Monday, May 28, 2012

Miserere

Gregorio Allegri's Miserere is an amazing piece of choral music composed during the 1630s. It makes use of a popular Renaissance technique called polyphony which is a texture of two or more independent melodic bodies as opposed to a single dominant melody accompanied by chords. Allegri wrote the music to be sung by one choir of five and another choir of four standing on opposite arms of the cross-shaped cathedral. One choir sings a simple version of the Miserere chant and the other sings an embellishment. 
At some point it become forbidden, punishable by excommunication, to transcribe or perform anywhere except the Sistine Chapel during the last week of Lent or the week before Easter. However, in 1771 14 year-old Mozart traveled to Rome where he first heard the piece performed during the Wednesday service and afterward wrote it down entirely from memory. He returned on Friday to make minor corrections. Dr Charles Burney acquired the transcript from him and published it in London. The ban was lifted and instead of excommunicating him, Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope to praise his musical genius.



Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults: and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
Turn Thy face from my sins: and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of Thy help again: and establish me with Thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked: and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my health: and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee: but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Sion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt Thou be pleased with the righteous sacrifice, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young calves upon Thine altar.

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