Music from Yesterday’s Ash Wednesday Mass

From PapalMusic comes this up-to-the-minute recording of the famous Allegri piece usually heard during Holy Week. You will find this version interesting because it lacks that over-the-top drama of the High C from the treble but instead places it in the tenor part in a comfortable range. This is said to be a more authentic version. Maybe someone knows more.

It is also great to see the singing of Audi Benigne Conditor, a beautiful Lenten hymn that any parish can pick up:

Also, the Gregorian introit for the day:

We are so blessed!!

5 Replies to “Music from Yesterday’s Ash Wednesday Mass”

  1. The Miserere is, like many other pieces the greatest piece not really written by its composer:
    "Allegri’s fame stems largely from his Miserere, a setting of Psalm l, which, up until 1870, was traditionally sung by the papal choir during the Tenebrae Offices of Holy Week. Ironically, the setting's renown has little to do with Allegri since, in its basic form, it is a simple nine-part falsobordone chant for two choirs (SATTB/SSABar); the choirs alternate with each other and with plainchant (sung on a monotone), joining together only for the final half-verse. It was customary for improvised embellishments to be added to such falsobordoni, and during the 18th century both the five-and four-part verses of Allegri’s setting were made increasingly elaborate. In 1713 Bai wrote a complementary setting which was often substituted for Allegri’s. Both these ornamented versions were performed at a very high pitch and were much admired by, among others, Emperor Leopold I, G.B. Martini, Burney and Mozart. The embellishments were at first a closely guarded secret but they were written down in the 1820s. Goethe and Mendelssohn were among the Romantics who enthused over Allegri’s setting at a time when Roman polyphony was becoming the subject of attention for the earliest musicologists. The Miserere was first published by Burney in 1771, but in a version not found in any Vatican source. The version that is now commonly performed was assembled by Sir Ivor Atkins in the 1950s, from Burney’s version and one made in the 1930s by Robert Haas (see Keyte); it bears little or no resemblance either to Allegri’s original or to the piece as it as performed before 1870." — Grove Dictionary

  2. I still love the "over-the-top drama of the high C," because every time I hear that part it sounds like an act of faith. 😉 God bless those brave trebles.

  3. Thank you… I was feeling really stressed after a difficult meeting with ex-employers and you have eally lifted me by posting these x

  4. The top C originates in a clumsy reconstruction based on fragments published in different keys. Hugh Keyte says:

    "C minor was perhaps the most common key for both settings [i.e. Allegri's and the one by Tommaso Bai also performed in the Sistine Chapel] in the 19th century, and it was a misdirected quest for the high Cs which this transposition produced that led the German musicologist Robert Haas to devise the weirdly unhistorical version of the Allegri that illustrates the entry on the composer in an encyclopedia which he published in the 1930s. Here the climactic "high-arching" figure is inserted into the G minor chant twice over, the second time in an impossible C minor, Haas having failed to realize that Mendelssohn's sketch of the phrase assumed a C minor transposition of the work as a whole."

    The Oxford University Press collection European Sacred Music edited by John Rutter gives two parallel versions, one with the familiar (but bizarre) abrupt modulation to three flats, and the other staying in the original key, i.e. all down a fourth. The 'wrong' version, with the top C, is much the more striking piece of music! It's been around for three quarters of a century, long enough perhaps to give it not authenticity, but maybe a kind of legitimacy.

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