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Agnus Dei

tune from Barber's String Quartet, 1936; arranged 1967 for choir
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

The time bomb of Barber’s melancholy—set to darken his later years in depressive alcoholism—would not have obviously resided alongside his privileged upbringing, good looks, precocious talent and early establishment of his lifelong relationship with fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti. But it was already sufficiently present to produce, at the age of twenty-six, a string quartet movement of the deepest sadness, an Adagio that in its string orchestral version has become the unofficial national anthem of mourning in the United States, far-outstripping any other piece in a 2004 BBC Radio 4 poll for the ‘saddest music in the world’. Not only has it been the most successful, even improving, of transfers from string quartet to string orchestra; Barber’s own choral arrangement of 1967, tracking the sinuous, stepwise string lines to the words of the Agnus Dei, works superbly too. The melodic contours fit like a glove for voices, unlike similar, more recent attempts to choral-ize the more intrinsically instrumental lines of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ with the Lux aeterna and Requiem aeternam texts.

from notes by Meurig Bowen © 2015


American Polyphony
Studio Master: CDA67929Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Copland: In the beginning; Barber: Agnus Dei
Images of Christ
COLCD124Download only
Naked Byrd, Vol. 2
SIGCD235Download only


Track 2 on CDA67929 [9'07]
Track 4 on CDA66219 [9'50]
Track 20 on COLCD124 [6'26] Download only
Track 3 on SIGCD235 [7'36] Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDA67929 track 2

Recording date
24 August 2011
Recording venue
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Adrian Peacock
Recording engineer
David Hinitt
Hyperion usage
  1. American Polyphony (CDA67929)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: July 2015
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