On Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” [I]

Gregorio Allegri’s (c.1582-1652) Miserere, mei Deus is without any doubt the most mystical work of sacred vocal polyphony of the Catholic world for its association with the musical practices in the Sistine Chapel. Together with Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli it stands out in numerous CD recordings.

The subject is so vast that I will write again in the future (hence, the [I] in the post title) with other versions of Allegri’s psalm setting. Gregorio Allegri’s psalm is set for two choirs (of five and four voices respectively) which are spatially separated in the church. The work was probably composed in the 1630s and makes an extended use of the falsobordonne, as most of the polyphonic versions of psalm settings. This technique allowed for much ornamentation hence the numerous versions of the Miserere and the editors’ endless trouble of making the “right” version which, in my opinion, simply doesn’t exist. Several of these editions can be downloaded from IMSLP.

There was a episode in Simon Russell Beale’s Sacred Music BBC series dedicated to the “story” of Allegri’s Miserere (four videos):





I recently found this 2013 video of a new version of Allegri’s psalm recorded by The Sixteen and the musicological research behind it. There is a testimony of musicologist Ben Byram-Wigfield about his childhood as a chorister in King’s College, Cambridge and the mixture of editions, notably the one by Charles Burney (cf. IMSLP link).

There is also a live version from one of Sacred Music episodes which, I guess, is the “new” version of the psalm.

3 Comments on “On Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” [I]

  1. a few years ago we sang the Allegri in successive versions, beginning with the unadorned falsobordone. An interesting comparison.

    • Indeed Alastair! I have been thinking in writing some posts about this for a couple of years. We are always dependent on the music available on YouTube for sharing videos here. Indeed Allegri’s Miserere is to me the finest example of performance practice of falsobordone, and the relation between it and written music. It will be impossible to ascertain the “right” version. But, to me, the richness of this work is precisely the plurality of options in terms of editions.

  2. One of the most iconic works of Western music history. That Sacred Music episode is quite something!