Mozart and the Miserere
THE SOURCE: “Secret Harmony” by Kelly Grovier, in The Times Literary Supplement, June 8, 2012.
It’s Good Friday, 1770. Pilgrims have filled the Sistine Chapel for the rite of the Tenebrae. At the altar, the priest is extinguishing the candles meant to represent Christ’s life on earth. Ringing through the chapel is one of Europe’s most famous pieces of sacred music, Gregorio Allegri’s 17th-century work Miserere Mei, a polyphonous choral setting of Psalm 51. Among the rapt pilgrims are 14-year-old Wolfgang Mozart and his father, Leopold. Young Mozart is not just transfixed by the music; he is committing it to memory. After the service, he will transcribe the score of the coveted work, executing a prodigious feat of musical mastery.
It will also be a major affront to the Roman Catholic Church. The church so highly prized the Miserere Mei that anyone who copied even a part of it risked excommunication, writes Kelly Grovier, a poet and cofounder of the European Romantic Review.
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