— At the Festival

Published on June 29 2019


At the time of the Requiem, what did death and the hereafter represent for Mozart?

The composer was always haunted by these questions, and he expressed a constant need to know. When his mother passed away in 1778, he made his Christian beliefs quite clear: to his father, he wrote that individuals should submit to divine will, for death leads to a state of happiness that is better than one’s existence on Earth. And he seemed to minimize the more dread-inspiring problematic of the final judgment.
After his initiation as a freemason in 1784, he felt even stronger about his beliefs, but nevertheless evolved. For him, it was no longer a question of passively submitting to divine will, but rather of being an active participant in the future as of this life, especially through reflection. Hence, he saw the prevailing spiritual state as being one of serenity that overcomes dread instead of removing it.

But in 1791, the question became concrete: which one, true dread or serenity, prevails when death is impending? Although one might first assume that Mozart lacked the drive to finish the Requiem, perhaps he was inhibited by the gravity of the subject, and fascinated and terrified because of its immediacy. However, even if this work reflected his personal experience, the music does not set forth a truly individualized attitude towards death: it is rather a collective voice, in line with the ideal of brotherhood that runs through all his compositions.

The Requiem later gave rise to an ideological conflict. The question was then: Who had the last word, Mozart the freemason or Mozart the Catholic? Some have been unhappy with the idea that the Requiem was his last work, believing that his religious opinions are better developed in The Magic Flute; while others have felt that what is at play in the Requiem is rather a fulfillment of what is laid out in the Flute. It should be said that Constance and those around her helped construct the image of a Catholic Mozart, at a time when freemasonry was considered subversive and was becoming increasingly unpopular. They therefore stressed the fact that he had devoted the final chapter of his life to this pious work, which, they claimed, was an equally pious preparation for his own death.
The text of the Requiem does combine two distinct states: submissive terror when confronted with divine will, and the active advancement towards beatitude. By incorporating this tension, both of Mozart’s compositions (the Requiem and The Magic Flute) tell the same basic story—the victory of Light over the dark forces of Evil—and aspire to the same radiant serenity.

Timothée Picard