Monday, February 23, 2015

Pergolesi: Miserere mei Deus

"You are that man!" David and Nathan by Matthias Scheits
     Psalm 51 (called the “Miserere” from its first word in Latin) is one of the greatest of penitential prayers.  According to the Bible itself, it is “A Psalm of David, when the Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”  Nathan came to King David, of course, to confront him after the king had committed adultery with Bathsheba,  and had arranged to have her husband Uriah killed so he could marry her himself. The Psalm is an expression of David’s sorrow after he has realized the magnitude of his sin.
     This psalm is closely associated with Lent because of its penitential character.  It has also been set to music many times, the most famous being the setting composed by Gregorio Allegri for use in the Sistine Chapel (I have posted three different recordings of Allegri’s “Miserere” since I started this blog fourteen months ago). 

     It seemed appropriate, during this first week of Lent, to investigate some of the lesser-known but still beautiful settings for this psalm.  The version, below was composed by Pergolesi (Giovanni Battista Draghi), an immensely talented composer who, sadly, lived for only 26 short years (1710-1736):