This is a very different musical interpretation of Psalm 51 than we saw last week in Allegri’s Miserere. In Allegri’s composition the intensity of the soaring, unaccompanied voices lead us to contemplation of the Divine Mercy of God in Heaven. Here the urgent, dramatic orchestration pulls us down into King David’s turbulent emotions as he comes to acknowledge his sinfulness and his need for God’s mercy. This clip is only the first part of a much longer composition, and contains only the first line of the Psalm: Miserere mei, Domine, secundam misericordiam tuam, “Have mercy on me, Lord, according to your compassion”. As the focus of the Psalm moves from David’s sinfulness to the abundance of God’s mercy, the music in the later parts of the piece changes with it.
The composer Pergolesi was born in 1710. His name was Giovanno Battista Draghi, but he was known as Pergolesi because his family came from Pergola. He was a well-known composer of operas, and was a pioneer in the comic opera (opera buffa) genre. His most famous opera was La Serva Padrona, “The Servant Mistress” (1733), which caused something of a sensation in Paris. He is better known today for his sacred compositions, especially his Stabat Mater. He died young, at 26 years of age, from tuberculosis.
The video below features a performance by the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. The painting is “The Prophet Nathan Rebukes David” by Eugène Siberdt. Tradition tells us that King David wrote Psalm 51 as an expression of penitence after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and contrived the death of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel, chapters 11-12). Siberdt’s painting shows us the moment that the prophet Nathan confronts David with his guilt.