Gregorio Allegri


Born in Rome, Gregorio Allegri started singing in choirs aged nine at the church of S. Luigi dei Frencesi.  At the age of 18 he received a thorough grounding in counterpoint at the hands of G.M. Nanino, a devotee of  Palestrina , which marked the start of his composition. He sang at the cathedrals at Fermo and Tivoli before becoming the maestro di cappella at Santo Spirito in Sassia, Rome.  After 1630 he sang in the choir of Pope Urban VIII, and it was for this choir that he wrote many of his most famous works. 

Few of Allegri's works are extant - we have three printed volumes of motets and some pieces in anthologies, so it is down to the status of his Miserere that his name is so well known.  Sung by the papal choir each holy week, this psalm setting was long regarded by the Vatican as too beautiful for the public at large.  Performances were attended only by a privileged minority and the manuscripts were kept closely guarded.  Particuarly noteworthy are the uses of ornamentation and the extremes of range Allegri demands from the soprano part.   Only three copies had been allowed out of the Vatican when Mozart let the secret out to the world - after hearing it once in the Sistine Chapel, the young Mozart (14 at the time) recalled it later in its entirety and copied it out!  Comparison with the original manuscripts show a startling accuracy.

As with Palestrina's later masses, many of Allegri's compositions are largely homophonic with decorative counterpoint.  The resulting style is simple and direct, and it is this which has maintained public interest in Allegri's limited repertoire.

Related Composers: Giovanni Gabrieli

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