Gregorio Allegri (1582–1652) is perhaps best known for his nine-part setting of Il salmo Miserere mei Deus
(Psalm 51) and for his connection with the papal choir where he became a singer (probably a tenor) under Pope Urban VIII. The Miserere
has traditionally been sung in Holy Week every year by the papal choir. The music was a closely guarded secret and, prior to Dr Burney’s publication of the work in La musica della Settimana Santa
in 1790, there were only three copies of the work outside the papal chapel. These were in the possession of Emperor Leopold I, the King of Portugal and the composer Padre Martini. Although there is no evidence to substantiate the claim, it is said that excommunication would be the fate awaiting anyone who made an unauthorized copy of the music. Mozart heard the piece at the age of fourteen and either made a copy of the work during or after an actual performance. Although there is no doubt that Mozart was a genius, such a feat of aural dictation might not be quite as difficult as may be imagined: structurally the piece is fairly simple, being a falsobordone chant in five parts. A second four-part choir sing abbellimenti which contains the famous top C, certainly something of a rarity in the seventeenth century. The musical material is repeated five times to different verses of the Psalm, and the final verse is sung in nine parts. The edition used on this recording was prepared by Dr George Guest.
from notes by William McVicker © 1991