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Alessandro Moreschi
Alessandro Moreschi 1900 ca.jpg
Moreschi c. 1900
Born 11 November 1858 (1858-11-11)
Monte Compatri, Latium, Papal States (now Latium, Italy)
Died 21 April 1922 (1922-04-22) (aged 63)
Rome, Italy
Alma mater Scuola di San Salvatore in Lauro
Occupation Opera singer

Alessandro Moreschi (11 November 1858 – 21 April 1922) was an Italian chorister of the late 19th century.

Early life

Alessandro Moreschi was born on 11 November 1858 to Luigi Lorenzo Moreschi (1840–1897) and Rosa Maria Potelli, a Roman Catholic family in the town of Monte Compatri in the Papal States, near Frascati (Lazio).

Early career

Moreschi giovane
Young Alessandro Moreschi (c. 1880).

It seems likely that Moreschi's singing abilities came to the notice of Nazareno Rosati, formerly a member of the Sistine Chapel choir, who was acting as a scout for new talent, and took him to Rome in about 1870. Moreschi became a pupil at the Scuola di San Salvatore in Lauro, where he was taught by Gaetano Capocci, maestro di cappella of the Papal basilica of St John Lateran. In 1873, aged only fifteen, he was appointed First Soprano in the choir of that basilica, and also became a regular member of the groups of soloists hired by Capocci to sing in the salons of Roman high society. His singing at such soirées was vividly described by Anna Lillie de Hegermann-Lindencrone, the American wife of the Danish Ambassador to the Holy See:

Mrs Charles Bristed of New York, a recent convert to the Church of Rome, receives on Saturday evening ... The Pope's singers are the great attraction ... for her salon is the only place outside of the churches where one can hear them. The famous Moresca [sic], who sings at the Laterano, is a full-faced soprano of some forty winters. He has a tear in each note and a sigh in each breath. He sang the jewel song in [Gounod's] Faust, which seemed horribly out of place. Especially when he asks (in the hand-glass) if he is really Marguerita, one feels tempted to answer 'Macchè' [not in the least] for him.

In 1883, Capocci presented a special showcase for his protégé: the first performance in Italy of the oratorio Christus am Ölberge by Beethoven, in which Moreschi sang the demanding coloratura role of the Seraph. On the strength of this performance, he became known as l'Angelo di Roma, and shortly after, having been auditioned by all the members of the Sistine Chapel Choir, he was appointed First Soprano there, a post he held for the next thirty years.

Sistine Chapel choir

Alessandro Moreschi c. 1914
Alessandro Moreschi c. 1914

Moreschi's Director at the Sistine was Domenico Mustafà, himself once a fine soprano, who realised that Moreschi was, amongst other things, the only hope for the continuation of the Sistine tradition of performing the famous setting of the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri during Holy Week. When Moreschi joined the Sistine choir, none of the members was capable of sustaining this work's taxing soprano tessitura. Moreschi's star status sometimes seems to have turned his head: "Moreschi's behaviour was often capricious enough to make him forget a proper professional bearing, as on the occasion after a concert when he paraded himself among the crowd like a peacock, with a long, white scarf, to be congratulated ..."

The Sistine Chapel Choir was run on traditional lines centuries old, and had a strict system of hierarchies. In 1886, Giovanni Cesari, a senior chorister, retired, and it was probably then that Moreschi took over as Direttore dei concertisti (Director of soloists). In 1891 Moreschi took his turn as segretario puntatore, being responsible for the day-book of the choir's activities, and the following year was appointed maestro pro tempore, a largely administrative post concerned with calling choir meetings, fixing rehearsals, granting leave of absence and the like. During this year, Alessandro was also responsible for overseeing the choir's correct performance of its duties in the Sistine Chapel. Artistically speaking, the job involved him in choosing soloists and in developing repertoire. This entire period was one of great upheaval within the Sistine choir's organisation as well as Catholic church music at large: the reforming movement known as Cecilianism, which had originated in Germany, was beginning to have its influence felt in Rome. Its calls for the Church's music to return to the twin bases of Gregorian chant and the polyphony of Palestrina were a direct threat to both the repertoire and the practice of the Sistine Chapel. These were resisted by Mustafà, but time was against him. In 1898, he celebrated fifty years as a member of the Sistine, but also appointed Lorenzo Perosi as joint Perpetual Director. This 26-year-old priest from Tortona in Piedmont turned out to be a real thorn in Mustafà's side. Moreschi was very much a silent witness to the struggles between the forces of tradition and reform, but was also caught up in secular matters: on 9 August 1900, at the express request of the Italian royal family, he sang at the funeral of the recently assassinated king, Umberto I. This was all the more extraordinary because the Papacy still had no formal contact with the Italian secular state, which it regarded as a mere usurper (see Unification of Italy).

In the spring of 1902, in the Vatican, Moreschi made the first of his recordings for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company of London. He made additional recordings in 1904: there are seventeen tracks in all.

Officially, Alessandro was a member of the Sistine choir until Easter 1913 (at which date he qualified for his pension after thirty years' service), and remained in the choir of the Cappella Giulia of St Peter's, Rome until a year after that.

Retirement and death

In retirement, Moreschi lived in his apartment at 19 Via Plinio, a few minutes' walk from the Vatican, where he died at the age of 63, possibly of pneumonia. His funeral Mass was a large and public affair in the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso. Moreschi was buried in the family vault in the Cimitero del Verano, the great "city of the dead" not far from Rome's Tiburtina station. His colleague Domenico Salvatori lies in the same tomb.

Appearance and personality

According to Haböck, "Moreschi's external appearance differs little from that usual for a singer. He is of medium or rather small stature. His likeable face is completely beardless; his chest remarkably broad and powerful. His speaking voice has a metallic quality, like a very high-speaking tenor. His voice and demeanour make a youthful impression, reinforced by his lively conversation, which add to the altogether charming picture that the singer presents."


All of Moreschi's recordings were made in Rome in two sets of recording sessions for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company. The first series of recordings was made on 3 and 5 April 1902 by Will and Fred Gaisberg. Eighteen usable sides by the members of the Sistine Chapel Choir were captured on wax, four of them solos by Moreschi. Decades later Fred Gaisberg recalled making these historic first recordings in the Vatican: "Selecting a great salon with walls covered with Titians, Raphaels, and Tintorettos, we mounted our grimy machine right in the middle of the floor." The second set of recordings was made in Rome in April 1904, under the direction of W. Sinkler Darby. CDs on the Opal and Pearl labels reproduce the recordings.

See also

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