Allegri’s sublime Miserere has been a choral favourite for centuries.
Once it’s heard, it's never forgotten. That soaring high C, always a challenge for the boy treble who has to reach it, makes it one of the most sublime pieces of choral music ever.
But the piece was once closely guarded, only ever sung during the days of Easter within in the hallowed confines of St. Peter’s Rome – and never published for performance anywhere else.
In 1770, who should arrive at the Vatican for Easter but 14-year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? The city was captivating. He was overawed by St Peter’s, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest impression was made on him by that piece of music.
When he returned to his lodgings — where he had to share a bed with his dad and was getting no sleep at all – Mozart wrote the entire piece out from memory, perfectly.
Here’s where some people begin to doubt the story – for how could a 14-year-old remember an entire choral composition, consisting of five voice parts, that he had only heard once that day?
It does seem a little implausible. But let’s remember that Mozart wrote his first composition, a charming Minuet and Trio in G major, aged five.
It is also said that after having transcribed the piece, the young Mozart went back to St Peter’s to hear the work again, probably the same week, to compare his own score with the sung version.
So that, as the story goes, is how we know and love Allegri’s Miserere to this day.