Agnus Dei – Classical Duet by Askland

The Agnus Dei uses the latin text from the Catholic Mass. This duet was written for Karen Etheridge and Carlotta Diggs, both from the Southern California High Desert. I wanted to write a very traditional classic-style duet that was graceful and feminine. My visual for this piece was the scene in the Shawshank Redemption where all the prisoners stop their activities to listen to the classical music played over the prison loudspeakers. That was my favorite scene in the movie, and I wanted to compose a piece that would have fit into that scene equally well.

Here is the MP3 file of the song:
Agnus Dei by Askland MP3
Here is the original latin text and it’s following english translation:

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,
Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

miserere nobis.
have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,
Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

dona nobis pacem.
grant us peace.

Being raised Lutheran and having performed many masses by classical greats including Schubert and Mozart – the words to me are particularly powerful. If you don’t have a background listening to masses, I imagine it may not have the same effect. The different movements of the Mass contain the core theology of the Catholic and Protestant churches going back deep into the history of Western culture. And to a devout Catholic these words could not run any deeper.

To me personally the words of the Agnus Dei are triumphant. It is the proclamation and announcement of the sacrifice that broke mankind’s bondage to sin. There is also the “have mercy on us” line which could be taken as a somber plea or joyful request that is known to already be fulfilled. To round this out, I have a middle bridge section in minor that features a short solo by each vocalist which ends in a minor chord false ending on the words “dona nobis pacem” or “grant us peace”. At that point the music modulates to a new major key to reinstate the major theme, or in my mind it “morphs” from the minor to the new major key.

Just a key change? Not to me. The statement is made by each individual vocalist that the lamb of God has come to take away the sins of the world, then together in a minor key they ask “Grant us peace”. At that point when the music builds to the final theme statement, that IS the peace being granted. Of course, if you’re not hip to what the Latin text is saying, this moment would be lost on the listener. I think I acheived this effect well, you can judge for yourself by listening.

I had always planned on completing the full mass, with this being just one of the short movements in it. I did start working on the rest of the mass movements in early 2005, but a very strong change in my personal views led me to resign from the church I was working at.

To me the Mass movements only work well to a classical audience that is well versed in the meaning and history of the music and text of the mass, or to a Catholic who would naturally be acquainted with the movements and their meanings.

The three of us – Karen Etheridge, Carlotta Diggs and myself have performed this piece live around three times if my memory is correct. The piece works very well with solo piano and voices. I would define this as a “period piece”, intended to appear from a different period in history. I would place the rough stylistic date of this piece to be around 1790-1820. I think I wrote this in 2001, can’t quite remember.

So until I work at a church again that will permit a performance of the mass, or until I am commissioned to finish it, my full mass remains unfinished.

3 thoughts on “Agnus Dei – Classical Duet by Askland

  1. I love the traditionalism of it. The classic style music along with the Latin instead of English is just wonderful. I am Catholic and are Mass was always said in Latin years ago so this just brought back a wonderful feeling for me.

    I liked it very much.

    God Bless

  2. Beautiful piece. Outside of America you’ll find lots of scope for collaboration on religious music that requires no religious conviction, just a love of sublime music.

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