One Brazilian trajectory of the Ancient-Modern Polemic: an ‘a cappella’ Miserere from Rome to Rio de Janeiro

Giorgio Monari

The Ancient-Modern Polemic and its implications for Sacred Music are well known on the Music Historiography scene and are usually related to European Romantic and post-Romantic contexts, or to the Ecclesiastical environment. Recent studies show that such polemic was spread well beyond those boundaries during the 19th and the 20th centuries. An example of its Latin American diffusion is an ‘a cappella’ Miserere by a Roman composer of the first half of the 19th century, which was once owned by the Imperial Chapel of Rio de Janeiro. Thanks to Roman documents, we are able to partly follow the journey of this composition to Brazil. According to the musician, the score was very well received by the Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro himself. He suggests that the Emperor so much loved this Miserere without instruments, that he decided to hear it every year in his Chapel instead of the one by famous David Perez. We should say that the Ancient-Modern Polemic found its way far to Rio de Janeiro, together with the music: a letter by the composer accompanying the score tells the reader about the Polemic itself. But there are two more interesting aspects: the composer talks about his Miserere’s warm Brazilian reception just to show how much his work was praised, and to reply to the Roman critics who questioned his skill. Such an argument could imply a substantial acknowledgment of the Brazilian Court’s cultural and musical prestige. But the objections possibly introduced by his critics raise questions about the aesthetical appraisal of his Miserere. It is not easy to draw consequences without going deeper into the score and into the Roman ‘a cappella’ style during the first half of the 19th century, and that is why I am also preparing an edition of this Miserere.