Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel Graham O’Reilly Boydell Press, Woodbridge Hardback, 388 pages, 234x156mm, ISBN13: 978 1 78327 487 1
The approach of Holy Week seems an appropriate moment to publish this rather delayed review of this study of the Allegri Miserere – one of the most loved, discussed and performed pieces of classical music. It was composed in the 1630s for the exclusive use of the Papal Choir during Holy Week in the Sistine Chapel. Much of its fame comes from the story of the young Mozart transcribing it from memory after a single hearing – something that was specifically forbidden by the Vatican authorities under pain of excommunication. The Miserere that we hear performed today has little resemblance to either the original composition or the early methods of performance. This book gives a detailed and readable account of the Miserere‘s performance history in the Sistine Chapel and beyond, notably during the peak of its popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the history of the version commonly heard today – the “English Miserere”.
Anamorfosi Allegri, Monteverdi Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre Alpha 438. 73’10
Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
Luigi Rossi: Un allato messagier
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è ‘l martire
Anon: Domine, ne in furore tuo
Domenicho Mazzocchi: Breve è la vita nostra
Antonio Maria Abbatini: Sinfonia La comica del cielo
Marco Marazzoli: Chi fà, Un sonno ohimè
Claudio Monteverdi: Maria, quid ploras, Pascha concelebranda
The word “Anamorphosis” is described by Wikipedia as “a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point, use special devices or both to view a recognizable image”. In the UK it is perhaps best known through its use Holbein’s famous 1533 painting The Ambassadors where what seems to be an elongated smudge across the bottom of the painting turns out to be a skull (a memento mori) when viewed sideways from the right-hand corner of the picture. It is that notion of artistic distortion that Vincent Dumestre and his Le Poème Harmonique explore in musical terms in this recording of music from the early Baroque era, a period when the structures of the Renaissance were successively deconstructed, and viewed from a different perspective through a lens of ornamentation and elaboration.
Before the Ending of the Day Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips Royal Albert Hall, 6 September 2018
The late-night concert on 6 September, following the Britten War Requiem, was a quasi-liturgical performance of the service of Compline, the concluding service of the daily eight canonical hours in Catholic liturgy. After the concluding litany of the War Requiem: “Let us sleep now” it was an appropriate add-on. Traditionally followed in monastic settings by the ‘Great Silence’ that lasted until the first service of the morning, its roots go back to St Benedict at the beginning of the sixth century. The name of the service comes from the word ‘complete’ reflecting the completion of the working day – or, in this case, for most of us, the end of a musical day. Continue reading →
The Psalms of David are a key part of the liturgy of Christian and Jewish worship, and were rather nicely described by the (un-named) programme note writer of The Cardinall’s Musick concert (Cadogan Hall, 5 Feb) as a “collection of praises and complaints, benedictions and moans … dealing with the problems of ordinary life”. Their programme looked at two of the many possible musical genres, comparing the European Catholic tradition of the 16th century with that of the English church of the same period, described by director Andrew Carwood as a collection of “sorbets and grand dishes”.
The 10 singers were used in many different formations, only coming together at the end of each half, firstly for the Allegri Miserere and then Byrd’s joyful Laudibus in sanctis. After the opening Jubilate Deo by Giovanni Gabrieli, the first half was built around three of Victoria’s large-scale double-choir Vespers Psalm settings, Nisi Dominus, Dixit Dominus and Laudate Dominum. These were contrasted with more intimate settings, notably Palestrina’s Super flumina Babylonis, with its closely-wrought stepwise musical lines, and the Ad Dominum cum tribularer by Lassus with its contrast between high and low voices. The often intense English settings were intended for a very different liturgical purpose, usually as anthems during Evensong or Mattins, or for more private devotions. Only with the opening Gibbons’ ‘O clap your hands together’ and the final Byrd Laudibus in sanctis did the English music approach the grandeur of Victoria’s settings. Indeed, it was the intimate and madrigal-like ‘O Lord in thy wrath’ and Laboravi in gemitu meo (by Gibbons and Weelkes respectively) that were the emotional highlights for me.
The rather youthful photographs of Andrew Carwood and Cardinall’s Musick belied the fact that they are in their 25th year. They were on excellent form on this occasion, their forthright vocal style ideal for the large-scale works as well as seeking out the emotional intensity of the more intimate works.