Category Archives: Spirituality

Enkindling Love, by Gillian T. W. Ahlgren

EnkindlingLoveBefore Wednesday’s rehearsal of Canticle the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati and Craig Hella Johnson brought in a special guest to speak to the musicians and a few friends of the group. VAE invited Gillian Ahlgren to speak to us about St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

Dr. Ahlgren teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where she is Professor of Theology and the newly appointed Director of the Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of Teresa of Avila, having written three books on this great mystic saint. Her newest book, just released, considers the intellectual and spiritual relationship between St. Teresa and the author of the text I set for Canticle, St. John of the Cross.

Ahlgren’s brief talk was scintillating and enlightening, and I realized that I had never seen anything like this before. Pre-concert lectures are often seen (for better or worse) nowadays, yet I’ve never known of an organization that brought in someone to speak to the musicians. It was such a simple and thoughtful gesture on the part of VAE to allow the singers and instrumentalists to enter more fully into the text they were proclaiming. I was deeply impressed.

It’s one of a growing number of things that impresses me about VAE, Craig Hella Johnson, and their staff and board.

Here are the notes for Canticle. Commissioned by the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, Craig Hella Johnson, Music Director, it’s for SATB choir, three cellos, and one percussionist playing vibraphone, bass drum, tambourine. It’s about 65 minutes long. The text is A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ by St. John of the Cross (1542–1591). It premieres 30 April 2016, Lakeside Presbyterian Church, Lakeside Park, Kentucky, and 1 May 2016, Old St. Mary’s Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Canticle

Canticle. Commissioned by the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, Craig Hella Johnson, Music Director. SATB, 3 cellos, 1 percussionist playing vibraphone, bass drum, tambourine. 65′. Review

Premiered 30 April 2016, Lakeside Presbyterian Church, Lakeside Park, Kentucky, and 1 May 2016, Old St. Mary’s Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Text: A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ by St. John of the Cross (1542–1591), translations by David Lewis (1864), with corrections by Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D. (1909), and, in the Catholic Treasury, updates of pronouns added by Harry Plantinga (1993/5, public domain). A few minor alterations were introduced by me after reference to the original.

VelazquezHeadStag

Head of a Stag (1634). Diego Velázquez, 1599–1660

Canticle is a setting of the great mystical work of St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ, or as it’s often and simply known, the Spiritual Canticle. The 40-stanza poem is revered as one of the great religious and literary works of the 16th century. Following the tradition of the biblical Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs), St. John personifies, with symbolic and beautiful imagery, the journey of the soul, through the travails of the world, to union with her bridegroom.

Though John of the Cross is a revered Christian saint (he also wrote what is known as The Dark Night of the Soul), he does not mention Christ in the Spiritual Canticle, nor does he delineate any theology. It abounds with religious symbolism, but like the Song of Solomon from the Torah, it is a poem with universal appeal. Adherents of all spiritual and meditative disciplines will immediately recognize the dangers, delights, side-steps, ecstasy, and peace described in the Spiritual Canticle.

Canticle is composed for choir with three cellos and one percussionist playing vibraphone, bass drum, and tambourine. Lasting just over an hour, it follows the three sections laid out by St. John, each prefaced by a short instrumental statement. These Meditations use an old Swedish Sanctus, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” played by one cello in the opening, then two cellos in imitative counterpoint to open Section Two, then three at the beginning of the last section, all accompanied by vibraphone.

Section One, The Search for the Beloved, covers about one-third of the length of the piece, but Section Two, Preparations for Perfect Union, takes only half that time, leaving about a half-hour, or one-half of the total duration, for Section Three, Full Union. These sections and any movements headed by titles (The Bride, The Bridegroom, Question of the Creatures, Answer of the Creatures) were so designated by St. John.

Since the poem is in 40 five-line stanzas (each of which in the Spanish follow the same rhythm and rhyme scheme), I early decided to combine them into various groupings. I hoped to complement the logic and tempo of the narrative—for it is a narrative, however symbolic and mysterious—while allowing the various musical settings to have their own way. A few verses stand by themselves, and one is split into two parts (Nos. 8 and 9 here), just as in the poem.

Since the lion’s share of the text given to a character is the Bride’s, it wouldn’t do to assign the Bride to the women and the Bridegroom to the men. Either the men wouldn’t have much to sing at all, or the words would have to be unbalanced with repetition, an intolerable burden on an already long text. Besides, since we are all the Bride seeking the Bridegroom, we must all be able to partake in the representation, so the choral parts and occasional soloists from within the choir are used in whatever manner that seemed appropriate musically.

St. John himself wrote an exhaustive commentary on his own work, clearly explaining all the imagery and symbolism. Here is a good online resource. Much of the language will be familiar to anyone who has read mystical literature or metaphysical poetry, but still, there are some difficulties.

The foxes in No. 10, for instance, are those thoughts or intrusions that would destroy the garden or its fruit. In No. 13, “where your mother was corrupted,” “mother” is our human nature which dies, but which the Bridegroom redeems. (This is the only place where I transposed a line for musical purposes, here from the fifth line of the original stanza 23 to the second line.) In No. 14, “if you found me dark before,” as in the similar Song of Solomon passage, refers to a peasant—tanned or swarthy by working under the sun in the fields and vineyards—who is noticeably darker than someone of high rank. Aminadab in No. 18 is Satan, who, by the end, is nowhere to be found.

At times the inspiration of the Spain of St. John of the Cross may be guessed at. Plucked cellos may be reminiscent of a guitar, the tambourine may recall a dance, and the swaying twos against threes may bring to mind music from the late Renaissance. The juxtaposition of spirituality and earthiness, each echoing and symbolizing the other, will be found here, as it is in music from that time. More than feints, however, toward this or that musical landmark are not to be found, I don’t believe.

My love of modes will be evident. There isn’t too much by way of musical riddles, but text-painting is everywhere. In No. 6 “O crystal spring,” the women’s voices mirror themselves and likewise do the men’s; the “if only” imitative part gradually spreads out as ripples.

Music, lending voice and texture to words that they themselves cannot denote, is nevertheless hindered. From the many layers of meaning that St. John of the Cross points to in his commentary, I might focus on only one or two in each stanza as I chose a musical tapestry. But music, like love, will provide its own reasons, and in this I rest, hoping that there may be untapped surprises and comfort in any performance of Canticle.

 

I. The Search for the Beloved

  1. Meditation
  2. The Bride: Where have you hidden yourself

•    Where have you hidden yourself,
and abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You fled like the stag,
after wounding me.
I ran after you, crying; but you were gone.
•    O shepherds, you who go
through the sheepfolds to the hill,
if by chance you see him
whom I love the most,
tell him I languish, suffer, and die.
•    In search of my Love,
I will go over mountains and riverbanks,
and gather no flowers,
and fear no beasts,
and pass by the mighty and the frontiers.

  1. Question to the Creatures

•    O forests and thickets
planted by the hand of the Beloved!
O verdant meadows
enameled with flowers!
Tell me, has he passed by you?

  1. Answer of the Creatures

•    Pouring out a thousand graces
he quickly passed these groves,
and having looked at them,
with only his image
clothed them in beauty.

  1. The Bride: Alas! who can heal me?

•    Alas! who can heal me?
Give yourself at once to me,
do not send me
any more messengers today
who cannot tell me what I want.
•    And all who wander sing to me
a thousand graceful things of you,
yet they wound me more and more,
and leave me to die,
of I know not what, from all their stammering.
•    But how do you persevere,
O life, not living where you live,
and being brought near death
by the arrows you receive
from your imaginations of the Beloved?
•    Why, after wounding
this heart, have you not healed it?
And why, after stealing it,
have you abandoned it,
and not carried away the stolen goods?
•    Quench my troubles,
none can soothe them.
Let my eyes behold you,
for you are their light,
and I will keep them for you alone.
•    Reveal your presence,
and let the vision and your beauty kill me.
Behold, the malady
of love is incurable
except in your presence and before your face.

  1. O crystal spring!

•    O crystal spring!
If only on your mirrored surface
you would suddenly bring forth
those desired eyes
which are outlined deep in my heart!

 

II. Preparations for Perfect Union

      1. Meditation
      2. Turn them away, O my Beloved!

•    Turn them away, O my Beloved!
I am on the wing.

      1. The Bridegroom: Return, my Dove!

Return, my Dove!
The wounded stag
looms on the hill
in the air of your flight and is refreshed.

      1. My Beloved is the mountains

•    My Beloved is the mountains,
the solitary wooded valleys,
the strange islands,
the resounding rivers,
the whispering amorous breeze;
•    The tranquil night
at the approaching dawn,
the silent music,
the murmuring solitude,
the supper reviving and enkindling love.
•    Catch us the foxes,
for our vineyard is in flower;
while we make an intricate
wreath of roses
let no one appear on the hill.
•    O killing north wind, cease!
Come, south wind, that awakens love!
Blow through my garden,
and let its odors flow,
and the Beloved will feed among the flowers.
•    O nymphs of Judea!
While among the flowers and the roses
the amber spreads its perfume,
tarry on the outskirts,
and do not touch our thresholds.
•    Hide yourself, O my Beloved!
Turn your face to the mountains,
and do not speak,
but regard the companions
going with her through strange islands.

      1. The Bridegroom: Swift-winged birds

•    Swift-winged birds,
lions and fawns and bounding does,
mountains and valleys and river banks,
waters, winds, and heat,
and the terrors that keep watch by night;
•    By the pleasant lyres
and the siren strains, I conjure you,
let your fury cease,
and touch not the wall,
that the bride may sleep more securely.

 

III. Full Union

      1. Meditation
      2. The bride has entered

•    The bride has entered
the sweet garden of her desire;
she rests in delight,
resting her neck
on the sweet arms of the Beloved.
•    Beneath the apple tree
where your mother was corrupted,
there were you betrothed;
there I offered you my hand,
and redeemed you.

      1. The Bride: Our bed is in flower

•    Our bed is in flower,
by dens of lions encompassed,
hung with purple,
made in peace,
and crowned with a thousand shields of gold.
•    In your footsteps
maidens run along the way;
the touch of the fire
and the spiced wine
cause the divine balsam to flow in me.
•    In the inner cellar
I drank of my Beloved,
and when I went abroad
over all this valley I knew nothing
and lost the flock I followed before.
•    There he gave me his breast,
and taught me the science of sweetness.
And there I gave to him
myself without reserve;
there I promised to be his bride.
•    Now I occupy my soul
and all my substance in his service;
I no longer guard the flock,
nor have I any other work:
My every act is love.
•    If, then, on the common land
I am no longer seen or found,
you will say that I am lost;
that, stricken by love,
I lost myself, and yet was found.
•    With flowers and emeralds
gathered on cool mornings
we shall weave garlands
flowering in your love,
and bound with one hair of my head.
•    You considered
that one hair fluttering on my neck;
you gazed at it upon my neck;
you were captivated,
and wounded by one of my eyes.
•    When you regarded me
your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
for this you loved me ardently;
and thus my eyes deserved
to adore what they saw in you.
•    Despise me not;
for if you found me dark before,
you truly now you can look at me,
since you regarded me,
and gave me grace and beauty.

      1. The little white dove

•    The little white dove
has returned to the ark with an olive branch;
and now the turtledove
has found its longed-for mate
by the green river banks.

      1. In solitude she lived

•    In solitude she lived,
in solitude she now has built her nest,
in solitude he guides her,
alone, he, who also bears
in solitude the wound of love.

      1. The Bride: Let us rejoice

•    Let us rejoice, Beloved,
let us go forth to see ourselves in your beauty,
to the mountain and to the hill,
where the pure water flows,
and farther, deep into the thicket.
•    We shall go at once
to the deep caverns in the rock
which are so well concealed.
There we shall enter in
and taste the juice of pomegranates.
•    There you will show me
what my soul has been seeking,
and then you will give me—
you, my life, will give me there—
what you gave me on that other day:
•    The breathing of the air,
the song of the sweet nightingale,
the grove and its beauty
in the serene night,
with a flame that is consuming and painless.

      1. No one saw it

•    No one saw it,
nor did Aminadab appear.
The siege relaxed,
and the cavalry,
at the sight of the waters, descended.

Residency at Greenville College

Greenville2

Jeff Wilson rehearsing the College Choir

What a great three days I enjoyed in Illinois as the guest composer for the 32nd annual Greenville College Schoenhals Fine Arts Symposium. A Thursday night concert and a Friday morning college chapel performance of seven pieces wove around seven classes, a composer master class, rehearsals, a coaching, a reception, a tour of the college radio station… and lots and lots of eating.

Anthems O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, The Word of God, and God So Loved the World, along with last year’s commission from Lyric Fest and Singing City, The Heavens Declare, were sung gorgeously by the Greenville College choirs and the Greenville Free Methodist Sanctuary Choir, all excellently prepared and conducted by Jeff Wilson, who along with being the Director of Choral Activities and Music Department Chair at GC, directs the music at the church.

Chris Woods, who teaches music theory, composition, low brass, and is an excellent bass trombonist, led the brass quintet in two works of mine, a newly refurbished St. Theodulph March (on the hymn tune to “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”) and my arrangement of Benedetto Marcello’s Psalm 19. They also used the brass arrangement I had made for O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and one I put together two weeks ago for The Word of God.

Soprano Caitlin Hadeler sang brilliantly my Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, with riveting accompaniment by Catherine Burge. I was so happy to have met Catherine a couple of months ago for coffee on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, where we talked over the songs; she was in town for a workshop. Caitlin is brand-new at the college and simply won everyone over with her reading of these fairly challenging songs, and surprised me by doing them from memory (after using music at the rehearsal). Good show!

O Come, O Come, EmmanuelThe Word of God and The Heavens Declare were repeated for the chapel, where I also spoke about what it’s like to be a composer with faith in a world that is often without it. I chose the text of John 21:1–14, wondering why on earth John would tell us that there were 153 fish in the net. The Schoenhals Symposium was founded to explore the interaction of creativity and Christian faith.

Chris Woods was my second composition teacher, back when I was beginning my college career at Philadelphia College of Bible, now Cairn University. He is as humble, unassuming, supportive, and spiritual a soul now as he was then. And he still rocks the bass trombone. I was blessed to have known him then, honored to know him now, and thankful to have shared a few days with him. I’m so glad we renewed our friendship a few years back.

Sarah Todd accompanied the choir beautifully; thanks to her and to all the staff at GC who put the details together to make this happen. Thanks to the faculty for inviting me into their music, theology, and communications classes, and to the church choir for letting me insinuate myself into their bass section at rehearsal! A special thanks to the Schoenhals family—specifically, Carolyn and Dale Martin—for their support, their warm welcome, and for keeping such an enriching idea alive. Greenville’s a great place to be.

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Concert sound-check

 

Out of the Depths

Out of the Depths. Text: Psalm 130. SATB, 6-1/2′. Commissioned by Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, Pa., Jeffrey Brillhart, music director. Premiered 13 March 2016.

outofthedepthsp1There are qualities in Anton Bruckner’s music that inspired both this setting of Psalm 130 and a work I composed a couple of months before, the O Antiphon O Rex Gentium.

As a choral bass I’ve sung Bruckner’s Ave Maria and Virga Jesse recently, and the qualities that come to mind in the middle of singing him are “audacity” and “belief.” Moments of sheer beauty and of passing strangeness, almost ugliness, appear. Certainly, odd harmonic juxtapositions and wide extremes of volume and register not only inhabit, but propel the music (the nine bars of loud, low E that conclude Virga Jesse will rivet any bass’s attention).

But this is not an audacity of effect. It is integrity itself. Bruckner writes this way not to impress the audience or to show off the voices. He writes this way because he is compelled to. The text drives him to this music. Simply, he believes every single word he sets. His music spades down into the depths of his belief.

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

So I thought I owed two things to this setting of Psalm 130: to believe the depths, and to believe the mercy. Balancing truths—of iniquity and forgiveness, of waiting and hoping, of supplication and redemption—is the life of the believer. Ignoring one side cheapens the other.

Musically, I balance the related four-flat keys of A-flat major and F minor, going from one to the other fairly quickly. At “Lord, hear my voice,” there’s a hesitancy in the women’s voices, depicting the awareness of unworthiness. The sweeter key of B-flat major colors “But there is forgiveness with thee,” which leads to the un-Brucknerish but important inspiration (to me) of early American fuguing-tune writing, at “I wait for the Lord.”

The Broad Street Review I wrote about a de profundis experience while composing Out of the Depths.

The Stars Shine released by The Same Stream

SameStreamI’m honored to have my choral work The Stars Shine included with Thomas LaVoy and Cortlandt Matthews on this, the inaugural recording of the new choir The Same Stream! They sound absolutely wonderful. Do check out the recording on iTunes or at Amazon.

The Stars Shine is the last (short: about 3′) movement from The Consolation of Apollo, which premiered around this time last year. It was commissioned by Donald Nally and The Crossing—whose names I lift up in thanks!—as a companion piece to David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion, is about the same length as the Pulitzer winner (38′), and uses just a couple of the same percussion instruments, in my case crotales and bass drum.

Here are the notes on the entire piece, but the text of The Stars Shine, by Boethius, is this:

The stars shine with more pleasing grace when a storm has ceased to roar and pour down rain. After the morning star has dispersed the shades of night, the day in all its beauty drives its rosy chariot forth. So thou hast looked upon false happiness first; now draw thy neck from under her yoke: so shall true happiness come into thy soul.

A huge thank-you to conductor James Jordan, who took this work to the Westminster Choir workshop at Oxford last summer, and to everyone in The Same Stream for their magnificent work bringing this together! For now you can get the sheet music from me; that may or may not change soon!

StarsShinep1

De profundis

[First published in Broad Street Review, 22 Dec 2015, reprinted here by permission.]

Barfight

Brad Pitt, “Fight Club,” © 1999, 20th Century Fox

The first thing I noticed was his bare torso, the shirt ripped or pulled off, his large belly expanding and tightening as he bellowed. Two men held him from behind. One in front, leaning into him, arms extended, elbows locked, grabbed his shoulders. They seemed to be his friends, trying to calm him down with “C’mon, man,” and “It’s not worth it,” spoken into his ear and at his face.

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord

He was having none of it. “Right now! Right here! With all your friends! I will break—you in half— you—mother—” he yelled, peppering his howl with every curse in his repertoire, cycling through them one by one. His target was a guy in a clutch of men 15 feet away.

We were in a local establishment, usually a quiet place. Everybody knows each other here. “Mike!” (not his real name) an employee yelled at him. “Mike! Stop it!” She tried to get his attention. “Mike! Mike!”

Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications

He ignored her and his friends, trying, in fits and starts, to lunge at his target. He was a downed wire, sparking, fuming, spitting, ready to kill something. “I will break—your—neck!” His voice—in that brass report that caroms off the top of your throat and through your skull, part Braveheart, part Olympic hammer thrower—pummeled the air as if it were a heavy punching bag.

If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

From our group, my buddy, let’s call him B, looked over. Without hesitating he got up from his chair, walked toward the space left by the crowd’s quick dividing, glided up to the edge of it, and wedged himself in, through the spectators and Mike’s people and the guy’s people.

They made way. And he stood at the edge of the space.

But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared

B’s arms are as big around as Mike’s legs. B’s legs are dock pilings, his back and shoulders a jetty. But he had moved to that spot so quickly, and had inserted himself so quietly, that it was a moment before I had realized what he’d done.

He just stood there. He did not face Mike. He did not cross his arms, he did not put his hands on his hips, he did not stick out his elbows. His arms hung down, and he stood, casually, like he was reading the headline on a newspaper that had dropped to the floor.

B’s stance drew no attention to itself, but B had placed himself in the exact spot that was in the way. If Mike’s friends let go, Mike would have to go through B to get to the guy.

I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope

In tai chi, they talk about stepping as if your legs extend six feet into the ground. If you visualize this during moves, your feet become both lighter and more determined. It is commitment and detachment at the same time.

Six feet, I recall, is the depth we are buried at. It’s as if taking steps is a matter of life and death. No. Taking steps is death; you are stepping from your death, from where you will end up, from where we all end up. Every move is energized by—every step lives from, you might say—its rootedness in the awareness of death.

My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning

I was composing a setting of Psalm 130 for Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, to be sung in the spring. It’s the De profundis or “Out of the depths” psalm. I hadn’t finished it, but was getting close. I felt good with what I had written, as it had progressed from terrible to okay to good. But it was just good, and I felt—just—good. Maybe it needed more heat, deeper “depths” from which to bellow. But everything I threw at it sounded fake, sounded like posing.

I say, more than they that watch for the morning

I was trying, in a word, to be Mike, whose cries, it turns out, were not all that deep. When he left, trailing more curses, you could hear him complaining to his friends, “He did the same thing last year—he thinks he can get a-way with it!” and just like that he was a melodrama. His cause may have been just, but he was whining.

Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption

And my mind turned to B, who had just stood there, and whose standing there nicely coincided with a subtle change in Mike’s passion. Mike kept yelling, but he struggled less. He wasn’t quite lunging against his friends to break free. He would have to go through B to get to the guy, and now, perhaps, it didn’t seem quite so necessary to get there. Maybe the thought dawned on Mike that—what I knew and what everyone else there knew—no matter what, he was not going to get through B.

And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities

And so I relaxed, and what I had written, I let stand. Oh, I closed some things up, knit up the voices better. And because of that, I was able to lighten some things later on. The piece was rooted deep and that allowed the music to move quickly and lightly. It’s strong now, but doesn’t bellow. The music won’t call attention to itself, and that’s just how I like it. And B just walked back to his chair, and that was that.

Agnus Dei reviews

AgnusDeip3Still floating from the exquisite first performance of Agnus Dei by Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and Symphony in C, conducted by MC’s new director, Paul Rardin. Turns out, on a day of many concerts in Philadelphia, many with new music, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns reviewed ours.

(My notes on Agnus Dei are here.)

Stearns writes that the Agnus Dei is “so personal” and correctly notes that my “tendency toward saturated harmonies was scaled back in favor of something leaner and more visceral.” He thinks it might be a bit long, and finishes by saying that “it’s an important addition to Smith’s output.”

One phrase in his review especially interested me, because it points up something other people have walked around, in conversations about Agnus Dei and other works of mine, that “the piece’s harmonic ambiguity suggested uncertain faith.”

I say that it does no such thing. But I may be in the minority, so let me explain.

One benefit of reading the lives of the saints, and indeed, the biblical books of the prophets, let alone many of the Psalms, is that those who are the most spiritually attuned are often wracked by doubt, pain, anger, and the many other emotions or states those of us who are not so spiritually attuned consider unspiritual or faithless or as those which draw us away from God. But if we are serious about taking those generally accepted as spiritual models to be, in fact, models, the conclusion can only be that we do not lose our faith when under these emotions or in these states. The spiritual person uses these times to dig deeper, to draw even closer to God.

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 Agnus Dei I took the cry for mercy to be a real cry, I took the repetition of the lines to really mean something. I took this to be a process that would be long, long enough to be slightly uncomfortable, even (though any performance can be a couple of ticks slower or faster), long enough so that when we arrive, finally, at dona nobis pacem it would be an arrival made the more real for the reality of the journey.

But don’t take this as special pleading on my part. That can all be true and the piece still too long! Although I think it’s just right. I have some regrets about my own pieces, but not about the length of this one, which comes in at around 13 minutes, give or take.

There was another good review in an independent and seemingly unedited blog here.

A couple of conductors told me they thought this Agnus Dei would do quite well performed right in its proper place in the incomplete Mozart Mass. Wouldn’t that be something?