Mozart’s gift from God



You need to hear this.

Turn your speakers all the way up.

Hit play.

Close your eyes.

“Miserere mei, Deus… Have mercy on me, Dear God.”

And my breath stops. The stereo is on as high as it will go and the air is rarefied and shimmering with with the sound of angels.

“Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.”
Their voices ebb and flow together in this piece of music composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII.

It is as close to perfection as I can get right now. .

Close your eyes for a moment. Listen.

Listen to the highs and lows weaving. Listen. Are you breathing?

For a while , it was forbidden — with the threat of excommunication — to transcribe this music and play it outside of the Holy Week services in the Sistine Chapel. It was played during a ritual at dusk when candles were lit and extinguished one by one.

But then, nearly 250 years ago, a young Mozart was sitting in the Sistine Chapel when he first heard this sound, this sound of angels, the low notes ebbing through the gloaming, that high note shining in crystal clarity, as he sat there in the Sistine Chapel on Holy Wednesday.
Have mercy on me, dear God.

He left and wrote it down from memory, returning to the Sistine Chapel later that Friday to make minor changes.

And eventually, Mozart left Italy, and continued on his travels, and eventually the piece he carried with him was published.

This music, once shrouded in mystery, heard only in candle light, in the holy space of the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week, was now public domain.

And then the young composer was summoned by Pope Clement XIV.

Young Mozart, how frightened he must have been as he waited to be seen by the Pope, how terrified, this young boy touched with a rare gift where music was the only thing that offered real clarity. This boy, who broke a Papal edict by writing down the music and sharing it with the world.

This boy, who would be excommunicated, damned to eternal hellfire, a fate worse than death.

Have mercy on me Dear God. 

But this music, this sweet, sublime music. This music which could now reach those who already believed, and those who would believe after they heard it.

This music, this sweet sublime music, no longer a mystery, no longer a secret. And the Pope ordered Mozart to play the piece for him, too, in a private concert, and as he listened, the music reached through the dogma and the doctrine, and when the concert was over the Pope rose and blessed him and said “truly, this is a gift from God.”

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.