J.S. Bach Mass in B Minor
Symmetry in Credo

Xinh's project for Mu123, spring/1996 [Bach home page]
Symmetries are found in the structure of the second major section of Bach's B-Minor Mass, the Symbolum Nicenum, which contains the Credo text. This symmetry is seen in a list of the nine movements of the Credo:
  • Credo in unum Deum (chorus, stile antico, cantus firmus)
  • Patrem omnipotentem (chorus, concertato fugue)
  • Et in unum Dominum (solo)
  • Et incarnatus est (chorus)
  • Crucifixus (chorus, passacaglia)
  • Et resurrexit (chorus, choral fugue)
  • Et in spiritum sanctum (solo)
  • Confiteor (chorus, stile antico, cantus firmus)
  • Ex expecto (chorus, concertato fugue)
  • The first two movements can be grouped into a pair, and, similarly, the last two movements can be grouped together. Within each of these two pairs, the first chorus has the strict counterpoint of the stile antico, whereas the second chorus within a pair has a freer style and richer instrumental accompaniment. The next inner movements are the two solo movements: Et in unum Dominum is a duet for soprano and alto, with accompaniment from two oboi d'amore and strings, whereas Et in spiritum sanctum is a bass aria, with two oboi d'amore obbligati.

    These outer movements are thus symmetric about the inner three movements, Et incarnatus est, Crucifixus, and Et resurrexit, which tell the story of Christ and, therefore, form the inner core of the Credo. Besides the symmetry of this section, Bach was also interested in the significance of numbers. The fact that the fifth movement is the Crucifixus corresponds to the tradition of associating the number five with Christ on the cross, in reference to five wounds. Thus, the Crucifixus is the central movement of the Credo just as Christ on the cross is at the heart of Christian religion.
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    Last updated: June 4, 1996