Phrasing for Agnus Dei
  • Vatican Edition XVIII

    Gather III breaks up the Agnus Dei into Cantor and People. I'd like to be intentional- do we bring the congregation in right away or is it proper to have a cantor sing the Agnus Dei and the choir/people respond with the rest of the phrase?

    Also, i have always breathed betwee "Agnus Dei" and "qui tollis peccata mundi..." That is how it is edited in GIA. However, when working with my choir, I had us energize and continue to sing through the 'dei" and it produced a lovely sound. I particularly liked that it prevented the choir from emphasizing every syllable and slowing down the chant. How is this chant "properly" sung?

    Thank you.
  • The Agnus Dei is sung thrice: either by the full choir, the Intonation being given by one, two or four cantors each time: or alternately, but in such a way as to have the Dona nobis pacem sung by the full choir. (Liber usualis)
    For "full choir," one can substitute "congregation."
    The invocation Agnus Dei is sung by the cantors, with all responding. This invocation can be repeated as many times as necessary to accompany the breaking of the Bread, keeping the musical form in view. The last time, the invocation is concluded with the words Dona nobis pacem. (1974 Graduale romanum)
    Alternation between cantor/all seems to be the preferred method for a chanted Agnus Dei.
  • GIRM 83. The supplication Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is usually sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation replying; or at least recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction of the bread and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has been completed. The final time it concludes with the words grant us peace.
    Somewhere it says that you can also have the people just join in with 'miserere .../ dona ...'
  • Also, i have always breathed betwee "Agnus Dei" and "qui tollis peccata mundi..." That is how it is edited in GIA. However, when working with my choir, I had us energize and continue to sing through the 'dei" and it produced a lovely sound. I particularly liked that it prevented the choir from emphasizing every syllable and slowing down the chant. How is this chant "properly" sung?


    I don't know which chant you mean, specifically (I don't have GIA here), but I am not aware of any chant setting of the Agnus Dei that doesn't have a quarter bar after the 'Dei'. Often (probably most of the time), the quarter bar in chant is treated as an opportunity to breathe, but the pause is certainly not mandatory and I have, on occasion, found myself singing through a quarter bar here and there.

    I would say that if the words are well-articulated and the music sounds good, and appropriate, in the space where your choir is singing, there is no mandate to breathe there.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,564
    Errrmmmmnnnnn....I was told that one sings THROUGH the quarter-bar under pain of death or an additional 300 years in Purgatory; that only the 1/2 bar and full bar were licit breathing spaces.

    Breathing at the quarter was allowed only to prevent death.
    Thanked by 1MarkS
  • If it's multiple singers, then sure, sing through and let people catch a breath as needed, or play 'breathing chicken', as they wish. (And yes, I now see and acknowledge that OP is talking about multiple singers.) When I'm by myself (which is most of the time) it's a choice between breathing at the quarter bars or singing comically fast chant, and although generally I do like it to move rather than drag, I'll take the former.

    In any case, many quarter bars appear at spots where it seems to me that a very brief pause makes sense both lyrically and musically, and I see no harm (musical or lyrical) in taking an inconspicuous catch-breath at them.

    (edit:) I should have also said that at the CMAA Colloquia that I've been two (just two, however) breathing at quarter bars (advanced chant group in both cases) was the norm, though not always done. Maybe that's considered 'wrong' but as mentioned above I think it often (not always) makes sense.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • There are lots of different ways to interpret chant just as there are lots of ways to interpret other forms of music. I've known directors who don't observe quarter bars. In my group, we typically observe them but the phrasing is also typically different than it would be at the half bar, full bar, or double bars. Sometimes I add additional quarter bars where I think it assists the phrasing; sometimes we carry over where I think appropriate. (Sometimes a quarter bar might become a half-bar or vice versa.)

    Breaths and rests are musical if done well. The problem occurs when singers treat every pause as the same. Like dots and epizemas, all bars are different - even ones of the same type.

    In the OP, if you are following the norm of having each invocation of the Agnus Dei canted, the norm would also be to have a break before the choir / congregation sings the remainder... For myself, I haven't seen an Agnus where I would do a carry-over from the intonation to the remainder, but there are many examples in antiphons and in certain Propers where that would make sense. For the Agnus specifically, it would depend on how you intend to phrase the piece, although it might be difficult in a congregational setting to differentiate where that occurs from where it doesn't.
    Thanked by 1MichaelDickson
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,564
    Well, yes. One should not be stupid about it. However, it seems to me that most of the quarter-bar placements are in the middle of a textual phrase, the interruption of which will produce unhappy results. Let us recall that The Word (text) is primary; the music is only illuminative.
  • I guess that's the point, dad... the quarter bar doesn't have to be an interruption if it is done well, as it will fit into the context. Moreover, I would suggest that most (as in 99.99%) people following the chant aren't interpreting it on the fly - it isn't as if (for example) you are reading and people are following closely, hearing the Latin and understanding in their own language. That doesn't mean we should be cavalier, but there is a degree of latitude in representing (illuminating, if you prefer) the text via music that wouldn't be there if we were reading it... as is even evidenced by the melismatic character of chant.