Updated: Nov 13
Back in 1638, Gregorio Allegri was a singer in the Sistine Chapel Choir and he composed a setting of Psalm 51 to be sung during Holy Week. This composition was of such exceptional quality that, in order to maintain an aura of secrecy surrounding the music, the Pope prohibited any form of transcription. The rendition we have today differs significantly from Allegri's original manuscript.
In 1770, Leopold Mozart brought his 14-year-old son, Wolfgang Amadeus to Rome who heard the piece and transcribed it from memory. By chance, the Mozarts crossed paths with British music historian Dr Charles Burney, and they entrusted him with the manuscript. Dr Burney subsequently took it to London, where it was eventually published in 1771.
However, the story did not conclude there. In 1831, Felix Mendelssohn decided to make his own transcription. The version he encountered happened to be performed at a higher pitch than originally intended.
In 1880, during the compilation of the inaugural edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, a small portion of Mendelssohn's higher-pitched transcription was unintentionally inserted into a passage of the Miserere, which was being used to illustrate an article. This error was subsequently replicated in various editions over the ensuing century, eventually becoming the accepted version.
The outcome is the most renowned and arguably the most emotionally stirring segment of the composition — a beautiful top C sung by a treble soloist, pretty much the highest note found in the entire choral repertoire.
Text by: Deyun Lin/Licha Stelaus Productions
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