Missa brevis

Missa brevis (plural: Missae breves) is Latin for 'short Mass'. The term usually refers to a mass composition that is short because part of the text of the Mass ordinary that is usually set to music in a full mass is left out, or because its execution time is relatively short.

Start of Gaspar van Weerbeke's Missa brevis in Choirbook, D-Ju MS 21

Full mass with a relatively short execution timeEdit

The concise approach is found in the mostly syllabic settings of the 16th century, and in the custom of "telescoping" (or simultaneous singing by different voices) in 18th-century masses. After the period when all church music was performed a cappella, a short execution time usually also implied modest forces for performance, that is: apart from Masses in the "brevis et solemnis" genre.


Classical periodEdit

For composers of the classical period such as Mozart, missa brevis meant "short in duration" – as opposed to "missa longa" (long mass), a term that Leopold Mozart used for his son's K. 262[2] – rendering the complete words of the liturgy. As the words were well known some composers had different voice parts recite simultaneously different sections of long texts. This is especially characteristic of Austrian masses in the Gloria and the Credo.

19th centuryEdit

Kyrie–Gloria massesEdit

Start of the Kyrie of Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B minor, originally composed as the start of a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in B minor dedicated to Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, when he came to power in 1733. The original Kyrie–Gloria mass was composed in 12 movements for SSATB soloists and choir, and an extensive baroque orchestra. It was probably because of its long duration that the score was archived in the Royal Library upon arrival in Dresden, instead of being added to the repertoire of the Catholic Hofkirche.[4]

Partial settings are seen in both the Roman and Lutheran traditions, where many works consist of the Kyrie and Gloria. These masses came to be called Missae breves because they are shorter in words, the opposite being Missae totae (complete Masses).

Baroque periodEdit

Protestant liturgies did not have a mandated set of Mass ordinary sections to be included in a Mass composition. Thus, in addition to settings of all five sections (e.g. Hieronymus Praetorius, Christoph Demantius), there are many Kurzmessen (short masses) that include settings of only the Kyrie, Gloria, and Sanctus (e.g. Stephan Otto, Andreas Hammerschmidt). From the early 17th century, many Kurzmessen consist only of Kyrie and Gloria sections, e.g. those by Bartholomäus Gesius (eight out of ten Masses included in his 1611 Missae ad imitationem cantionum Orlandi).[5]

In the second half of the 17th century the Kyrie–Gloria Kurzmesse was the prevalent type in Lutheranism, with composers like Sebastian Knüpfer, Christoph Bernhard, Johann Theile, Friedrich Zachow and Johann Philipp Krieger.[5] Gottfried Vopelius included a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in Gregorian chant on pages 421 to 423 of his Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch (1682), introducing its Gloria as "... what the old church has done furthermore in praise of the Holy Trinity".[6]

In the first half of the 18th century Kyrie–Gloria Masses could also be seen as a Catholic/Lutheran crossover, for example for Johann Sebastian Bach: not only did he transform one of Palestrina's a cappella missae totae in such a Kyrie–Gloria Mass for use in Lutheran practice,[7] he also composed one in this format for the Catholic court in Dresden.

19th centuryEdit

Other partial settingsEdit

Some Mass settings consisting of only three or four sections of the Mass ordinary can be indicated with a specific name, rather than with the generic Missa brevis name:

  • Missa (in) tempore (Adventus et) Quadragesimae: without Gloria
  • Missa senza credo: without Credo
  • Missa ferialis: without Gloria and Credo

Masses written for the Anglican liturgy often have no Credo (usually recited by the congregation and rarely sung to a choral setting in Anglican services) and no Agnus Dei. For American denominations, the Sanctus is usually without Benedictus. The Gloria section may be moved to the end of the composition.

Some Masses in this category are rather to be seen as incomplete, while the composer did not write all the movements that were originally planned, or while some movements went lost, but the extant part of the composition found its way to liturgical or concert practice recast as a Brevis.

Whatever the reason for omitting part of the text of the Mass ordinary from the musical setting, the umbrella term for such Masses became Missa brevis. Partial Mass settings that are not a Kyrie–Gloria Mass include:

Brevis for various reasonsEdit

From the late 19th century Missa brevis (or French: "Messe brève") may refer to a Mass composition with any combination of the following characteristics: (1) short execution time, (2) limited forces for performance, (3) leaving out part of the Mass ordinary and/or (4) the composition is incomplete so that the extant complete parts are seen as a Missa brevis. A Mass being short in this sense does however not exclude that sections based on texts outside the Mass ordinary are added to the composition (like the O Salutaris Hostia in several of Gounod's Messes brèves).

19th centuryEdit

As concert performance of liturgical works outside a liturgical setting increased, for some of the composers the brevis/solemnis distinction is about the breves, which not always needed professional performers, being intended for actual liturgical use, while a Missa solemnis was rather seen as a concert piece for professional performers, that could be performed outside an actual Mass celebration, similar to how an oratorio would be staged.

  • Charles Gounod:[25][26]
    • CG 63: Vokalmesse pour la fête de l'Annonciation in C minor (five voices a cappella, 1843)
    • CG 64: Mass No. 1 in A major (three voice parts and organ, 1844)
    • CG 65: Mass No. 2 in C major (no Credo, 1845 – publ. 1872), and later revision Messe brève No. 5 en ut majeur à trois voix d'hommes, soli et choeurs (Messe Brève aux séminaires – 1870, rev. & publ. 1892)
    • CG 66: Messe brève et salut pour 4 voix d'hommes in C minor, Op. 1 (c. 1845, publ. 1846)
    • CG 67: Messe à 4 voix d'hommes No. 2 in C major (without Gloria, incomplete, c. 1845)
    • CG 68: Messe à 4 voix d'hommes No. 3 in A minor (without Gloria, only Kyrie extant, c. 1845)
    • CG 69: Messe à 5 voix libres in E minor (incomplete, c. 1848 – Kyrie published in 1878)
    • CG 70: Messe No. 1 à 3 voix d'hommes in C minor (aux Orphéonistes, 1853)
    • CG 71: Messe brève No. 2 pour choeur d'hommes in G major (Messe pour les sociétés chorales, 1862), and its later revisions: Messe No. 3 à trois voix égales (Messe aux communautés religieuses, c. 1882, publ. 1891) and Messe brève no. 6 aux cathédrales [de] pour solistes choeur et orgue (1890, publ. 1893)[27]
    • CG 72: Messe brève No. 4 à deux voix égales (Messe à la Congrégation des dames auxiliatrice de l'Immaculée-Conception, no Credo – 1876), revision as Messe brève No. 7 aux chapelles (1890, publ. 1893)
    • CG 73: Messe des anges gardiens in C major (SATB soloists and choir, 1872)
    • CG 74: Messe à la mémoire de Jeanne d'Arc libératrice et martyre in F major (no Credo 1886–1887)
    • CG 78 and 79: Messe brève pour les morts en fa majeur (Introit/Kyrie – Sanctus – Pie Jesu – Agnus Dei, 1871 – publ. 1873),[28] and a later reworking (1875)
    • CG 147b: Messe funèbre in F major (Kyrie – Sanctus – Pie Jesu – Agnus Dei, 1865 – publ. 1883) is a parody by Jules Dormois of Gounod's Les Sept paroles de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ sur la croix[29]

20th centuryEdit

21st centuryEdit


  1. ^ Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Missa Brevis, pp. 62–83 in The Complete Works, Volume XV: Three Masses. Kalmus Edition, Alfred Music Publishing, 1985. ISBN 9780757905797
  2. ^ "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Missa longa in C major". www.carus-verlag.com. Retrieved 2021-03-10.
  3. ^ Black, David Ian (2007): Mozart and the Practice of Sacred Music, 1781–91, pp. 65–74. Harvard University thesis. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  4. ^ a b Stockigt, Janice B. (2013). "Bach's Missa BWV 232I in the context of Catholic Mass settings in Dresden, 1729–1733". In Tomita, Yo; Leaver, Robin A.; Smaczny, Jan (eds.). Exploring Bach's B-minor Mass. Cambridge University Press. pp. 39–53. ISBN 978-1-107-00790-1.
  5. ^ a b c Rimbach 2005, pp. 107, 110.
  6. ^ "[...] was die alte Kirche zu Lob der Heiligen Drey-Einigkeit weiter hinzu gethan hat."; Gottfried Vopelius. Neu Leipziger Gesangbuch. Leipzig: Christoph Klinger, 1682, p. 421.
  7. ^ Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Missa sine nomine a 6 at www.bach-cantatas.com
  8. ^ a b RISM 212006716
  9. ^ Alfred Dörffel (editor). Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe Vol. 41: Kirchenmusikwerke. Ergänzungsband Breitkopf & Härtel, 1894. p. 276 Archived 2016-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Klaus Hofmann (editor). Johann Nikolaus Bach: Missa brevis Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr. Carus Verlag, 1976 (21993)
  11. ^ Geiringer, Karl and Irene. The Bach Family: Seven Generations of Creative Genius, footnote p. 117. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.
  12. ^ Maria Zadori, Lena Susanne Norin, Guy de Mey, Klaus Mertens, Veronika Winter, Gundula Anders, Hans Jörg Mammel, Hans-Joachim Weber, Annette Schneider, Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert and Hermann Max (conductor). Johann Ludwig Bach: Trauermusik (für Soli, Doppelchor, 2 Orchester). Capriccio, 2011
  13. ^ Mass in E minor, BWV Anh 166 at www.bach-cantatas.com
  14. ^ Missa (Kyrie and Gloria), e JLB 38; BWV Anh. 166; BNB I/B/18 at the Bach Digital website
  15. ^ Bach Lutherische Messen, Study Score based on the NBA, Bärenreiter-Verlag (1987)
  16. ^ Kirsten Beißwenger (ed.) Werke zweifelhafter Echtheit, Bearbeitungen fremder Kompositionen (Volume 9 of Series II: Masses, Passions, Oratorios from the New Bach Edition). Bärenreiter, 2000.
  17. ^ Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: 14 Geistliche Gesänge; V (X), Coro, orch, bc, 1740–1770 (1740–1770) at SBB website
  18. ^ Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in c-Moll (in 14 church pieces manuscript), Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in c-Moll (composer's autograph 1739) and Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in E minor at RISM website
  19. ^ Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Missa canonica in C-Dur at RISM website
  20. ^ Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Missa canonica in C-Dur at RISM website
  21. ^ Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in C-Dur, Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in C-Dur, Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in C major, Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in C major and Stölzel, Gottfried Heinrich: Masses in C major at RISM website
  22. ^ Pascall, Robert (1987). "Brahms's Missa canonica and its recomposition in his Motet "Warum" Op. 74 No. 1". In Musgrave, Michael (ed.). Brahms 2: Biographical, Documentary and Analytical Studies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111–136. ISBN 0521326060.
  23. ^ Messe des pêcheurs de Villerville Archived 2015-06-17 at the Wayback Machine at Bibliothèque nationale de France website
  24. ^ Erich Schwandt. "A New Gloria for Satie's Messe des pauvres" in Canadian University Music Review / Revue de musique des universités canadiennes, vol. 18, n° 2, 1998, p. 38- 47. DOI: 10.7202/1014653ar
  25. ^ Charles Gounod: Les messes et requiems at www.charles-gounod.com
  26. ^ Charles GOUNOD: Catalogo delle composizioni at www.flaminioonline.it
  27. ^ Charles Gounod: Messe brève no. 6 aux cathédrales at www.carus-verlag.com
  28. ^ Charles Gounod: Messe brève pour les morts en fa majeur (Requiem in F) at www.carus-verlag.com
  29. ^ Charles Gounod: Messe funèbre (Requiem in F) at www.carus-verlag.com
  30. ^ Arvo Pärt: Missa brevis at Universal Edition