The Choir of King’s College Cambridge is one of today’s most accomplished and renowned representatives of the great British choral tradition. It was created by King Henry VI, who founded the College in 1441, to provide daily singing in his glorious Chapel, and this remains the main task of the choir to this day.
Roy Goodman (born 26 January 1951, Guildford, England) is a conductor and violinist, specialising in the performance and direction of early music. He became internationally famous as the 12-year-old boy treble soloist in the March 1963 recording of Allegri’s Miserere with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge under David Willcocks. The Miserere is a setting of Vulgate Psalm 50
Allegri’s* Miserere was jealously guarded by the Papal Choir, until the occasion when Mozart (see painting of the composer as a child on left) heard it and promptly wrote it out from memory – an astonishing feat, especially for someone of only 14 years of age. This setting is especially remembered for its sensational recurring solo phrases, and there has never been a performance of these solo phrases to match the one in this classic King’s recording by the treble Roy Goodman.
The following letter from Mozart’s father Leopold to his wife is of interest:
[Sent from Rome, dated April 14, 1770. Only parts of the letter relevant to the transcription episode are given here.]
“We arrived here safely on the 11th at noon. I could have been more easily persuaded to return to Salzburg than to proceed to Rome, for we had to travel for five days from Florence to Rome in the most horrible rain and cold wind. I am told here that they have had constant rain for four months and indeed we had a taste of it, as we went on Wednesday and Thursday in fine weather to Saint Peter’s and to the Sistine Chapel to hear the Miserere during the mass, and on our way home were surprised by such a frightful downpour that our cloaks have never yet been so drenched as they then were…
You have often heard of the famous Miserere in Rome, which is so greatly prized that the performers in the chapel are forbidden on pain of excommunication to take away a single part of it, to copy it or to give it to anyone. But we have it already. Wolfgang has written it down and we would have sent it to Salzburg in this letter, if it were not necessary for us to be there to perform it. But the manner of performance contributes more to its effect than the composition itself. So we shall bring it home with us. Moreover, as it is one of the secrets of Rome, we do not wish to let it fall into other hands, ut non incurramus mediate vel immediate in censuram Ecclesiae….”
Here is the English Translation of the musical segment to be heard below:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.
And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.
Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.
To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee:
that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst
overcome when thou art judged.
For behold I was conceived in iniquities;
and in sins did my mother conceive me.
Click on this link to hear this masterpiece. N.B. The exquisite Goodman treble singing is heard 1 minute 35 seconds into this snippet. Be sure to listen long enough to hear it – I’m sure it’s one of the 20th Century’s greatest vocal performances…
* Gregorio Allegri (1582 – 1652), Italian composer and priest.