Experience a Little of Heaven Through Hearing

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month. I inveite you to celebrate hearing embracing sounds that evoke meaning and add dimension to life. Engage in enjoyable conversations with loved ones and friends, or listening to great music.

Joseph Addison said, “ Music is almost all we have of heaven on earth.” Requiem, by Mozart, affirms this claim. It delivers drama and causes reflection. Further, it has beautiful music, an interesting story and it adds another dimension to life. Most importantly the beautiful music,  the interesting story and the drama come together to quiet the turbulent waters of the soul; for a short time experience a little of heaven

Mozart wrote Requiem to be performed by chorus and orchestra. The orchestra’s role is to support the voices with color, mood and dramatic accent.

Requiem unfolds through 14 musical movements. The average length of the movements is 3 minutes and 11 seconds.

There are 5 fugues in Requiem. A fugue is a musical form in which a theme is first stated, then repeated and varied. It has at least two melodic lines with very active and strongly differentiated parts. The second movement of Mozart’s Requiem is a fugue.

Mozart opens Requiem with a lonesome sounding horn; a sad horn. The orchestra enters and creates an overall mood of sadness. Tension enters as violins inject a stream of accents during the first two minutes. Then, the chorus commences a prayer for the departed,

Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them.

A soloist enters to offer the reverent praise:

You are praised, God, in Zion,
and homage will be paid to You in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer, to You all flesh will come.”

The movement ends quietly.

Immediately the chorus launches into Kyrie, the first of the five fugues. The fugue is a clever way for a group to repeat a prayer over and over again, building interest, and yet, not fall into emotionless repetition.

Kyrie is the common name for the Kyrie Eleison prayer. Translated, it means,

Lord, have mercy on me.

This prayer is based on two statements. The first is a statement of faith, acknowledging the divine nature of Christ. The second acknowledges one’s sinfulness. With this prayer, the penitent invokes mercy through Christ’s intercession for his sinful condition.

In some Eastern traditions, it can be repeated up to forty times. Mozart has the chorus and strings pray this prayer with energetic reverence.

The third movement of Requiem is Dies irae. It begins with power. Percussions roar. The chorus bellows assertively voicing concern and certainty of ensuing wrath as foretold by David and The Sibyl.

Throughout this movement, percussions thunder and violins express anger as they accompany the chorus. The movement’s power builds as the Judge enters to closely examine all things. Anger and wrath have been announced.

The fourth movement is Tuba mirum. It introduces four human voices. The first, a baritone, announces:

The trumpet will send its wondrous
sound throughout earth’s sepulchers
and gather all before the throne.

The second, a tenor, reports:

Death and nature will be astounded,
when all creation rises again,
to answer the judgement.
A book will be brought forth,
in which all will be written,

by which the world will be judged.

The third voice, an alto, warns that:

When the judge takes his place,
what is hidden will be revealed,
nothing will be unavenged.

Finally the fourth voice, a lyric soprano, asks:

What shall a wretch like me say?
Who shall intercede for me,
When the just ones need mercy?

Although these vocal textures are different, they should to be interpreted as the cries of humanity. The four soloists close this movement singing in unison.

With a great fanfare of strings, Mozart signals the answer to the question, “Who will intercede for me?” in this, the fifth movement, Rex tremendae. Mozart returns to the fugue to tell us it is:

King of tremendous majesty,
who freely saves those worthy ones,
save me, source of mercy.

The movement ends requesting mercy from the merciful King.

The Lacrymosa movement begins with a tranquil but lithe expression, suggesting all is quiet. The chorus and strings gently sing of the days of tears and mourning on which all humanity will be judged. Chorus and orchestra enter a gentle build, ending it in a swell, suggesting the seriousness of the predictions.

Male voices cry an urgency, Grant them eternal rest.

Appealing to the Lord in full contrition, the chorus asks to be spared. The movement ends, as chorus gloriously sing,” Grant them eternal rest. AMEN.

Lacrymosa was found on Mozart’s desk upon his death. Apparently it was the last work on which this great genius worked.

The first line Mozart penned for the chorus is:

Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them.

The last line the chorus sings is:

Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them
as with Your saints in eternity,
because You are merciful.

Mozart, the devout Catholic, appeals to the Lord not to forget His merciful nature on the Day of Judgement; and grant eternal rest and shine His Perpetual Light of Love on all of humanity.

I invite you to revisit this music and experience a little of heaven.

A free download of Mozart’s Requiem, performed by the Duke Chapel Choir, can be had from iTunes. For a fully divine treat of this transcendent music, I recommend the recording of The Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra. They recorded this music is Europe, performed it in New York, Sacramento and in June 2008 will perform it in Los Angeles.

Requiem Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756-1791

Some things to remember:

* In February 1791, Count Franz von Wallsegg’s wife died at the age of 20. The count secretly commissioned Mozart to write a requiem with which he planned to annually memorialize his wife.

* Half of the commission was advanced upon engagement; the rest would be paid upon completion.

* Mozart died in December 5, 1791. The requiem was not complete.

* In financial straits, Mozart’s wife, Constanze, needed the commission to settle financial obligations.

* Constanze secretly hired, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, one of Mozart’s closest students to finish the composition.

* Research determines that Mozart wrote:

  • Requieum aeternam
  • Kyrie
  • All vocal/choral parts of Dies irae, Tuba mirum, Rex tremendae, Recordare, Confutatis,
  • Domine Jesu Christe, and Hostias.

* Sussmayr is given full credit for sole authorship of the Sanctus, the Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei.

* The disputed parts point to the music having been written by Sussmayr.

* Despite the divided authorship, Mozart is given credit for the Requiem.