Lacrimosa dies illa – Cynthia Closkey

It seems to have become customary at funerals for family members to create photo displays, slide shows, and other memorabilia to depict and celebrate the life of the deceased.

The PSO’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem had some of that multimedia effect — a projected text introduction, letters and poetry read between the movements, the interweaving of Gregorian chants — but it seemed to me to celebrate not Mozart’s life but his death.

“Celebrate” is perhaps not quite the right word. It’s hard to find a word that properly reflects the power and grandeur of this setting of the Requiem and of Friday’s performance.

From the somber opening bells, to the Gregorian singers, singing unseen backstage, to the blended voices of the choir and the striking solos, to John Lithgow’s evocative readings, to the orchestra’s performance, all the way to the final Amen, the cumulative effect was of an unstoppable swell of sorrow edged with hope for greater glory beyond this world.

The elements were disparate but they blended to a whole. More than that, they engaged the audience, perhaps more than a more traditional performance of the Requiem alone could have done. I left feeling that I had heard the definitive version of the work.

Yet, I find myself still wondering about the use of poetry from and about the Holocaust in this piece. To be clear: The poetry was beautiful and raw and painful, and absolutely effective.

At the same time, there’s a lot of excellent poetry and prose in the world, many writings about specific events, about death and Death, and about sorrow. It’s hard to avoid the thought that Manfred Honeck’s choice of three poems about the Holocaust has a particular meaning.

One thought: The selected poems call forth images of hell, perhaps more vividly to a modern mind than texts like the excerpts from the Book of Revelations can.

The program notes suggest that people in Mozart’s time had a more intimate relationship with death than we do today. As David noted in his post, echoing Andrew Druckenbrod’s preview article, this seems to overstate reality. But I would be more inclined to agree that people in Mozart’s time thought more often about Hell than we do — certainly more than I do. The poems by Nelly Sachs and Matt May evokes a vision of hell on earth entirely appropriate to a requiem Mass.

(Photo credit: Mourning, originally uploaded by swimparallel.)

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Dec 7