B is for 'B Minor Mass'
This is an extract from an interview with Sir Roger Norrington, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 during 'A Bach Christmas'.
Is seems an extraordinary thought but Bach almost certainly never heard the B minor Mass complete. From what we know about other composers - Mozart and Haydn to take examples, works were only normally completed if there was a performance in sight. Bach seems to have put together the B minor Mass without a planned performance, working on the first part from scratch and then drawing in many of his other compositions to create a complete, perfect mass. He spent his last years and months tinkering with it and making it perfect and perhaps, during these final years of his life, it was his aim to put it together for posterity.
Bach wasn't used to hearing big performances of his works and certainly the performances we hear now are on a much larger scale. His other music is strictly for Church use and this strays right outside the boundaries.
From the time he died until about 1829, Bach was only known for his keyboard pieces as lots of people had copies of them. The large works - the Passions, Cantatas, the Mass, Magnificat and Christmas Oratorio were never performed. It's a big contrast to our attitude to Bach now, where there are dozens of recordings and performances. The average music lover is now fantastically more knowledgeable about Bach than Brahms ever was!
Sir Roger Norrington November 2005