Allegri’s work, Miserere Mei Deus, (c. 1630) was used in Holy Week services at the Vatican for nearly a hundred years after its composition. It was considered a text setting not only “superior to those of his predecessors, but as the finest that could possibly be written. This was high praise, for among his predecessors was Palestrina.” (Musical Times, p. 455)
Interestingly, this was the same piece a 14-year-old Mozart heard in the Sistine Chapel and transcribed from memory.
This piece has a large amount of text and is split between five-part choir and an SATB quartet. The lyrics come from the 51st Psalm, using the Vulgate translation.
Because of its texture and sound as a vocal work, this Baroque-era piece is generally referred to as Late Renaissance. I argue that it is a Renaissance-style work written by a Baroque-informed composer.
Early Baroque vocal music blurred the lines between the new and older styles of writing, and it is possible, though challenging to distinguish between the two.
When the sopranos carry their high C at measure 26, 58, etc, the key momentarily shifts to the submediant, then back to the minor i key and cadences with a suspended and resolved dominant with a Picardy third. Were one to speed that process up slightly and play it on a harpsichord, it would sound distinctly Baroque. Do not let the slow, flowing voices be the only signpost for Renaissance.
To see a simplified version of the sheet music, please click this link:
Although Allegri is credited for writing the first string quartet (really a prototype of its modern day ancestor), this piece is far less progressive. In fact, this work sounds more like a Late Renaissance piece, which puts it back about twenty years from its date of composition.
Compared to his contemporaries, Allegri’s Miserere must have sounded awfully old-fashioned. Its use in the Tenebrae service at the Vatican, and the shroud of mystery around it there seems to have rooted this work in both a historical and artistic context.
I chose this piece because I thought it was interesting to see a lingering Renaissance sound when a composer’s contemporaries were clearly moving toward the Baroque sound. I was impressed that although his work was old-fashioned, it received worldwide renown through its use in the Vatican.
I also wanted to bring out the idea that all of these genres have very blurry lines that may not fit into the prescribed delineation of years.
The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 26, No. 510 (Aug. 1, 1885), pp 455-456
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
Article DOI 10.2307/3356080
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3356080vc
http://imslp.org/wiki/Miserere_(Allegri,_Gregorio), updated December 29, 2013
“Miserere Mei Deus” Youtube video, by AnglicanDeist, posted on October, 31, 2009