The instrumentation of this movement is theologically very subtle. One might expect that the text Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens would be set with a scoring that involves the trumpets, drums, and the whole choir, to express the power of God, Father and Son. The movement begins with a single flute, however, accompanied only by the basso continuo, and when the string instruments enter one measure later, they have to play con sordino (with the mute).
The soft sound does not fit the first part of the movement, Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens, as much as its end, Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris. The musical expression of this movement is thus developed with respect to the theologia crucis at the end of the text. In other words, the omnipotent God is understood as the very God who reveals himself on the cross. The Lutheran theologia crucis is expressed by means of the music. Martin Luther wrote in his "Heidelberg Disputation" of 1518:
He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends
the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering
and the cross...Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does
him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless
he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross...A theologian
of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross
calls the thing what it actually is.34
According to Luther, we only understand God when we see him revealed in the crucified Jesus Christ. In the seventeenth century the theological interpretation of the passion of Jesus Christ underwent a re-interpretation. The theologia crucis was still an integral part, but the love of God expressed in the passion was emphasized even more.35 Thus the German theologian Heinrich Müller (1631-1675), one of the most influential preachers at that time, wrote in a sermon published in 1679:
The Apostle Paul admonishes his Timothy that he should always
keep in mind Jesus, the crucified one....By this we recognize
his love, that he gave his life for us when we were still his
enemies. Thus it is proper that we repay his love with love. It
is the character of love to keep always in mind what is loved.
Whether walking or standing, love sees the beloved in thought.
We who love the Lord Jesus should keep him in remembrance. The
crucified Jesus is the only comfort for our souls.36
The cross is the sign for God's love for humanity, and our appropriate reaction is to answer this love with love.
The Qui tollis, a gloomy, harmonically rich movement that expresses the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, is taken from the 1723 cantata Schauet doch und sehet (BWV 46). The cantata text stems from the Lamentations of Jeremiah 1:12: "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me; herewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger." The text has thus a similar character of grief, and it was easy for Bach to adjust the music to the new text.37
This movement is followed by an intimate aria on the text Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris for alto, accompanied by solo oboe d'amore and strings. Most of the masses from the repertoire of the Dresden court, and Bach's own Kyrie-Gloria Masses (BWV 233-236), composed a short time before the B Minor Mass, treat the Qui tollis and the Qui sedes as one movement.38 Here Bach splits up the text in order to give each its appropriate treatment. While the Qui tollis was mournful in tone, the Qui sedes has a dance-like character, celebrating the elevated Christ. It was Bach's biographer Philipp Spitta (1841-1894) who in 1870 interpreted this as resulting from theological reflection:
Here his theological learning...stood him in good stead. Doctrinal
theology assigns to Christ a three-fold officeas Prophet,
High Priest, and King. The text offered no opening for treating
the prophetic aspectonly the priestly and kingly. As, in
considering Christ as a priest, there is again a distinction between
Atonement and Mediation (munus satisfactionis and intercessionis),
Bach has figured the former by the chorus Qui tollis, and
the latter by the alto aria Qui sedes, but in close connection,
for the key is the same in both.39
We may doubt that the dogma of the three-fold office formed the background of these two movements, since one of the offices is missing, and we have no evidence that Bach wanted to allude to this theological concept. But obviously Bach has built up a contrast between the suffering of Christ in the Qui tollis, and the elevated Christ, sitting next to his Father, in the following movement. Instead of the offices, the binary opposition of the two movements supports another thesis: here Bach is emphasizing the difference between the human nature of Christ, visible in his suffering, and the divine nature, expressed by his ascension and his sitting at the right hand of God the Father. This is of crucial importance in Martin Luther's theology. In his explanation of the second article of the Creed in his "Small Catechism," the reformer stated:
I believe that Jesus Christus, true God, begotten of the Father
from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is
my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, delivered
me and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power
of the devil, not with silver and gold but with his holy and precious
blood and with his innocent sufferings and death, in order that
I may be his, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in
everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as
he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.40
I have already pointed out the importance of the theologia crucis for Luther's theological thinking, and how it might have shaped Bach's Mass. The dual nature of Christ is the precondition for humanity's salvation, and it is possible that Bach wanted to reflect this duality in his music, and in the structure of his Mass as well.
The Gloria's second last movement is the Quoniam tu solus sanctus, sung by the bass, and accompanied by the corno da caccia and two bassoons. This combination gives it a solemn character, corresponding with the text set in this section of the Mass, before the whole Gloria ends with a concerto grosso-like movement, Cum Sancto Spiritu, performed by the choir and full orchestra with trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboes, strings, bassoon, and basso continuo.
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