Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Just In Case You Can't Wait....

...to get your Lent on.....

First off, I want to hear about public palm-burnings today. How prevalent are they out there? I love those, and not just because I've got a bit of the pyromaniac in me and haven't yet made my pilgrimage to Burning Man.

But, yet again, I digress.

One of my favorite classical pieces -- one of the most sublime things ever written -- is Gregorio Allegri's Miserere, the text of the penitential 51st Psalm. The work goes on for, er, about 13 minutes and in centuries past, its performance in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week was Rome's hot ticket.

Of course, to ensure the Holy See's monopoly on the spectacle, transcribing the music and attempting to perform it elsewhere was an excommunicable offense. (Indeed, there's nothing new under the sun.)

But, so it's said, Mozart remembered it all by ear and transcribed it, consequences be damned.

Given the place of the 51st as the principal penitential Psalm and its prominence in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday -- albeit with the (no pun intended) miserable responsory "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned" -- some of you might want to draw yourselves into the piece as well. Think of it as a mini-retreat.

There are many solid versions out there on iTunes -- there's no such thing as the bricks-and-mortar classical music store anymore, eh? -- but here's the best one I've found (you'll have to buy an album of gloriously triumphalist English church music, but you could do much worse than that). The Tallis Scholars, who are just mind-blowingly incredible, also have a version available on their "Essentials" CD. Again, you'll have to buy the whole CD, but they're the gold standard of Renaissance sacred music. If you've never heard them, take the plunge.

And the excommunication on the piece has been lifted, so no one has to worry about that. And, no, I'm not making a penny off it -- it's just here for your liturgica-cultural enrichment.

Speaking of the Tallises, I stumbled across a Tallis Scholars show once -- and on Palm Sunday, no less. (Yes, if you're completely oblivious, you, too can stumble across a Tallis Scholars show on Palm Sunday.) Suffice it to say, it was a gift and a tremendous start to Holy Week.

A very musical and uplifting Lent to all.