Not Your Classic Halloween: Seattle Symphony Presents Mozart’s Haunting “Requiem”

Posted on October 29, 2014, 4:35 pm
3 mins

This Halloween weekend, the Seattle Symphony will present Mozart’s Requiem as part of their Delta Airlines Masterworks Series. Mozart never completed his Requiem, and it was his pupil Frans Süssmayr who would finish it posthumously at the insistence of the widowed Constanze Mozart.

The Requiem, with all the mystery and death surrounding its genesis, could well fit the character of Halloween and All Saints’ Day. Mozart received an anonymous commission in July 1791 to compose a Requiem mass, with the stipulation that he must never attempt to discover the commissioner’s identity or where the work would finally be performed. After Mozart’s death, his biographers took several liberties with the less-than-enticing facts, which in due time came to be widely accepted in popular culture, if not musicology. These accounts depicted a composer obsessed with death, who kept foreseeing his own demise and who was allegedly approached by a “tall, thin, grave-looking man” whom he believed to be a spectral emissary from the afterlife, to write his final piece of music, in essence, his own funeral music.

The Requiem is bound to live up to its spooky reputation as it portrays the journey of the departed, from pleading and bargaining to acceptance, through some of the most recognizable, dramatic music ever composed, performed by the combined forces of the Seattle Symphony with the Seattle Symphony Chorus and soloists Hélène Guilmette (soprano), Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano), Zach Finkelstein (tenor) and Matthew Brook (baritone).

Mozart’s interpretation of the Mass for the Dead however does not echo the apocalyptic tones found in similar works in the genre by—for example—Verdi or Berlioz. The sheer beauty and consolation of the ‘softer’ movements fit well with the other piece of the evening, German composer Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. A shell-shocked Strauss composed this tentatively titled Sorrow for Music for string orchestra in 1945, after Allied forces destroyed the Munich Court Theater. The pairing of the Requiem with the Metamorphosen highlights the human qualities of both pieces, showing two composers in shock and dealing with trauma and death through their music—and the program serves to elevate the Mozart Requiem from the fabricated ghosts that have haunted its legacy.

Each of the weekend’s three concerts will feature a pre-concert talk one hour before performance, with an exclusive “ask the artist” segment after the Saturday evening’s concert.

Seattle Symphony presents Delta Airlines Masterworks – Mozart Requiem

When:

Thursday, October 30, 7:30 PM

Saturday, November 1, 8 PM

Sunday, November 2, 2 PM

Where: Benaroya Hall (200 University Street)

General admission tickets available through www.seattlesymphony.org

Johann Van Niekerk is a writer, conductor and collaborative artist based in Seattle, WA. He holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Washington where his research focused on the role that music has played throughout history in effecting social change. Van Niekerk covers performing arts events in and around Seattle.