Movt Latin English Translation Instruments Voices Key, Meter
1 Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to his people 3 trumpets, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoons, strings, continuo SSATB (choir) D Major 3/8; then switch to 4/4
2 Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you Solo violin; strings, continuo Solo SII A Major, 4/4
3 Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam We give you thanks for your great glory 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes,
2 flutes, bassoons, strings, continuo
SATB (choir) D Major, 2/2
4 Domine Deus Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnimpotens. Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe altissime: Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris: Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and Father; only begotten Son of the Lord, Jesus Christ most high: Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father Flute, strings, continuo Solo S1, T G Major, 4/4
5 Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram: Who takes away the sins of the world; have mercy on us, receive our prayer 2 flutes, strings, continuo SATB (choir) B minor 3/4
6 Qui sedes ad dexteram patris, miserere nobis: Who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us: Oboe d’amore, strings, continuo Solo A B minor, 6/8
7 Quoniam tu solus sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus altissimus: Jesu Christe: For you alone are Holy, you alone are the Lord, you alone are Most High: Jesus Christ Corno da caccia, bassoons, continuo Solo B D Major 3/4
8 Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris. Amen. With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen. 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoons, strings, continuo SSATB (choir) D Major, 3/4

The Gloria contains so many vivid images in the text, and Bach takes every opportunity to use word painting, making the music enhance the text both in terms of reflecting specific ideas and in terms of setting a distinct mood. The overall feel of the Gloria is joyful, echoed by overwhelming preference of major tonalities over minor in this setting. There are so many things one could discuss in this movement, but eventually, whoever is reading this would probably like to get some other things done! Therefore, I’ll just do some “highlights”.

To begin, one has to ask the question, why are some movements which say “we” sung as solos? Well, I think there are many answers to that. First, using some solos and some choral numbers is an easy way to provide more variety to the texture and timbre of the piece. Can you imagine how bored we might get – even if you absolutely adore Bach’s works – if the entire half hour of the Gloria used the same forces, or same key, or same instruments or same anything?!?! What Bach does well here is vary the sound, not necessarily within a single movement, but in going from one movement to the next; using a solo voice, or two, is a very easy way to accomplish this.

Second, sometimes an individual can make a more powerful statement than a large group. The group can be louder, but isn’t always better. A soloist can speak more clearly, because in textures like this, the listener doesn’t have to strain to make out one set of words among many. This individual singer might even be interpreted as the elected representative of the people, a chosen spokesperson.

Third, a solo or duet texture is more intimate, reflecting perhaps a prayer or perhaps a close relationship with God, which I think Bach himself probably felt, given that virtually all of his working life he spent in the service of the Lutheran Church.

Finally, the organization of the entire Gloria ends up being pretty symmetrical, a design of which Bach was quite fond. (Numbers, order, and shape are big parts of Bach’s style.) To explain, I’ll quote from Robin Leaver, Professor of Music at Westminster Choir College, who wrote the liner notes accompanying The Bach Choir’s recording of the Mass in B Minor:

Bach’s setting of the [Gloria after the opening movement] is a balanced symmetrical structure centered on the chorus “Qui tollis peccata mundi” [movement 5]. the outer movement “Laudamus te/Gratias agimus” [movts. 2/3] and “Quoniam tu solus/Cum Sancto Spiritu” [movts. 7/8] concentrate on the glory of the Trinity and share the same form: a solo followed by a chorus.

The middle three movements then, can also be seen as a group, although in this case one which is an arch form:

  • Solo instrument [flute] with solo voices [soprano and tenor], strings, and continuo
  • Chorus with strings, flutes, and continuo
  • Solo instrument [oboe d’amore] with solo voice [alto], strings, and continuo

Another interesting issue in the Gloria, and to a lesser extend in the Credo, is Bach’s reworking of previous material. This is something common to both Bach and Handel, his contemporary and other “twin tower” of the High Baroque. For example, the third movement (“Gratias agimus tibi”) is a reworking of a choral movement from Cantata 29, Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir. What I find interesting here is that in both cases, the text focuses on giving thanks to God. For Bach, therefore, the retooling of this movement to use in the Gloria was probably an easy stretch. As you can see below, both movements are set in duple meter (two half notes per measure), in D Major, and with exactly the same instrumentation. And, both are fugues; the subject changes in the retooled Gloria beginning with “propter magnam gloria tuam” (your great glory), at which point Bach adds melisma to indicate the “great glory.”

Curious about other movements Bach borrowed from himself? Check these out:

Mass in B Minor Ancestor?
Gloria, mvt. 5: “Qui tollis peccata mundi” Cantata No. 46, opening chorus
Credo, mvt. 2: “Patrem omnipotentem” Cantata No. 171, opening chorus
Credo, mvt. 5: “Crucifixus” Cantata No. 12, opening chorus
Credo, mvt. 9: “Et expecto resurrectionem” Cantata No. 120
Benedictus: “Osanna in excelsis” Cantata No. 215 [a secular work!]
Agnus Dei Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11

And the melody from movement 8 (“Confiteor unum baptisma”) of the Credo uses a chant melody common in Leipzig churches of Bach’s time.

Don’t be too hard on Bach. He certainly wasn’t lazy; preparing new works for church each week, and maintaining his own performing skills – with 20 children at home – would take its toll on anyone! And obviously Bach didn’t find this practice problematic, or consider his works “inferior” as a result, or he wouldn’t have done it quite so much!

Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Osanna & Benedictus – Agnus Dei