Mozart and Liszt, inside the Sistine Chapel, song(s) in one’s head? 


Yes, Mozart and Liszt are connected via the Sistine Chapel and there is actually even musical proof of it in the form of a wonderful but somewhat not-so-known piano piece written by Liszt titled A la Chapelle Sixtine (“Inside the Sistine Chapel”), subtitled “Allegri’s Miserere and Mozart’s Ave Verum.

Indeed, Liszt loved Mozart’s music and especially the Ave Verum (see our earlier interpretational notes on the Ave Verum, “Dear Mozart …”).

And actually, Liszt was inspired to write this piano piece while inside Sistine Chapel.  Not only that, Mozart himself was inside the Sistine Chapel, many years earlier, when he heard the Allegri Miserere.  (This itself is of some significance too: for some long period of time the Miserere was only allowed to be performed at certain services at the Sistine Chapel and it became forbidden to transcribe the music.  It is generally understood that the 14-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome when he first heard the piece and wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that same week to make minor corrections.)

And so Liszt wrote a piano piece around both the Mozart work and the Allegri work – 2 choral works!

This was Liszt writing about this in late 1862:

It was as if I saw [Mozart] and as if he looked back at me with gentle encouragement.  Allegri was standing by his side, basking in the fame which his Miserere now enjoyed …. I have not only brought them closer together, but, as it were, bound them together.  Man’s wretchedness and anguish moan plaintively in the Miserere; God’s infinite mercy and the fulfilment of prayer answer it and sing in [Mozart’s] Ave Verum.  This concerns the sublimest of mysteries, the one which reveals to us Love triumphant over Evil and Death.

Curiously, this piano piece is not much known even if its theme (and its music) is not unlike Liszt’s well-known so-called Dante Sonata (here with Lazar Berman), and is very much about heaven and hell, good and evil.

And the Ave Verum (its original key being D major – hear Bernstein’s interpretation with the Bayerischen Rundfunks) is quoted almost in its entirety in Liszt – twice – the first time in B major, and the second time in F sharp major (which is Liszt’s key for “heaven”).  Here’s the piano piece in its entirety.

The piano piece becomes a very different piece to either of the choral works but a very interesting and attractive piece of music.  Interestingly, when Tchaikovsky later on quoted the Ave Verum in his orchestral suite, Mozartiana, he didn’t use Mozart’s version but Liszt’s piano version of it.

A la chapelle Sixtine is certainly a wonderful and beautiful example of song-inspired piano music!

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