. That praise is to be endless and joyful. Further, that joyful praise is to be directed up towards heaven. In short, the text is perfectly matched and enhanced by the music.
Next we arrive at the second big phrase in the Gloria: “et in terra pax” [“and on earth peace”]. All those superb orchestral musicians, who have been magnificently playing those virtuosic melodies, suddenly are silent as this new section begins [music]. The members of the choir sing [music]. What is that figure? [music] Perhaps you are familiar with Handel’s Messiah. If so, think back to the text of the first aria in that beloved oratorio. The strings play [music]. That repeating gentle eighth note figure that Handel uses is intended as a figure of comfort. The image for me is one of the Almighty gently patting humanity on the back. Here, in the B Minor Mass, the ‘pats’ are in the form of gentle little nurturing strokes [music] which repeat over and over again [music]. There is an additional remarkable feature that Bach saves especially for the word pax.  Bach puts a musical ‘halo’ around the word – thus asserting that it is a holy vision for humanity to work for peace on earth throughout all time. The first place we hear this halo is in the low voices of the choir. However, Bach clearly wishes to emphasize the importance of working for peace by giving the halo figure to all the voices, one after the other.  While the trebles in the choir are singing [music] the low basses have this figure [singing]. Once again, we find Bach’s beautiful halo [music]. Over and over again these lovely pictures of the gentle comfort merge with and are surrounded by Bach’s halos of pax, peace.

Bach treats each and every phrase in the Latin Mass with this same exquisite love and care. His choices of rhythm, instrumentation, word painting, and symbolism all work together to achieve a powerful and transformative whole. Recall as we saw a moment ago in the Sanctus, Bach represents God, the most perfect entity in all of creation, with the “most perfect interval” in music, the octave. That is just one example of the thoughtful and highly developed approach to the music of the B Minor Mass.  Those musical details permeate the entire work. As we have seen, Bach’s remarkable achievement is accomplished in a wide variety of ways. For me, it is worth celebrating that each and every choice that Bach made in the B Minor Mass is unfailingly successful. He effortlessly affords fresh and moving ideas in each and every one of the 26 movements of this immortal masterpiece.  

<music: J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1>