Miserere mei, Deus…
The season of Lent is now upon us, and one of the most popular compositions for this time of year is the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652). A setting of Psalm 51 – a penitential psalm central to the Lenten season – Allegri likely composed this work in the 1630s for use in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week.
The work was once regarded as so sacred, and so special to the Holy See, that until the late eighteenth century the transcription, publishing, or even performance of this piece outside of the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week was an offense punishable by excommunication from the Church. While a version was leaked by the 1700s-version of Julian Assange, this setting was inaccurate and incomplete. A fourteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the first to produce an accurate manuscript of the work, writing it from memory after a Holy Wednesday service and returning to the Sistine Chapel on Good Friday to make his corrections. His manuscript found its way into the hands of a London publisher who released it the following year. Upon learning of this, Pope Clement XIV summoned the teenaged Mozart to Rome; however, instead of punishing the boy Clement praised his musical genius and lifted the ban on the Miserere.
Today we have no such hardships to overcome to listen to Allegri’s masterpiece, and it is available at all times on compact disc and MP3 from Musical Concepts. Please click here to see track listings and to find this spectacular recording by James Griffett, James Bowman, and the Pro Cantione Antiqua, directed by Mark Brown.