[…] After the general conditions for Catholic music at court had considerably improved, […] the double-bass player Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) was commissioned in 1722 by the elector’s heir Friedrich August and his wife Maria Josepha to compose the music for the church services during Holy Week. This was the origin of the Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae ZWV 54, the Responsories ZWV 55, the Miserere in d minor ZWV 56, and the Benedictus ZWV 206.
Zelenka was born in Launowitz (now Louňovice) in Bohemia and most probably was educated at the Jesuit Collegium Clementinum in Prague. He became a member of the Saxonian-Polish court chapel in 1710. From 1716 to 1719 he studied with Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741) at Vienna, but upon returning at first continued in his position as double-bass player.
His compositions for Holy Week were the first commission he received from the Dresden court; they marked the beginning of more than two decades of work for the Dresden Hofkirche. […] The Miserere in d minor […] is also the oldest surviving work in this genre from the local repertoire. […]
Structurally the Miserere in d minor shows a number of peculiarities. The extensive use of oboes underlines the work’s proximity to the trio sonatas ZWV 181 written only a short time before. Of particular significance is the note concerning the execution of the second half of the fourth verse: “Questo versetto si pol cantare in due maniere, prima come stá e seconda volta si pol cantare con il libro als riverscio.“ Thus the four-part section “et peccatum meum contra me est semper” first has to be sung as it is written. Then the sheet has to be held upside down (of course in old clefs) and the entire movement has to be sung again, but this time backwards, as if the composers wished to make clear once and for all: You may turn it as you wish – “my sins will always stand against me.” […]
(Gerhard Poppe, translation by Stephanie Wollny)