Agnus Dei I & II
  • Dear all, I have a question about the renaissance polyphonic Mass settings like those by Palestrina. Many of them have two last parts as Agnus Dei I (contains only ... miserere nobis) and Agnus Dei II (contains ... dona nobis pacem), both of almost equal duration. What this I and II means and how they should be sung? Just Agnus Dei I and then Agnus Dei II, or the first one twice and then the second? In the latter case it will be extremely long. Any advice?
  • We will use a complementary chant "Agnus Dei ... miserere". Two possibilities: Agnus Dei I, followed by chant Agnus Dei ... miserere, Agnus Dei II; or begin with a chant Agnus Dei, then Agnus Dei I and Agnus Dei II. Example: Hassler "Missa Dixit Maria"- Agnus Dei IX (Sung by trebles), Agnus Dei I & II. Palestrina "Missa Aeterna Christi munera"-
    Agnus Dei I, Agnus Dei from Mass VIII, followed by Agnus Dei II. (In each case just sing one petition of the chant.)
    Thanked by 1Andris Amolins
  • From what I understand, the splitting of the Agnus Dei is for a similar reason to the splitting of the Sanctus/Benedictus. The settings were long, so to prevent holding up the mass, they were sung after their proper place.

    For example, the Agnus Dei I would have the "miserere nobis" ending and Agnus Dei II would have the "dona nobis pacem" ending. Agnus Dei I was sung, then communion would begin (Domine non sum dignus...) and then during the start of communion, Agnus Dei II would be sung, followed by the communion antiphon and the communion psalm.

    For the Ordinary Form liturgy, it is often best to do a chant/polyphony sandwich of the Agnus Dei to prevent it from taking too long. For example used Agnus Dei ad libitum II, chanted once to the miserere ending, sing the polyphonic Agnus Dei I and then chant the last Agnus Dei with the dona nobis pacem ending.

    The other option is to chant the Agnus Dei with miserere ending then use Agnus Dei II with the dona nobis pacem ending. Either works just fine if you don't want to prolong a mass.
    Thanked by 1Andris Amolins
  • Thanks to commentators for their ideas. I have read, though, that "Ecce Agnus ... Domine non sum dignus" was introduced only in the 18th century, so it hardly could be the motive for Palestrina to divide the Agnus Dei. But I am not familiar with the practice of 16th century. Maybe there was some other reason.
  • The Rite for the Distribution of Holy Communion has always been the same (cf the Caeremoniale Episcoporum). However until the 20th century Distribution of Holy Communion was very rare at High Mass; if at all Holy Communion would have been distributed in an early low mass, with the Exception of Easter Sunday. I have seen german diocesan statistics from the 1950s which list how often Communion was received by ordinary parishioners: it did not exceed 10-15 times per year, and that was after the exhortation to frequent communion by Pius X. Before that, most ordinary laypeople would have communicated only on Easter sunday.
  • Another reason to compose a longer Agnus Dei for Papal masses except to cover the time until the Communio was to be chanted was the fact that the Pax took very long given the tremendous amount of clergy present in papal chapels.
  • For polyphonic masses like you've described, we've sung the polyohony with a chant in between. We've also simply sung the polyphonic compositions back to back.
    Thanked by 1Andris Amolins