18 September 2011

Miserere mei, Deus

The Miserere is written for two choirs, one of five and one of four voices, and is an example of Renaissance polyphony surviving to the present day. One of the choirs sings a simple version of the original Miserere chant; the other, spatially separated, sings an ornamented "commentary" on this...

Three authorized copies of the work were distributed prior to 1770 – to the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, to the King of Portugal, and to Padre (Giovanni Battista) Martini.[1] However, none of them succeeded in capturing the beauty of the Miserere as performed annually in the Sistine Chapel[citation needed]. 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 the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius. 
Whenever I hear Mozart stories, I reflexly think of him as Tom Hulce's Amadeus character.

Text credit Wikipedia, with a hat tip to beasterne.


  1. I'm not religious or anything, but this is actually one of my favorite choral pieces ever. It's awesome that it's getting some recognition in places I wouldn't expect.

    I guess I never expected only adults, let alone women, to be singing this piece, because I think all the soprano parts were written for eunuchs or something like that.

  2. Wow, that gives me chills. Especially the group in the balcony - I'm not not sure if I've ever heard better harmony, and the soprano's voice just soars.

    I defy anyone to think that 'modern' people are somehow more intelligent or sophisticated than our ancestors.

  3. What an awesome recording! Perhaps this musical group is well known but it is new to me. They are called THE SIXTEEN and this choral piece can be found at their website http://bit.ly/r9NZlp.

    Spotify is my new musical toy and I have been able to save numerous of their recordings to my playlist.

  4. Unfortunately, the visually and musically superb blonde may not be a regular member of the Sixteen and remains nameless.

  5. @yoshiturtle--the treble and alto parts were actually written for young boys whose voices hadn't changed. YouTube has a performance by the Kings College Chapel Choir:


    The choirs aren't separated, but the all-male voices are a more authentic sound to my ear. That soaring soprano part is done by one angelic little boy with what must be the world's purest voice.

    The Wikipedia description is a bit odd--"an example of Renaissance polyphony surviving to the present day," as if that were a great rarity. It's not, of course, there's scads of it. This is actually a late Renaissance piece. I'm more partial to the early Renaissance works, which are somewhat plainer but just as gorgeous.

    Man, Psalm 50 (or 51 depending on how you number them) is stunning. I'm not religious, but the depth of feeling it expresses makes me wish I were.

    --Swift Loris


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