Tuesday, 22 January 2008

40.Gregorio Allegri - Miserere Mei Deus (c. 1640s)


Title: Allegri Miserere
Performers: Tallis Scholars, Deborah Roberts (soprano)
Director: Peter Phillips
Year: 1994
Length: 12 minutes 30 seconds


The famous Allegri Miserere sounds at the same time like a throwback to an earlier age, and like something different. It is in essence very conservative, chorales follow Gregorian Chant in a very traditional way. But some of what is done by those chorales, particularly the Soprano soloist is just sublime.

This is not, however how the music has sounded through the years, it reportadely was a lot more ornamental, and there were some mistakes in transcription that made it the unique piece that it is.

That aside however, the way it has come down to our age makes it an amazingly beautiful piece of music. Of of the few unmissable works of what is essentially the late Renaissance although we are now in the Baroque period.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Although there were a handful of supposed transcriptions in various royal courts in Europe, none of them succeeded in capturing the beauty of the Miserere as performed annually in the Sistine Chapel. According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome, when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Some time during his travels, he met the British historian Dr. Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him and took it to London, where it was published in 1771. Once it was published, the ban was lifted, and Allegri's Miserere has since been one of the most popular a cappella choral works now performed. The work was also transcribed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1831 and Franz Liszt, and various other 18th and 19th century sources survive.

Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius.

Burney's edition did not include the ornamentation that made the work famous. The original ornamentations were Renaissance techniques that preceded the composition itself, and it was these techniques that were closely guarded by the Vatican. Few written sources, not even that of Burney, showed the ornamentation, and it was this that created the legend of the work's mystery. However, the Roman priest Pietro Alfieri published in 1840 an edition with the intent of preserving the performance practice of the Sistine choir in the Allegri and Bai compositions, including ornamentation.

The piece as it is sung today, with a top C, is not authentic. It is the result of an error in the first edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music of 1880, in an article on ornamentation by the musicologist William Smith Rockstro. In it, he wrote out the first half of the verse twice, but transposed the second half up a fourth, as recorded by Felix Mendelssohn when he transcribed it. As a result the bass part leaps from F sharp to C, a progression (known as a tritone) forbidden by the rules of counterpoint at the time when Allegri was working. Sir Ivor Atkins, the choirmaster of Worcester Cathedral, copied the Rockstro verse from Grove's for his English language edition of 1951, and liked what he heard.

Miserere in Salisbury Cathedral:

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