Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Allegri

Music History Monday: Gregorio Allegri, Allegri’s Miserere, and Wolfgang Mozart

We mark the death on February 7, 1652 – 370 years ago today – of the Italian composer and Sistine Chapel singer Gregorio Allegri, in Rome. He had been born in that great and ancient city 70 years before, in 1582. Allegri is remembered today for a work he composed in the 1630s, during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, entitled Miserere mei, Deus (which means “Have mercy on me, O God”). The Miserere is a setting of Psalm 50 (Psalm 51 in Protestant Bibles).  Allegri composed his Miserere specifically (and exclusively!) for use in the Sistine Chapel (the Pope’s private chapel), to be performed during the Tenebrae services of Holy Week, which occur on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter Sunday. Allegri’s setting calls for two separate choirs, one employing five voices and the other, four voices. The choirs alternate with one another until the last part of the piece, during which they join to conclude the Miserere in nine-part polyphony. As the Miserere was performed over the years, embellishments were spontaneously added by the singers, embellishments that eventually became part of any performance but were never written down.  (For our historical information: Allegri’s Miserere is often identified […]

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Music History Monday: One Talented Kid

As is sometimes the case, the lack of notable musical events on our “appointed” date (in today’s case, April 10) requires that we shimmy forward (or back) a day for relevant material; thus: On April 11, 1770 – 247 years ago tomorrow – a choral performance took place in Rome that was the source of one of the most famous stories in the entire history of Western music. Here’s the story. On December 13, 1769, the then 13 year-old Wolfgang Mozart and his father left their hometown of Salzburg for what would be the first of three extended tours of Italy. Working their way south, they arrived in Rome on Wednesday, April 11, 1770, four days before Easter. They were just in time to hear the Papal Choir perform Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel. Allegri’s Miserere is a setting of Psalm 51, which consists of 20 lines. Here are its first three: 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. Allegri (1582-1652) composed his Miserere sometime in the late 1630s, during the reign […]

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