Allegri’s Miserere and Mozart

    Mozart's 'illegal' copy of the Miserere (andrea-angelini.eu)

    Fitting for this First Sunday in Lent, as we begin our pilgrimage through the forty days, e last one in this long Lent, is Allegri’s Miserere, his unsurpassed musical setting of Psalm 51, the one recited in Lauds (Morning Prayer) every Friday. Composed around 1638, under the patronage of Pope Urban VIII, the sublime piece was performed only on certain occasions in the Sistine Chapel, its score held in great secrecy, adding to its mystery.

    As the story goes, the secret held until a 14 year old Mozart heard the score in 1770; after this one-time listen, he went back to his chamber and transcribed the entire piece from memory, returning to make minor corrections. Mozart transcribed the work for other instruments; far from being criticized for what we might now consider copyright theft, the young genius was showered with praise, bestowed with the Order of the Golden Spur by Pope Clement XIV later that same year.

    Since then, the Miserere has been transcribed numerous times, including by Mendelsshon and Liszt, and is now one of the most performed of choral works, its beauty transcendent, one that be found even in the midst of suffering: Miserere mei, Domine, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam, Have Mercy on Me, O Lord, according to Thy great mercy…