Agnus Dei for mixed choir a cappella
Before Agnus Dei became the fifth part of A Polish Requiem, it had functioned as an independent piece. The composition was conceived spontaneously at the news of the death of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, Primate of Poland. Penderecki valued and admired the Cardinal for his immense charisma and for his compelling commitment to the Polish people. Written for an eight-part unaccompanied choir, Agnus Dei was performed during the funeral ceremony for Wyszyński on 31 May 1981 in Warsaw – albeit not without obstacles as, due to the lack of formal permissions, the composer and the choir were at first not allowed into St. John’s Archcathedral. They nearly had to use force to get through to the crypt and sing their sorrowful prayer. The music enchants the audience with the beauty of its a cappella sound, at some moments bordering on tonality. In this work, Penderecki used musical ideas looking back to the centuries-old tradition of choral music, such as rhetorical representation of textual meanings, for example the exclamatio (marked in the score as quasi un grido – “almost a cry”) on the word peccata (“sins”). After that expressive culmination, there is a general pause, followed by the final section with the bass voice’s solo melisma on the words “dona eis requiem”, encouraging reflection on ultimate things.The expressive rhetorical clarity of this composition has inspired instrumental transcriptions that include a “rewriting” for chamber orchestra by Boris Pergamenshikov in 1994 and an arrangement for eight cellos.