I took in a repeat episode of the PBS Masterpiece TV series, Endeavour, one evening recently. This particular episode was entitled Prey.
It opened amidst the dramatic soundtrack of the Agnus Dei from Bach’s Mass in B minor. Throughout the entire 1-1/2-hour long episode, my mind was racing to search for a reason as to why the Agnus Dei may have been chosen for the backdrop of Prey, a dark, primal tale in which the young Endeavour Morse discovers that a string of ‘murders’ was actually committed by a tiger running wild in the woods around Oxford.
Was it simply for the drama of it? I convinced myself that, since this is PBS’ Masterpiece series, the reasoning had to go deeper than that.
Upon a bit of research on my end, I was reminded that the Mass in B minor is considered Bach’s last will and testament. Bach assembled and revised the movements during the last two years of his life, after he had already gone blind. The setting is of the complete Latin Mass, unusual for a composer working in the Lutheran tradition.
Was the Agnus Dei Bach’s primal attempt to express what cannot truly be expressed?
Listen here to a recording featuring Andreas Scholl, countertenor and Collegium Vocale directed by Philippe Herreweghe.