This last weekend was the secular/religious holiday triple threat, with Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day all following one after the other. The official liturgical name for All Souls’ Day in the Catholic church is The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. In Mexico, it is Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), a widely celebrated day to gather family and remember those who have passed. It seems that many, if not most cultures have, a late autumn day of remembrance for the deceased. The strong emotions generated by the fear of death, the loss of loved ones who have passed, and the looming questions of an afterlife have been the subject of a great deal of music.
I have a friend, a young woman of incredible strength, who is a unique individual (to say the least). Her own personal style leans toward the goth, when she is not trying to keep a job. She was thrust into caring for a dying husband, and did so with more skill and effort than any nursing home could have provided. At the same time, she continued to pursue her collection of tattoos, the newest of which was a large spider with a passenger carriage for a body. I could be wrong, the newest tat may be the thorn filled rose on her leg that covers a surgical scar. She had orthopedic surgery to repair a severely broken leg, which happened when her husband flipped over in his wheelchair and broke her tibia. (She still cared for him at home with the broken leg). It is safe to say I am the only friend of her’s that can pass for “normal”.
Her iPod is full of the most aggressive music imaginable. Marilyn Manson, Korn, tons of Rob Zombie and a host of things I have never heard of. She has every right to have some hard core feelings bottled-up inside, and I think sometimes this music is a bit of a release. One day I was looking through her tunes, and saw the one thing in her collection that I know from memory, the Mozart Requiem. Here among the hellishly angry shock-rock was a 300 year old setting of the Latin Mass for the Dead. Imagine my surprise!
A Requiem is an altered version of the Catholic Latin mass. I honestly can’t tell you all the differences, in part because I am most familiar with the Requiem from the different musical settings by great composers. Composers did some picking and choosing of which parts of the Requiem mass they chose to set to music. I can say that the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Credo and Alleluia from the normal mass liturgy are left out. Usually there is a Dies Irae, Requiem Aeternam, and In Paradisum included, which are not in the usual mass. Composers chose which parts of the Requiem mass to use based on the vision of death and the afterlife they wished to emphasize. The Faure Requiem is very, very different from the Verdi Requiem, for example.
The Requiem Mass in d minor by Mozart was his last composition, not quite completed at his death. His widow Constanze had to have another musician finish the score so she could submit the composition for payment from the Count who had commissioned it. Part of the work was finished with instructions that Mozart left. Some of the elements may have been composed by this second individual, paid by Constanze. How much is not original Mozart may never be known for sure. It is a great research project for those who like to decipher 300 year old musical manuscripts. However it was finished, the Mozart Requiem is a powerful, moving masterpiece of musical composition.
I assume my friend was first exposed to the Mozart in the movie version of Amadeus. This was a 1984 film that won dozens of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie itself was an adaptation of the stage play Amadeus, which was a bit of a variation of a Pushkin play from 1830. As great as the play and movie are as drama, they are not very historically accurate. It’s somewhat sad that the stories in Amadeus are better known at times than the real biographical facts surrounding Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His life story is amazing enough as is.
So in honor of All Souls’ Day, Día de Muertos, and autumnal celebrations of the lives of our dearly departed, I give you a performance of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in d minor.