A work of great power and subtleness and a monument of the baroque era, this musical setting of the complete Ordinary of the Latin Mass is considered by many to be Bach's greatest achievement.
Bach spent two decades putting together his Mass and it was not completed until the year before his death. This epic masterpiece has been described as the consecration of a whole life. It encompasses many styles and many moods, from the first solemn and stately fugue to the energetic dance like Sanctus.
A full Latin Mass in 27 sections, there are monumental versions of the Gloria, the Crucifixus and the Credo. The Mass was too long to be performed in an ordinary service and was never played in its entirety during Bach's lifetime; the first documented complete performance took place over a hundred years after the great composer's death in 1859.
What is interesting is why Bach, a Lutheran Protestant, decided to write a Catholic Mass. It seems originally he was probably touting for business. On 1 February 1733, Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, died. The Missa section of this work, a portion of the liturgy sung in Latin, may well have been written during a time of morning for Augustus II as a bid by Bach to get employment from the King's successor, Augustus III. Bach eventually got his title: he was made court composer to Augustus III in 1736. However what is really perplexing is why Bach decided to expand the Missa into a complete setting of the Latin Ordinary in the last part of his life.