Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The best piece of music ever written? Yeah, yeah, an unanswerable question, but I pose it thus anyway. Certainly one of the lesser-known classics and probably one of the best pieces most of you have never heard of: Allegri's Miserere:
With its soaring soprano parts (sung for centuries by castrati) and compelling melodic style, the work enjoyed almost immediate popularity. So impressed was some subsequent pope that the work thereafter was protected and a prohibition was placed on its use outside the Sistine Chapel at the appointed time. Chapel regulations forbid its transcription; indeed, the prohibition called for excommunication for anyone who sought to copy the work. In spite of this, by 1770 three copies were known to exist. One was owned by the King of Portugal; another was in the possession of the distinguished composer, pedagogue, and theoretician Padre Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784); and a third was kept in the Imperial Library in Vienna.

Video and sound:

I only really discovered it about ten years ago, though I had heard it on classical radio here a couple of times before. I suppose stating something like "it's the best" is bound to cause endless arguments, but it remains one of my absolute favorites. It's not complex; mostly it's the same basic stuff repeated a few times. That's the most common complaint I've read about it. Then again, since when does good = complex?

But it captures. . .something so well. It soothes, it inspires, it's sad and reflective and joyous, melancholy, hopeful, uplifting and glorious all at the same time. If I could, I'd have it sung at my funeral. If I could take my last breath as the last note of it fades away I would surely enter the next world complete.

My favorite recording thus far is on the Gimell label, sung by the Tallis Scholars (also on this CD, which I would link to except that Amazon is refusing to load, is Palestrina and Mundy, both also excellent works). Also try anything by Victoria, and Anonymous 4 does a fabu "100: A Mass for the end of time."