Thursday, 30 August 2012

Requiem Mass in D minor - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756 - 1791
As I haven't yet posted about Mozart, I thought it would be fitting to write about one of his most intense and wonderful works; The Requiem Mass in D minor. When it comes to writing about Mozart, I find it difficult to know where to start, because to me, his music is completely astounding. Composed in Vienna in 1791, the piece was famously left unfinished by the composer when he died in December. However, the real reason that this piece is so famous is because of all the myths and stories that surround it. In particular, the 1797 play and 1984 film 'Amadeus' portrays Antonio Salieri as the mysterious commissioner that drives Mozart to his death-bed, with the intention to claim the piece as his own. This (like much of the rest of the movie) is not the case, as the requiem was commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg for his late wife. The reason for the ambiguity of who commissioned the mass was because of Walsegg's discretion in commissioning the work secretly through others.

Constanze Mozart
1762 - 1842
Confusion about the work was also caused because of Mozart's wife, Constanze. As Mozart was known for his irresponsible handling of money, he and his wife were desperate to receive the large payment that was in store for them once the requiem was finished. However, because Mozart died before completing the piece, it was crucial to Constanze that nobody knew that not all of it was composed by the man himself, as any doubt would leave her without payment. For me, the most tragic aspect of this work, is that it is often referred to as the cause for Mozart's death. According to Constanze, Mozart had said: "I fear I am writing a requiem for myself", as well as complaining of pain, swelling and strange thoughts whilst writing it. Because of their financial situation, Mozart's funeral was modest, with few mourners and only a handful of admiring musicians. Despite this, Mozart's reputation suddenly rose after his death, with memorial gatherings all over Vienna, as well as a number of books published to celebrate his legacy.

The Requiem itself is split into fourteen movements. Although there are a lot of varied movements, there are various musical footprints of Mozart's that make a number of them memorable. For instance:  the subtle transition from the Introitus to the Kyrie, the trombone solo that opens Tuba Mirum and the famous string ostinato of the Confutatis. I wanted to talk about a couple of the movements (two of my favourites), the Confutatis and Introitus. The Introitus opens the whole work, and is heartbreakingly beautiful. The opening sequences are made up of suspensions between wind and syncopated strings. Each of the parts enter one by one after the basses - and - as the voices stop, the strings lead into a soprano solo that is then mimicked later by the rest of the sopranos and choir, almost sounding like a soprano chorale over the rest of the busy voices. The movement finishes with a recap of the opening ideas, with added semi-quaver phrases for each of the four voice parts. Even within the first movement, Mozart captures the essence and concept of a requiem brilliantly, and leads straight into the Kyrie.

For me, the most striking movement of the whole mass is the Confutatis. Not only does it open with the flurrying sound of the strings' ostinato - here, Mozart seems to create a perfect example of musical juxtaposition with his writing for tenors and basses against the sopranos and altos. The basses open the movement with the words 'confutatis maledictis' which is answered by the tenors. This back-and-forth conversation of aggression carries on between the tenors and basses until the entry of the sopranos and altos, which turns to major, piano and - unlike the leaping, staccato phrases of the lower voices - is written in a very linear fashion, that creates a completely contrasted sound. This idea is then repeated before the choir eventually joins together into a mass of constant modulations until the end of the movement. Mozart's Requiem is - by far - one of my all time favourite works. Not only is it intensely beautiful and undoubtedly musically intelligent, it is most exhilarating work I have ever sung, and I urge anyone who hasn't already to listen to the whole thing - or better yet, hear it in concert!

1 comment:

  1. Just listening to the whole piece on youtube. I have to admit that I hadn't heard of this particular work, although inevitably I recognize parts of it (The start of the 'Dies irae'). Thanks for introducing me to this.
    I also wanted to leave a note to say - great writing.