The current season is not quite over yet, however! You don’t want to miss our performance of Mozart’s Requiem, sung by the Cathedral Choir and soloists. This performance will take place on May 6, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. in the sanctuary, and it will surely be the highlight of the season. I am not sure how long it has been since such a large work has been performed here at the cathedral, but I do know that, since Katie and I have been here, this is, by far, the biggest thing we have done.
Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Mozart’s last composition - a composition left unfinished at the time of his death. It has all of the mystery and intrigue that makes a good story, and while many of the stories surrounding Mozart’s death are exaggerated or even entirely fictional, it is true that the Requiem was commissioned by a secret patron who was willing to pay quite a bit on the condition that it remain anonymous. It has later been discovered that the patron was Count Franz von Walsegg; his intention was to advertise the work as his own, in memory of his wife. As bizarre are this sounds to us today, it was not that uncommon in the 18th century, and it is easy to exalt musical giants like Mozart to the point that we lose touch with the fact that they were working musicians. Mozart did not live a life of intellectual privilege, like a distinguished professor who makes a living teaching music and is therefore able to compose what he wants when he wants to do it. Rather, he supported himself with his compositions and performances, hence, there were unpredictable times of affluence and poverty. Mozart’s operas were great opportunities for success, but they were very labor-intensive, and they were not always as successful as he hoped. For us today, we can relate by imagining Mozart hastily writing a movie score here, a Broadway musical there, writing a few commercial jingles for quick cash, and playing at the church and the local piano bar, and doing this all at once. So, to receive an anonymous commission to “ghost write” a requiem mass is not so bad - just one more thing to do in a seemingly never-ending line of simultaneous tasks.
Sadly, Mozart was in the throes of serious illness by mid-1791 (the year of his death), and he had simply run out of time to finish the mass. At the time of his death, only the first movement was complete, and there were only sketches of parts of the other five major movements (I am counting the Sequence as one multi-part movement). Stories abound about how much Mozart spoke to students about how to complete the work after his death, and it is possible that they only had the sketches to work with, but we do know Constanze, Mozart’s widow, was in need of money and asked two of his students to finish the piece anonymously so that the secret patron would accept the mass as Mozart’s own work. He paid for Mozart to write it, after all, and not one of his students. Eventually, a student by the name of Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803) completed the Requiem. The hotly debated question in the musical world is this: If Mozart provided the musical material for about one third of the Requiem, then how much of the remaining two thirds was influenced by Mozart himself? Were Mozart’s wishes fulfilled, or did Süssmayr have to fill in the blanks with significant amounts of his own material? Interestingly, Süssmayr is not considered to be a “great composer,” and so, since the Requiem is so good, it would seem to point to the notion that Mozart’s notes/deathbed instructions were more extensive than the evidence indicates, but we may never know. Whatever the case, it goes without saying that the music is tremendously beautiful, and that Mozart’s Requiem is one of the greatest compositions of all time.
The choir has worked hard on the Requiem all season, and we are very excited to sing it for you. the soloists will be Vaughan Luker and Maresa O’Connor, sopranos; Linda Grill and Ann Moody, mezzo-sopranos; Thomas Rowell, tenor; Patrick Jacobs, baritone. Each performance of this masterwork is different, and it is a challenge to perform something that is so famous and often performed. So, this has caused us to really focus on what this music is saying in order to find our own artistic voice amid the thousands of other performances out there.