V. Agnus Dei
- Year of composition: 1920-21 (according to Sohlmans Musiklexikon, vol. 3, 1976)
- Work category: Mixed choir and instruments
- Duration: Approx. 60-90 min
- Detailed duration: 62 min. (Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble 2021)
cel, pno (cemb, hp), org
S.S.A.A.T.T.B.B. with soloist quartet (S.A.T.B.), duet (S.T.) and tenor solo
Examples of printed editions
Elkan & Schildknecht, Emil Carelius, E. C. 347 (1923)
- Location autograph: Musik- och teaterbiblioteket
- Possible call no. and autograph comment: Z/Sv
Description of work
I. Kyrie: Molto sostenuto D major 4/4 (C)
II. Gloria: Allegro moderato G major (varying key signatures) 4/4 (C)
III. Credo: Allegro moderato B-flat major (varying key signatures) 4/4 (C)
IV. Sanctus: Moderato con moto F major 4/4 (C)
V. Agnus Dei: Molto sostenuto F major - D major 3/4
Andreas Hallén was active as a choir conductor for a large part of his career and it is hardly surprising that choral works make up a large part of his production. He had a great knowledge of choral music from all times, from Palestrina to Brahms and Verdi, which becomes apparent in Missa Solemnis, where he uses stylistic elements from many different eras.
The hour-long composition based on the Latin mass text was to become his last great work. Information about when it was composed varies — some evidence points to 1920–21, but in an interview in Svenska Dagbladet 17 November 1923, Hallén says that "the work was created last year", which would be in 1922. Considering that he was a man in his mid-70s at the time, it is conceivable that the work had developed over a longer period of time. The work is written for four solo voices, mixed choir, organ, piano (or harp), and celesta. In the interview mentioned above Hallén explains in his own words:
"That I have avoided the orchestra has its very special reasons. In my Christmas Oratorio — composed a number of years ago — I used an orchestra and the experiences I gained from it urged me to avoid the orchestra this time. The Christmas Oratorio has admittedly been performed in no less than twelve different cities, in some of them a couple of times. But every performance has been associated with so much effort and cost to get an orchestra together, that I decided to avoid this troublesome apparatus this time, for purely practical reasons."
He also explains that the work is intended for a church room with its special acoustics and that he doesn't think it would do well in a concert hall. The first performance, conducted by David Åhlén, was on Tuesday 20 November 1923, at 8pm, in Engelbrektskyrkan (Engelbrekt Church) in Stockholm, a very large church with 1400 seats and extremely an high ceiling (32 meters), which certainly offered the acoustical properties Hallén desired.
The vocal soloists were Davida Hesse-Lilienberg (soprano), Davida Afzelius-Bohlin (alto), Einar Ralf (tenor), and John [Per Johan] Johansson (baritone). The concert was arranged by Musikaliska Sällskapet (The Musical Society), an independent chorus, founded in 1907 and dissolved towards the end of the 1990s. From 1927, one year after the inauguration of Stockholm Concert Hall, they served as the chorus of Stockholms Konsertförening (Stockholm Concert Society, currently Kungliga Filharmoniska Orkestern/Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra), later under the name Kungliga Filharmoniska Kören (Royal Philharmonic Chorus). The organist and composer Oskar Lindberg (1887–1955) — formerly one of Hallén's composition students, played the organ part, Albin Rude the piano part and Martin Andreasson the celesta part.
At Hallén's funeral, which took place in Engelbrektskyrkan one and a half years later (in March, 1925), Musikaliska Sällskapet under the direction of David Åhlén performed the Kyrie and Agnus Dei from Missa Solemnis, according to Hallén's expressed wish. On this occasion, the male soloists were the same as at the first performance, but the soprano part was sung by Greta Söderman and the alto part by Göta Wendel.
The organ part is clearly written for a symphonic organ, a logical choice considering the interview, where Hallén himself suggests that it should, so to speak, replace an orchestra. At this time, the church was still relatively new (inaugurated in 1914), and it had a rather undersized pipe organ built by E.A. Setterqvist (40 stops, 3 manuals and pedal). Not until 1929, when the instrument was rebuilt by Åkerman & Lund, did the extremely spacious church get a sufficiently large organ (97 stops, 4 manuals and pedal).The instrument in 1923 was, however, appropriate for blending with the piano and the celesta and certainly large enough for Missa Solemnis.
The combination of organ, piano, and voices is unusual, but not entirely without precursors. During the latter part of the 19th century, it became common to write music for piano in combination with harmonium, an instrument that we know in the form that was patented in 1840 by Alexandre Debain in Paris and which quickly became very popular throughout Europe. In many affluent musical bourgeois homes one could find both a piano (or even two) as well as a harmonium. A good example of this combination is Gioachino Rossini's Petite messe solennelle from 1863, which in its original version is written for two pianos and a harmonium. Rossini's piano parts carry all of the musical structure — melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically — while the harmonium adds what is usually referred to as 'harmony parts'. In the case of Missa Solemnis, since the organ is a much more powerful instrument than the harmonium it is given the instrumental lead role, while the piano and the celesta are used to create rhythmically driving textures, or to add a brilliant sparkle to the organ sound.
Hallén's great experience from both the choral world and the opera world is noticeable in the vocal writing. The choir is used in a varied way, both homophonically and contrapuntally, while the soloists sing ensembles as well as solos and duets. Sometimes the soloists are used as a concertino group against the full chorus. The character of the music alternates between humble religiosity and operatic power, which creates a magnificent sacred choral work that has the potential to touch and enthuse an audience even a hundred years after the work was created, something that would have delighted an old opera fox like Hallén.
© B. Tommy Andersson
From the booklet of the world premiere recording with the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble, SCD 1178 (Naxos).
 Åhlén, David: En kyrkomusikers minnen (memoirs), p. 72 (January 1969, unpublished)
 Therstam, Stefan: Orgelverken i Engelbrektskyrkan, 1914–2014 (a booklet, published by Engelbrektskyrkan in connection with the organ from 1964 (built by Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri; 86 stops, 5 manuals and pedal) that replaced Åkerman & Lund's organ had been renovated and expanded in 2015)
I. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison
II. Gloria in excelsis Deo
III. Credo in unum Deum Patrem omnipotentem
IV. Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus dominus Deus sabaoth!
V. Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi.