The piece is based strongly on old-church music tradition, and particularly old Gregorian style singing. The Kyrie is almost entirely made up of a capella singing for eight voices. The Gloria ends with a fugue, as in Bruckner's other masses. In the Sanctus, Bruckner uses a theme from Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Missa Brevis.
- "Kyrie" Feierlich, E minor, cut time
- "Gloria" Allegro, C major, common time
- —"Qui tollis peccata..." Andante
- —"Quoniam tu solus sanctus..." Tempo Primo
- "Credo" Allegro, C major, 3/4
- —"Et incarnatus est..." Adagio, F major, common time
- —"Et resurrexit..." Allegro
- —"Et in Spiritum sanctum..." 3/4
- —"mortuorum, ..." Etwas langsamer
- "Sanctus" Alla breve, mehr langsam, E minor, cut time
- "Benedictus" Moderato, C major, common time
- "Agnus Dei" Andante, E minor, common time
- —"Dona nobis pacem..." Etwas bewegter
Previously Bruckner had been criticized for "simply writing symphonies with liturgical text," and although the Cecilians were not entirely happy with the inclusion of wind instruments, "Franz Xaver Witt loved it, no doubt rationalizing the use of wind instruments as necessary under the circumstances of outdoor performance for which Bruckner wrote the piece."
Bruckner made four successive revisions of the work, in 1866, 1869, 1876, and 1882.
Of the recordings from the LP era, Eugen Jochum's recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on Deutsche Grammophon has been remastered to CD. Matthew Best's more recent recording with the Corydon Singers has been critically acclaimed.
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