I’ve long been fascinated by the music of Mozart, and his Requiem in particular.
Given the great degree of respect I have for the man’s incomparable talent – not to mention the genius still living in this particular piece of music – I’ve been exceedingly careful to pair it with a story that befits its grand themes.
Thus was born the partnership of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor K626 and our adaptation of Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost in Second Life, which I hope to explain in this series of blog posts – about the music behind the production.
In many ways, I approach expressing Mozart’s Requiem in the same way a conductor might prepare and lead an orchestral performance. Instead of musicians, a choir, and a solo quartet; I have my favourite recording of the piece, and aim to express the music using literature, choreography, animation, costume, and set design.
Any good conductor’s first job should be to study the composer’s life and contemporary background of the piece they are conducting. In this way, they can best express the composer’s desires and plans for the music. Thus, our journey begins in 1791, when the Requiem was composed.
Deathly ill, working all night and day and seeing his end all too near, Mozart became delusional; convinced that he was writing the Requiem as his own death mass. Of course, he wasn’t, he had taken an anonymous commission by an eccentric count that aimed to memorialise his late wife.
Still, I can only imagine his state: feverishly delusional, oscillating between desperately conflicting emotions; on one hand sorrowful about leaving his wife and children alone and in great debt, on the other anticipating the paradise that awaited him in the afterlife.
While, like most of us, Mozart no doubt feared death, I like to think that he had also made his peace with it – at least intellectually, which he revealed in a letter to his father and mentor, four years before:
As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relationships with this best and truest friend of mankind that death’s image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling, and I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity…of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting that —- young as I am — I may not live to see another day. Yet no one of all my acquaintances could say that in company I am morose or disgruntled.
As his illness progressed, Mozart was forced to retire to his bed, but though he dwindled physically, his work ethic did not.
Composing until his last hours, Mozart died at the age of 35, still infusing his remaining spirit into this music for the ages. The Requiem was Mozart’s last composition and was left unfinished at the time of his death. On these pages were a musical genius’ last words with the world, born 258 years ago today:
Requiem, literally means: rest, as in “rest in peace”. A requiem mass is a Catholic Mass of the dead. The service has inspired many compositions, Mozart’s included. The text is written to commemorate the faithfully departed. Generally written in latin, the poems plead for God’s forgiveness of the dearly departed’s sins, so that he’ll invite them up to heaven, where they can enjoy eternal rest and escape the fires of damnation.
Grand themes indeed.
The writing of one of the movements (Confutatis Maledictis) of Mozart’s Requiem was fictionally chronicled near the end of Amadeus, in this scene between him and his musical rival, Antonio Salieri:
In my next posts on this subject, I’ll share more about the Requiem, Milton’s Paradise Lost, how we originally conceived of the production’s subject, and how I paird Mozart’s Requiem with Milton’s Paradise Lost in Second Life.