Mozart, the Requiem, and the Autobahn
I was born in Linz Austria. Mozart was born in Salzburg. Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart, his parents, gave their first and only son the name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. When he was 21 years of age, it was trendy to Latinize your name, and he chose to change Theophilus (Greek for loved by God) to Amadé, the French version of Amadeus, the Latin version he rarely used. Here is his signature as he wrote it.
The two cities are about 66 miles apart; it takes roughly an hour to get from one to the other, especially given that there is no speed limit on the Autobahn. I remember driving to Salzburg with the family. I was driving a Ford van with a four-cylinder engine and was trying to pass a long truck pulling a trailer. I barely saw the tiny image of the distant Mercedes limo in my rearview mirror when I pulled out to pass. By the time I got to the front of the truck, despite having the accelerator pressed to the floor, the Mercedes was only 100 feet from my rear bumper, furiously flashing its lights but maintaining his speed in excess of 100 mph. It seemed that he fully intended just to drive us into the ditch or just drive over us. I was barely able to get to the safety of the right lane when the Mercedes passed and pulled in front of me with palpable anger. As previously mentioned, there is no speed limit on the Autobahn, and people have a certain “get off my road attitude.” It is that drive from Linz to Saltzbug that will always remind me of Mozart’s Requiem (music for the dead.) We were so lucky to get to the birth town of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart alive.
I am not sure why Mozart is my favorite composer. Is it that we were from the same corner of the world, or is it because, during my formative years, I heard a lot of organ, choral, and orchestral versions of Mozart’s liturgical music in my role as an altar boy in the Catholic Church? My favorite is, in fact, the Requiem, which I want at my own interment ceremony, hopefully not anytime soon. It was also Fredrick Chopin’s request at his funeral when he died in Paris. It was quite a chore to get it approved to have women in the choir, which was forbidden at the time in France. The work has +- eight parts, some of which have subdivisions, full orchestra, and choir, mostly in minor keys that is intended for somber music. The Introduction is followed by the Kyrie (Lord), the Dies Irae (day of wrath), Tuba Mirum (hark the trumpet), Rex Tremendae (King of tremendous majesty), Recordae (remember), Confutatis (the accursed) my favorite, followed by the Lacrimosa (tears), yielding to the Offertorium, then the Sanctus, the Benedictus, Agnus Dei (lamb of God), and finally the Communio which recapitulates the music of the first two movements. If you have not seen the movie Amadeus, it is one you should not miss, one of the best movies ever. Director Miloš Forman did accurately portray the life of the late 1700s and the flavor of the times. The film got eleven Academy nominations and won seven, including Best Picture. One of the great scenes is the creation of the Requiem as Mozart is dying. Although not historically accurate, it is, in my opinion, a scene with great pathos and fantastic music to boot.
Actually, the Requiem is indeed shrouded in mystery and intrigue. It was commissioned and paid for by a stranger who likely was going to pass it off as his own work. Mozart started working on it in July of 1791. He worked on it obsessively, and many historians think he had a premonition of death which, as it turned out, came true. This was going to be his own “Swan Song.” He had the first part done but only sketched out the rest. He died December 5, 1791, before he could finish it. One of his students, Franz Süβmayr, to whom Mozart had given extensive instructions along with his rough draft for its completion, did finish it at Mozart’s wife’s (Constanze) request as she was desperate to keep the commission. It was Beethoven who said, “If Mozart did not write the Requiem, it was a Mozart who did!” If you have never heard it, I highly recommend putting it on your “bucket list!” Furthermore, try to avoid driving on the Autobahn if you can help it.