Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere"

Miserere, (full title: Miserere mei, Deus, Latin for "Have mercy on me, O God") by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, is a setting of Psalm 51 (50) composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during matins, as part of the exclusive Tenebrae service on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week.
This hauntingly beautiful piece was allowed to be performed only at particular services and it was forbidden by the church to transcribe the music, thus adding to the mystery surrounding it. Writing it down or performing it elsewhere was punishable by excommunication.
According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus 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 the piece was published, the ban was lifted; 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.
[2] Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954, Eric Blom, ed.


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