Mozart at the Sistine

Easter 1770 it was, that I sat in the Sistine Chapel, in the dark, with the teenage Mozart. Only moments before, we had extinguished our candles to celebrate Tenebrae whilst listening, enthralled, as Allegri's "Miserere" produced sounds the like of which had never been heard before. Although I could no longer see Mozart beating the time I knew the way his mind worked.

When we returned to our lodgings I watched, in amazement, young Amadeus, for so I called him, as he wrote out the complete score of the "Miserere" from memory. Incredible!

He then relaxed and we played a game of our favourite pastime. Although I am the better player I let him win. It made him happy and was a small price for me to pay for the greatest day of my life.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 27th January 1756 and thus was fourteen in 1770.

Tenebrae is a liturgical service during Easter in which all 27 candles are gradually extinguished to commemorate the darkness at the Crucifixion.

Gregorio Allegri (?1582-1652) wrote his nine-part Miserere (Latin: have mercy) to be sung by the choirs of the Sistine Chapel during Easter week and particularly when Tenebrae was celebrated. The Miserere is a setting of Psalm 51 and it is on this single composition that Allegri's fame rests.

Allegri's Miserere was first sung sometime before 1638. It became so popular that the Vatican prohibited it from being performed outside the Sistine Chapel to prevent it being copied and threatened excommunication for anyone caught doing so. Mozart heard it and wrote it down from memory — and so the world got to know this beautiful music.

Mozart's pastime was billiards.

© 2002, Graeme Lindridge

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