In Communion

My wish for everyone is that there would be one moment in your life when you knew, without any doubt, that God existed.  One such moment in my life was hearing Gregorio Allegri’s setting of Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, Deus for the first time.  As it happens, this experience was at Winchester Cathedral during a performance at the Southern Cathedrals Festival, which is, granted, a setting likely to encourage a musical encounter with God.

Psalm 51 is part of the liturgy for Ash Wednesday (tomorrow, February 22), and members of the Alban Singers will sing Allegri’s piece during the 6:00 pm service that day.  A recording by the Tallis Scholars is linked below and I hope you can take a few minutes from your day to hear a work of such beauty  that surely God cannot be doubted.  While we have neither the acoustics of a cathedral, nor the sound of the Tallis Scholars here at St. Alban’s, I suggest that hearing a live performance in the context of the Ash Wednesday service, is a moving experience unto itself.

This is the kind of music around which legends are created.   Allegri (1582-1652), a singer in the Chapel of Pope Urban VIII, probably composed his most famous work in the 1630’s.  It is believed that it was sung exclusively in the Sistine Chapel, with threat of excommunication for anyone who transcribed the piece and performed it elsewhere.  A very young Mozart is said to have written the piece down after hearing it once in 1770 while visiting Rome, adding luster to his already obvious genius, and he has been credited with making the music available to the rest of the world.   I don’t believe, however, that Mozart was actually excommunicated.  In fact, I think hearing this piece is a sure way to be in communion with God.

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