Miserere
Gregorio Allegri

16

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The highest of the 31 entries by Italian composers in the Ultimate Hall of Fame. This climbed to its highest ever position — number 6 — in the most recent countdown.

This piece is the stuff of legends. Well, one particular legend, to be precise. Mozart, when he was a teenager, so the story goes, once heard Allegri's Miserere being performed in the Sistine Chapel. The precocious young composer apparently scurried home and wrote down the entire work from memory. Wonderful as the story sounds, it would have been highly likely that Mozart would have come across the Miserere before, given its already significant popularity in musical circles.

The work itself is a sublime nine-voice setting of Psalm 51: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misercordiuam tuam ('have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness'). As you listen to the heavenly sound of each interweaving voice, it's fascinating to think that Allegri composed the piece for two separate choirs: one of four voices, and the other of five.