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At-A-Glance

Composed: 2013

Length: c. 8 minutes

About this Piece

“The inspiration came by listening to percussion music,” Daníel Bjarnason says about how he started on Qui Tollis, which was commissioned by the MusicNOW Festival in Cincinnati and premiered there by So Percussion in 2013. “I think, in general, that is the most fertile way for me to write, being inspired by other music.” Later, he added, “I would like to mention one piece in particular that I fell completely in love with, which is The SoCalled Laws of Nature by David Lang.”

The title comes from the Agnus Dei movement of the Mass (and originally from the Gospel of John), referring to the Lamb of God, “who takes” away the sins of the world. It is quite possible to hear a prayer in this stunning piece, particularly in the soft chorale at the end, but Bjarnason does not explain his intention for the title. There is serenity at the close, with bowed glockenspiels, vibraphone, and marimba, but the piece begins in trembling, stammering urgency, with mallet tremolos on the same instruments. In between comes powerful drumming on floor toms, with gated explosions of sampled sounds and fierce chiming from the vibes and marimba.

These three sections, over the same implied harmony, may reflect the tripartite repetition of the prayer, with an emotional arc from pleading to demanding to acceptance. But, the lure of the suggestive title notwithstanding, a narrative program is hardly necessary to appreciate the sheer beauty of sonority here, and the exploration of movement, pulse, and breathing.

— John Henken