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Sunday, January 25, 2004
  Gregorian Chant Mass for Christmas Day: Agnus Dei
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, Volume 1 CD 1 Track 12

Looking back, it is clear that the seventh part, the Offertory, is the blossoming of the mass. The Sanctus and Angus Dei, which follow the Offertory, use a more musical language than the earlier parts of the mass. This is not to deride the beauty of the first six parts of the mass. The beauty there is the remarkable closeness of word and music. This is accomplished by giving priority to the word. And it is as if the musical language, that is the use of repetition, is second to the text until the Offertory.

The form of this Agnus Dei is simple: we hear the same musical line three times, the third time with a variation of text. A dimension lost in this recording is the relationship between cantor and choir. Hearing different parts of this piece sung by different groups would, I imagine, increase the inspirational depth of this music. In a world of monody, the cantor/choir relationship is a kind of counterpoint. Nevertheless, the use of repetition in the Agnus Dei is effective in any presentation.

What I like about this Agnus Dei is the conclusion. The phrase that we hear three times is just long enough and complex enough that the listener is following along but not predicting the next note too easily. The third time, at dona nobis pacem, the listener experiences an infinitely gentle dissonance as new words are fitted to the now familiar music. 

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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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