Agnus Dei

AgnusDeip3

Commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Paul Rardin, Artistic Director. Completed 24 August 2015. Premiered 18 October 2015, The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and the Symphony in C, conducted by Paul Rardin.

For choir and orchestra; duration, 15 minutes
Flute
2 Oboes
2 Bassoons
2 F Horns
2 Bb Trumpets
Timpani (2)
S.A.T.B. Choir
Organ
Strings
Also available with piano accompaniment

For his first concert as the new artistic director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Paul Rardin asked me to compose an Agnus Dei. The Mozart Great Mass in C Minor would also be performed on this concert, as well as Mendelssohn’s Psalm 43, Psalm 98, and Psalm 100. My composition was to complement Mozart’s Mass, one of his last works and which he left unfinished without an Agnus Dei.

Over the years composers have taken on this daunting task, swiftly voicing their assurance that they were not intending to “complete” Mozart’s work in any way. I follow in their steps. Nevertheless I was surprised by how much of Mozart’s spirit, as dimly realized by me, came into play.

I do not possess the desire to copy another’s style, but I have found that summoning a sense of a Zeitgeist is intriguing. I have done that in my Vespers (Lutheran Renaissance), The Nobility of Women (Baroque), and other works in whole or in part. Felix Mendelssohn did this very thing in his Reformation Symphony. For me, I find that certain aspects of an era or a composer suggest themselves, I’m sure in no exhaustive or even reasonable way, and that the piece comes together around those aspects.

So there are features of the Classical style in this Agnus Dei. I treated the forces as efficiently as possible, as I admire that greatly in Mozart. The rhythms are simple, the harmonies and textures change slowly, lines are relatively spare, and except in one place for the choral basses, the voices are never divided. I have aimed for lyricism in everything. Also, I took Paul Rardin’s excellent suggestion to highlight the flute/oboe/bassoon trio that Mozart used in his “Et incarnatus“ movement.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

In this five-minute video I talk about some of what went into my thinking while composing Agnus Dei:

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