Miserere Mei Deus – Kings College Chapel Choir
Patitur : here
Miserere, full name “Miserere mei, Deus” (Latin: “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 Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. It was the last of twelve falsobordone Miserere settings composed and chanted at the service since 1514 and the most popular: at some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music and it was only allowed to be performed at those particular services, adding to the mystery surrounding it. Writing it down or performing it elsewhere was punishable by excommunication. The setting that escaped from the Vatican is actually a conflation of verses set by Gregorio Allegri around 1638 andTommaso Bai (also spelled “Baj”; 1650–1718) in 1714.
The Miserere is written for two choirs, one of five and one of four voices, and is generally accepted to be one of the finest examples ofRenaissance polyphony to survive to the present day, next to Thomas Tallis‘s haunting and beautiful ‘Spem In Alium‘. One of the choirs sings a simple version of the original Miserere chant; the other, spatially separated, sings an ornamented “commentary” on this. Many[who?] have cited this work as an example of the stile antico or prima pratica. However, its constant use of the dominant seventh chord and its emphasis on polychoral techniques certainly put it out of the range of prima pratica; a more accurate comparison would be to the works of Giovanni Gabrieli.
Three authorised copies of the work were distributed prior to 1770 – to the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, to the King of Portugal, and toPadre (Giovanni Battista) Martini. However, none of them succeeded in capturing the beauty of the Miserere as performed annually in theSistine 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 the piece was published, the ban was lifted; Mozart was summoned to Rome by thePope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius. The work was also transcribed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1831 and Franz Liszt, and various other 18th and 19th century sources survive. Since the lifting of the ban, Allegri’s Miserere has become one of the most popular a cappella choral works now performed[who?].
Burney’s edition did not include the ornamentation or “abbellimenti” that made the work famous. The original ornamentations wereRenaissance techniques that preceded the composition itself, and it was these techniques that were closely guarded by the Vatican. Few written sources (not even Burney’s) showed the ornamentation, and it was this that created the legend of the work’s mystery. However, the Roman priest Pietro Alfieri published an edition in 1840 with the intent of preserving the performance practice of the Sistine choir in the Allegri and Bai compositions, including ornamentation.
The Miserere is one of the most often-recorded examples of late Renaissance music. A famous, “celebrated” recording of Allegri’s Miserere was that made in March 1963 by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, conducted by Sir David Willcocks, which featured the then-trebleRoy Goodman. This recording of the Miserere was originally part of a Gramophone LP recording entitled ‘Evensong for Ash Wednesday’ but the Miserere has subsequently been re-released on various compilation discs.
The most frequently performed arrangement is by the well-known English-born composer John Rutter. In Christmas 2008 the BBC aired a recording performed by the Harry Christophers choir, The Sixteen, for the British public, which sought to recreate one of the original interpretations of Allegri’s masterpiece. Other ‘authentic’ recordings of Allegri’s Miserere include those by The Taverner Consort directed byAndrew Parrott (EMI, 1993), and Ensemble William Byrd directed by Graham O’Reilly (Astree, 2002).
- Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
- Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
- Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.
- Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.
- Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut iustificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum iudicaris.
- Ecce enim in inquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.
- Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.
- Asperges me, hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
- Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.
- Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
- Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.
- Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.
- Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.
- Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.
- Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea iustitiam tuam.
- Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.
- Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.
- Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.
- Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.
- Tunc acceptabis sacrificium iustitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.
- English :
- Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
- According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
- Wash me throughly 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 stablish 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 sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations: then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.