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Reader's Guide for Francesca Allegri  • Back to Francesca Allegri

Gregorio Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus

"As I'm sure you know, His Holiness has prohibited the performance of your uncle's 'Miserere' anywhere but in the Sistine Chapel and then only on the Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. ...Furthermore no copies of the score are to be made under penalty of excommunication." ~ Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphili, Chapter Two

—From the novel Francesca Allegri

Fortunately for us, Allegri's "Miserere" eventually was released to the wider world.

The exquisite performance above is by The Sixteen. As noted on the YouTube posting:

This piece is Psalm 51, but first set to music by Allegri around 1630. It is one of the finest and most popular examples of renaissance polyphony. It is often heard in Churches of the apostolic Christian tradition on Ash Wednesday, immediately following Shrove (or pancake) Tuesday, marking Christ's return to Jerusalem. Beautifully performed here by The Sixteen, listen out for the simplicity, humility and reverence.

Words to Psalm 51

Below are the words to Psalm 51, first from Latin Vulgate, then in English from the Coverdale Bible (1535).

Miserére mei, Deus: secúndum magnam misericórdiam tuam.
Et secúndum multitúdinem miseratiónum tuárum: dele iniquitátem meam.
Ámplius lava me ab iniquitáte mea: et a peccáto meo munda me.
Quóniam iniquitátem meam ego cognósco: et peccátum meum contra me est semper.
Tibi soli peccávi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificéris in sermónibus tuis, et vincas cum judicáris.
Ecce enim in iniquitátibus concéptus sum: et in peccátis concépit me mater mea.
Ecce enim veritátem dilexísti: incérta et occúlta sapiéntiæ tuæ manifestásti mihi.
Aspérges me hyssópo, et mundábor: lavábis me, et super nivem dealbábor.
Audítui meo dabis gáudium et lætítiam: et exsultábunt ossa humiliáta.
Avérte fáciem tuam a peccátis meis: et omnes iniquitátes meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spíritum rectum ínnova in viscéribus meis.
Ne projícias me a fácie tua: et spíritum sanctum tuum ne áuferas a me.
Redde mihi lætítiam salutáris tui: et spíritu principáli confírma me.
Docébo iníquos vias tuas: et ímpii ad te converténtur.
Líbera me de sangúinibus, Deus, Deus salútis meæ: et exsultábit lingua mea justítiam tuam.
Dómine, lábia mea apéries: et os meum annuntiábit laudem tuam.
Quóniam si voluísses sacrifícium, dedíssem utique: holocáustis non delectáberis.
Sacrifícium Deo spíritus contribulátus: cor contrítum et humiliátum, Deus, non despícies.
Benígne fac, Dómine, in bona voluntáte tua Sion: ut ædificéntur muri Jerúsalem.
Tunc acceptábis sacrifícium justítiæ, oblatiónes et holocáusta: tunc impónent super altáre tuum vítulos.

Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy goodness,
and according unto thy great mercies, do away mine offences.
Wash me well from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my faults,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight:
that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and shouldest overcome when thou art judged.
Behold, I was born in wickedness,
and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
But lo, thou hast a pleasure in the truth,
and hast shown me secret wisdom.
O reconcile me with Hope, and I shall be clean:
Wash thou me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
O let me hear of joy and gladness,
that the bones which thou hast broken, may rejoice.
Turn thy face from my sins,
and put out all my misdeeds.
Make me a clean heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence
and take not thy holy spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of thy help again,
and establish me with thy free Spirit.
Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked,
that sinners may be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health,
that my tongue praise thy righteousness.
Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord
that my mouth shall show thy praise.
For thou hadst pleasure in sacrifice, I give it thee:
but thou delightest not in burnt offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit,
a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
O be favourable and gracious unto Zion,
that the walls of Jerusalem may be builded.
for then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt offerings and oblations:
then shall they lay bullocks upon thine altar.

Original Spelling Version, from the University of Chicagp

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