Agnus Dei: Bach's Mass in B minor

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  • Created by: Katherine
  • Created on: 30-04-14 12:17

Context within work

  • From the last section of the B minor mass.
  • Solo aria followed by a chorus.
  • Alto solo, violin ritornello (low tessitura), low lying violin melody.
  • Obbligato aria: have to have instrumental line interlinking with solo voice: violin line essential.
  • The music's from one of his earlier works.
  • Old style of composition: elaborate.
  • Prima Prattical: first style; some harmonic features more elaborate.
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Text and Text Setting

  • "Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, miserere nobis" translates to "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of world, have mercy on us."
  • Minor tonality, starts in G minor. Opening 8 bars set therefore for these words.
  • Opening ritornello has lots of features which give it a lamenting feel.
  • Poignant intervals, eg diminshed 5ths (ex: F# to C) and uses diminished 7ths in violin ritornello.
  • Chromatic shapes also add to this feel.
  • Pairs of slurred quavers also. Sometimes appogiaturas.
  • Mostly syllabic setting apart from on the word: 'miserere' which is always melismatic. This is to add emphasis.
  • Opening vocal melody descends, giving it a depressing feel.
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Melody and Rhythm

  • Ritornello melody uses some particular motifs.
  • 1st melody has a disjunct, arpeggiated shape.
  • Uses some diminished 5th and 7ths throughout. Bach often used angular shapes/patterns, refers to wider scale of work.
  • Second idea (bar 3), uses slurred quavers, some of them being appogiaturas.
  • The rests in the continuo create a sigh like/sob feel.
  • vocal line: descends, long phrases, especially in bar 17 on the word: 'miserere'. It goes on.
  • The use of irregular phrase lengths makes it unsettling.
  • In places, vocal line quite linear, beginning tune: 'agnus dei'.
  • In other places, not so linear, lots of chromaticism, for ex: when the melody is in D minor (bar 27).
  • 1st melody is sequential.
  • Lots repeated.
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Tonality and Harmony

  • Starts in G minor.
  • Bar 27: D minor - dominant.
  • Bar 31: returns to G minor.
  • Examples of Dissonance (bar 1), also a chromatically altered chord (beat 4 of bar 1) -not what you'd expect.
  • A dissonance between C in violins and G in basso in bar 1.
  • Use of Neopolitan 6th, bar 2: Ab chord in 1st inversion.
  • Goes through D minor in bar 4, and C minor in the second half of bar 5.
  • Uses a full diminished 7th in bar 7.
  • False relations in bar 9, F followed by F#, in bar 14, Ab to A natural. Bar 18: E to Eb: typical of era.
  • Generally, more chromatic harmony.
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  • Instrumental: 2 part texture. When voice comes in, it's a three part texture.
  • It's broadly a contrapuntal texture.
  • Bars 13, 14: imitation between voice and violin.
  • The violin obbligato imitates the voice.
  • A canon when the voice first comes in between the voice and violin obbligato. Canon at the 5th.
  • Bar 17: violins play ritornello from the opening melody against the melody in the voice.
  • Bar 31: repeats canon at the 5th.
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Writing for instruments and relationship between v

  • The voice part isn't doubled.
  • The 1st and 2nd violins play a unison obbligato.
  • The continuo would've been playted by cello and organ.
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  • Ritornello form: Bars 1-8 opening ritornello.
  • Bar 9: Vocal melody comes in: A section.
  • Bar 13: Ritornello in violin part.
  • Bar 17: move to D minor and ritornello material in violins. Very short ritornello in the middle of the aria.
  • Opening melody in bar 9 is repreised in bar 31.
  • Not as sectional as Laudamus Te, less ritornellis. But bar 23, 4 bars of Ritornello.
  • Integrated with voice, ritornello against it.
  • Bar 27: back to beginning melody but changes direction.
  • Bar 31: E minor
  • The structure has similarities with Laudamus Te but not such clear divisions between sections.
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Compositional Devices

  • Canon
  • Sequence
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