My all time favorite ancient piece of Sacred Music is “Miserere Mei Deus” written by Gregorio Allegri . It was written in the early 1600’s for performance only in the Sistine Chapel, with an imposing threat of excommunication of anyone who attempted to make a copy.
In 1770, Mozart was in the Eternal City. Heard the piece performed twice, and in his brilliance, transcribed it note for note, word for word, all 14 minutes of it. The first unauthorized copy of the piece – he left with his Catholicism in tact.
This work is generally considered a prime example, and one of the most recorded pieces of late Renaissance music. It is based on Psalm 50, and is always sung in the presence of the Holy Father on Maundy Thursday.
This isn’t a song for a community sing along! In fact, it takes 2 choirs to sing it.
Why the music history lesson? Well, I was so pleasantly surprised on Ash Wednesday while attending Noon Mass at the Basilica that their choir, split in two and placed at different places within the Great Upper Church sang this amazing piece for us.
When I saw it in the worship leaflet, I leaned over to my son and said “be prepared for tears.” I cannot hear this song and not cry.
It bring me to a profound sense of the divine. My mind takes flight, brings me to a place where I focus only on prayer and supplication- to a place where, my soul resonates with the music.
Good music should be heard by the ears, processed by the mind, and sung by the soul, thus joining us to the choir of Angels in Heaven. Well written, expertly performed with instruments only finely tuned by the hand of God, music should always move us to a sense and awareness of the Creator, His Son and His Mother.
Music makes us better people- and better Christians.
In the 1700’s, playwright William Congreve, in his play The Mounring Bride, coined the phrase, “Music has charms to sooth a savage breast.” True words from British Neoclassical Period.
Music does sooth us! We meet through music, we fall in love with and through music, we breach divides with music, music engages our soul, mind, and heart. Music provides a background of sorrow and celebration for our lives.
And most of all, we sing prayers of thanksgiving to God through music.
Oh Gregorio! Thanks for helping me sing to God.