This song affirms that humans create beauty. When that woman’s voice rises above the rest and spirals around, it is pure and intoxicating.

Miserere Mei was written by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri in the late 1630s. As legend has it, this piece of music was protected from being transcribed or played outside of the Sistine Chapel for the Tenebrae (“darkness” or “shadows” in Latin) service. Doing so was punishable by excommunication.

The story goes that, after more than a century, young Mozart heard the work in 1770 and rewrote it from memory when he returned home. His transcription ended up in the hands of an Englishman who published it in 1771. Rather than being excommunicated, Mozart was called to Rome and praised by the pope for his musical genius. The ban was lifted, and now it is one of the most common works to be performed by a cappella choirs.

Why would this song ever have been banned in the first place? Because it was so very beautiful. Perhaps people would hear this music and have a spiritual experience. That experience, of course, could then be had anywhere they heard that music and open a personal pathway to a relationship with God. The Church wanted to be sure that that type of communication could only occur with its guidance and control. There are other examples of music being avoided because of the belief that it insinuated evil, like the tritone.

Other composers also transcribed it, and there is quite the dispute about who got it right and whose version is the best. I first heard a recording by the Dale Warland Singers, so I think I’m stuck with my first love, but there are many recordings — including the gorgeous version above performed by The Sixteen — both with adult and children’s choirs.

As interesting as all of this is, I’m not trying to make any big statement. I just want to share this amazing music that deeply touches my soul, no matter what sort of mood I am in.


Lisa MooreLisa Moore is a medical student at Loyola University in Chicago. She attempts to maintain her identity as more than somebody who studies through yoga, creative cooking, reading, and writing.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute a deeper understanding of the world around us.


Share Your Reflection

7Reflections

Reflections

"The story goes that, for more than a century, young Mozart heard the
work in 1770 and rewrote it from memory when he returned home.:

 Mozart heard the work for more than a century. Wow. (I guess you meant AFTER more than a century.)

Beautiful!  What performance venue is this?

Truly intoxicating and deeply moving.  Thank you so much for sharing.

Absolutely stunning, and even more compelling by the story and the history. Thank you for sharing.

Are you aware of the words of Psalm 51-- the context that the words refer to -- It is absolutely beautiful polyphony, of course.  Here are the words  spoken and written in plain English:
http://youtu.be/9sdrWviMl94
 

Wow

apples