COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 21

Agnus Dei (1963)

for SATB Chorus

Text from the Mass ordinary [Latin]

Matthew Curtis/Choral Tracks LLC

Duration: 10 min.

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This setting of the traditional Agnus Dei section of the Mass ordinary was Rosner’s first work for unaccompanied chorus, and his third choral work overall (in the early 1960s he wrote a now withdrawn oratorio and a Jewish Sacred Service). While it predates the formal graduate study of Renaissance music that would inspire his three masterly cantus firmus mass settings, it is a highly contrapuntal work which, in the manner of many Renaissance treatments, splits the text into four discrete “movements”: three contrasting settings of the “Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi” followed by a setting of “Dona nobis pacem.”

This was Rosner’s first work setting an explicitly Christian text, and despite his Jewish background, he returned frequently to these themes in the rest of his artistic life as he believed many of the sentiments had universal application. As a lifelong pacifist, he was particularly drawn to the fact that the Mass ordinary ends with the invocation of “Grant us peace.”

In the preface to the score for this early stand-alone “Agnus Dei” setting, he wrote the following comments:

“In the composer’s opinion, the “Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world,” though normally associated with the Christ, may represent the ideal of godly mercy to people of any faith. It is for this reason that I had no qualms about setting this text. The composer feels that the work could be performed in places of worship regardless of specific faith, or in concert.

The performing group, though it must be large enough to “fill” the hall (especially at the end where it is divisi à 8), should be kept as small as is practical, in order to give an impression of meditative intimacy. In fact, except for the need to add people at the end, in a small place (private “chamber,” recording studio) four solo singers of great ability could suffice.”

(Notes by Carson Cooman)