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Gregorio Allegri
 
 
 
 
Gregorio Allegri (1582 – 17 February 1652) was an Italian composer of the Roman School and brother of Domenico Allegri; he was also a priest and a singer. He lived mainly in Rome, where he would later die.
 
Life
He studied music as a puer (boy chorister) at San Luigi dei Francesi, under the maestro di capella Giovanni Bernardino Nanino, brother of Giovanni Maria Nanino. Being intended for the Church, he obtained a benefice in the cathedral of Fermo. Here he composed a large number of motets and other sacred music, which, being brought to the notice of Pope Urban VIII, obtained for him an appointment in the choir of the Sistine Chapel at Rome as a contralto. He held this from 6 December 1629 until his death. As Andrea Adami wrote, Allegri was regarded as singularly pure and benevolent.
Among Allegri's musical compositions were two volumes of concerti for five voices published in 1618 and 1619; two volumes of motets for six voices published in 1621; an edition of a four-part sinfonia; five masses; two settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah; and numerous motets which were not published in his lifetime. He was one of the earliest composers for stringed instruments, and Athanasius Kircher has given one specimen of this class of his works in his Musurgia. Most of Allegri's published music, especially the instrumental music, is in the progressive early Baroque concertato style. However, his work for the Sistine Chapel is descended from the Palestrina style, and in some cases strips even this refined, simple style of all ornament. He is credited with the earliest string quartet.

The Miserere

By far the most celebrated composition of Allegri is the Miserere mei, Deus, a setting of Vulgate Psalm 50 (= Psalm 51). It is written for two choirs, the one of five and the other of four voices, and has obtained considerable celebrity. One of the choirs sings a simple fauxbordon based on the original plainsong chant for the Tonus peregrinus; the other choir sings a similar fauxbordon with pre-existing elaborations and the use of cadenzas. The Miserere has for many years been sung annually during Holy Week in the Sistine Chapel. Many have cited this work as an example of the stile antico (old style) or prima pratica (first practice). However, its constant use of the dominant seventh chord and its emphasis on polychoral techniques certainly put it out of the range of prima pratica. A more accurate comparison would be to the works of Giovanni Gabrieli.
The Miserere is one of the most often-recorded examples of late Renaissance music, although it was actually written during the chronological confines of the Baroque era; in this regard it is representative of the music of the Roman School of composers, who were stylistically conservative. The work acquired a considerable reputation for mystery and inaccessibility between the time of its composition and the era of modern recording; the Vatican, wanting to preserve its aura of mystery, forbade copies, threatening any publication or attempted copy with excommunication. They were not prepared, however, for a special visit in 1770 from a 14-year-old named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who, on a trip to Rome with his father, heard it but twice and transcribed it faithfully from memory, thus creating the first known unauthorised copy.

In 1771 Mozart's copy was procured and published in England by the famous traveler and music historian Dr. Burney. However, Burney's edition does not show the ornamentation for which the work was famous. The music itself is rather basic—church music at the time placed a large gap between written and performance practice—embellishments were largely placed in the hands of the performers' tastes, although the Vatican score itself was altered largely by performers and visitors over the years.
The music as it is performed today includes a strange error by a copyist in the 1880s. The curious "trucker's gear change" from G minor to C minor is because the second half of the verse is the same as the first half, but transposed up a fourth. The original never had a Top C.
The entire music performed at Rome in Holy Week, Allegri's Miserere included, has been issued at Leipzig by Breitkopf and Härtel. Interesting accounts of the impression produced by the performance at Rome may be found in the first volume of Felix Mendelssohn's letters and in Miss Taylor's Letters from Italy.
 
 
 

Gregorio Allegri
 

Little is known of Allegri's parents or home life. From the age of nine he was a choirboy in Rome, going on to become a tenor at San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where he remained between the ages of 14 and 22. He then studied under the composer Giovanni Nanini until he was nearly 30, an intensive period of learning during which he was strongly influenced by Palestrina. From 1607 to 1621 he was a singer and composer at Fermo, then at Tivoli; finally he progressed to the rank of Maestro di Cappella at the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia (Rome), by which time he was 46 and had had 37 years of musical training and practice.

Towards the end of 1630, at the age of 48, Allegri joined Urban VIII's Papal choir. In this inspiring environment not only did his singing develop but he was able to evolve new compositional ideas. The legacy of Palestrina's teaching, together with his own experience in the Papal choir, led Allegri to write a number of works for the choir's use. Among these was his setting of the Penitential Psalm 51: the famous Miserere.

In essence, this is a simple chant on one-chord sung by an unaccompanied five-part choir with a second four-part choir adding further elements, including passages for solo treble which climb to a high С — a rarity at that time. The effect was to give a supreme, ethereal quality to the music that enhanced its celebration of the glory of God.

The Miserere was written to be part of the important Holy Week celebrations at St Peter's in Rome, and it proved so powerful that it became a traditional part of the Holy Week service sung in the Sistine Chapel every year. The musical score of the work was kept under guard; only three copies are known to have existed. To copy it was an offence punishable by excommunication. Wide-scale performance of the Miserere became possible only after Mozart, at the age of 14, wrote out the complete score from memory after listening to only one or two performances.

Allegri's music was sung for more than 100 years in the Sistine Chapel, especially his six- and eight-part Masses. In these, like Palestrina, he used the a cappella technique of writing for unaccompanied voices, featuring instruments only when they doubled the vocal parts. He also published a number of compositions that were influenced by the musical fashions of northern Italy and not suited to the religious needs of Rome. Allegri's music subtly explored new musical ground, combining his decades of discipline and experience in church music with elements of madrigals and dance rhythms.

 
 
 
 
 
Allegri - Miserere
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gregorio Allegri: Miserere
 
The Choir of Claire College, Cambridge, Timothy Brown
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Allegri - Miserere mei, Deus (Full version)
 
This is the full version of the magnificent "Miserere mei, Deus" composed by Allegri and here brilliantly performed by the Choir of New College, Oxford.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gregorio Allegri - Missa Vidi Turbam Magnam
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Allegri: Sinfonie Nr. 1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
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