Agnus Dei (Barber)

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Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is a one-movement composition for mixed choir by Samuel Barber . In 1967 he adapted his Adagio for Strings (1938) to the Latin text of Agnus Dei , the last part of the mass . A performance of the piece in B flat minor for a multiple choir with optional accompaniment by organ or piano takes about nine minutes.


Barber's Adagio for Strings began as the second movement of his string quartet, Op. 11, composed in 1936. At the suggestion of Arturo Toscanini he orchestrated it for strings, Toscanini conducted the world premiere in New York in 1938 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra . When Barber arranged the work for choir, he changed the music of this version only slightly. Agnus Dei , like other adaptations of the Adagios, was published by G. Schirmer .


Graham Olson points out that the Adagio is associated with grief, longing, love and passion, which he summarizes as "sentimental Romanticism", while the choral work brings out the spirituality of the work ("Barber brought to the surface the work's sense of spirituality. "). He observes similarities with Renaissance works by Palestrina and Gabrieli . The violinist Phillip Ying says of the original quartet movement: The score looks as clear as an exercise in counterpoint, and its strength lies in the economy of means. ("The score looks so clear, like a counterpoint exercise, and the power of it is in the economy of means.")

Agnus Dei is in B flat minor, the tempo is given as “molto adagio ” (very slow), and Barber also wrote before “molto espressivo ” (very expressive) and at the beginning “pp” ( pianissimo , very quiet). Initially the measure is given as 4/2, but some of the 69 measures are stretched to 5/2 and 6/2. The work is composed for soprano , alto , tenor and bass ( SATB ), all four voices are sometimes divided, the male voices even up to three times. Bars 12 to 14 are to be sung by a solo soprano. The music is dominated by a melody that is first introduced by the soprano. It starts with a long note and changes into a wave-like movement in small steps and uniform movement in the second measure. In a long melisma , the text “Agnus Dei” is developed over two bars. The other voices insert half a bar after the soprano, moving to a different chord in the second bar, which they hold for the entire bar. In bars 5 to 8, the words “qui tollis peccata mundi” (from whom you take away the sins of the world) are designed according to a similar pattern, with the melody running downwards to “peccata mundi”. The repetition of the call "Agnus Dei" is a variation of the beginning, intensified by jumps in fifths and octaves . Then the alto takes over the melody, “più f [orte] semper espressivo” (a little stronger and always expressive), while the soprano sings “miserere nobis” (have mercy) for the first time in a counter-melody. In measure 28 the bass takes over the melody, “p cresc . molto espressivo ”(softly but growing, very expressive), while the three upper voices sing“ dona nobis pacem ”(give us peace) for the first time undivided. In bar 35 the tenor receives the melody, "with increasing intensity", passes to the soprano, then the alto in octaves, the soprano finally leads to the climax on the words "dona nobis pacem", in long chords, fortissimo (very loud), at an extreme height for all voices, followed by a long general pause . After the silence, a slow chord progression repeats the words in the lower register, modulating to dominant keys such as C major and F major . After another silence, a kind of reprise of the beginning begins , soprano and tenor sing the melody in unison on “Agnus Dei… dona nobis pacem”, while alto and bass add “miserere nobis”. In the last line the alto slows down the beginning of the melody to “dona nobis pacem”, “mf molto espr. sost. ”(medium strength, very expressive, sustained), while the other voices end with a very soft“ miserere nobis ”,“ morendo ”(dying).

The piece lasts about nine minutes. The accompaniment only serves to support the singing voices and is optional.


The Corydon Singers recorded the work in 1986, with Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and motets by Aaron Copland . The New College Choir, Oxford, recorded it in 1997. In 2000 the Ormond College Choir released a compilation of Barber's Choral Music. In 2003 the piece was part of a collection The Best Of Barber , sung by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers. In 2005, The Sixteen named a recording of American choral music after this work and characterized it as "lyrical traditionalism" (lyrical traditionalism). James Carson, in his review of Fanfare magazine, described extended gradual crescendos that build to shattering climaxes toward the end.


In 1997, Puff Daddy took a sample of the beginning of barbers Agnus Dei as the intro of the album version of his cover song I'll Be Missing You .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johanna Keller: An Adagio for Strings, and for the Ages (English) . In: The New York Times , March 7, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  2. a b c Graham Olson:Agnus Dei , for chorus (arr. From 2nd mvt. Of String Quartet), Op. 11 (English) , Allmusic . 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  3. ^ Samuel Barber: Agnus Dei ( English ) G. Schirmer. 2010. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  4. ^ Barbara B. Heyman: Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music ( English ). Oxford University Press , 1992, ISBN 978-0-19-509058-1 .
  5. Agnus Dei / Samuel Barber ( English ). G. Schirmer, 1992.
  6. Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Copland: In the Beginning; Barber: Agnus Dei (English) , Allmusic . 1986. Retrieved March 2, 2012.  
  7. ^ Samuel Barber (1910–1981) / Choral Music ( English ) In: Gramophone . 2006. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  8. The Best Of Barber - Adagio For Strings , Agnus Dei , etc ( English ) 2003. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  9. ^ Barber Agnus Dei ( English ) The Sixteen. 2005. Archived from the original on January 23, 2016. Retrieved on March 23, 2012.
  10. James Carson: Barber: Agnus Dei / The Sixteen ( English ) In: Fanfare . 2005. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  11. ^ Wayne Wentzel: Samuel Barber: A Research and Information Guide. 2nd Edition. Routledge, New York and London 2010, ISBN 978-0-415-87558-5 , p. 186 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).