Other recordings available for download
|The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor), Deborah Roberts (soprano), Sally Dunkley (soprano), Caroline Trevor (alto), Donald Greig (baritone), Andrew Carwood (tenor)|
The Miserere story is straightforward enough. The music was written sometime before 1638; by the middle of the eighteenth century it had become so famous that the Papacy forbade anyone to sing it outside the Sistine Chapel, in order to enhance the reputation of the Papal choir. It is alleged that the music finally escaped when Mozart at the age of fourteen wrote it down from memory. That he did this is certain since, even though the actual copy he made does not survive, a letter from his father to his mother describing the incident does. In fact there were other copies of the Miserere outside the Vatican by then, though it was only about the time of Mozart’s visit in 1770 that the music became widely available.
However, just as the Pope had feared, once the Miserere was heard outside the magical confines of the Sistine Chapel, the music was found to lose its power to astonish. The problem with any performance of it, then as now, is that what Gregorio Allegri himself composed is simple and plain. Everything depends on the embellishments which are added to Allegri’s chords. There was a tradition of improvising amongst the Papal singers which no other group of singers could match, so in a way the fact that copies of the music escaped the confines of the Vatican didn’t make much difference to the fame or development of the piece: one still had to go to the Sistine Chapel to hear it sung to its fullest potential. It seems likely that the embellishments got more and more effective as the decades passed until by the end of the nineteenth century the best of them had also been written down and become part of the composition. By then they included the high C which has so characterized the piece in recent times. For modern performers there remains the option of adding extra embellishments to the ‘established embellishments’, which is what Deborah Roberts has done here. These are the fruit of her experiments across most of the 300 performances that The Tallis Scholars have given. She and I acknowledge the irony of writing down these improvisations, but if making them available in print means that yet more dazzling roulades will be invented by subsequent performers then we are probably only doing what the Papal singers did when they listened to each other centuries ago.
from notes by Peter Phillips © 2007
Other albums featuring this work
Allegri: Miserere; Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli
Studio Master: CDGIM041 Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available