Between 1737 and 1748 Johann Sebastian Bach wrote at
least five Masses, four of which survive in their
entirety. (The C Minor Mass exists only as a fragment.)
These are known as the Missa brevis (plural is Missae
brevis), meaning brief Masses or Lutheran Masses, in
contrast to the Mass in B Minor, Bach's only Latin work
following the complete Catholic Mass structure. But
none of these Masses gets much attention in either Bach
scholarship or performances, suffering first from being
in the shadow of the Mass in B Minor - called by Georg
Nägeli one of the "greatest musical works of art of all
times and all peoples" - and second by the fact that
each of these four Masses are "parody" works. A parody
work is one based on preexisting music. Parody Masses
were common in the Renaissance, whereby a composer
would create a new musical work out of old material.
Normally, that "old material" was a chant or popular
song, some musical element that would be recognizable
to the choir and congregation. For two famous examples,
see Josquin's Missa pange lingua (based on the chant
"Pange lingua", still used today in the Catholic
Church), or Machaut's Missa l'homme armé (which is
based on a popular song).
Bach's Masses, however, are parodies of his own work.
In modern times, we tend to think of the word "parody"
in terms of comedy; but the original use of the word in
music had no such connotations. In fact, parody was a
common technique that was often a form of flattery - if
your work proved to be the source of the parody, then
your music had to be fairly well known, perhaps even
well respected. In the present case, Bach's Mass in G
Major is largely based on his own earlier cantatas:
- The "Kyrie Eleison" is derived from Cantata 179
- the opening movement of the "Gloria in Excelsis"
comes from Cantata 79
- the "Gratias agimus tibi" movement is derived from
- continuing in the Gloria, the movement "Domine Deus"
also comes from Cantata 79
- "Quoniam tu solus sanctus" comes, like the Kyrie,
from Cantata 179
- the final movement of the Gloria, "Cum Sancto
Spiritu", originates from Cantata 17
Source: Bach.org (http://www.bach.org/bwv236.php).
I created this arrangement of the "Gratias ago tibi
valde" (I thank you very much) for French Horn &
Strings (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).