WHEN: Sunday, February 25, 2024
1:00 pm Pre-Concert Discussion
2:00 pm Concert
WHERE: St. John’s Abbey Church
St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN
Great River Chorale
SCB/SJU Chamber Choir
O Virtus Sapientiæ “O Strength of Wisdom” Hildegard von Bingen
(arr. Marianne Pfau)
I.9/11 from WTC 9/11
The Unanswered Question
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Tickets for this concert are
$25 | Adults
$20 | Seniors (65 and over)
$5 | Students
Tickets available online or at the door.
All tickets are General Admission
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Requiem and the Perennial Question
Sometime in July 1791, Count Franz von Walsegg commissioned Mozart to a Requiem mass in memory of his wife who had passed earlier that year. Mozart agreed to the commission. However, hampered by a busy work schedule – writing two operas and a clarinet concerto – he did not begin work on the Requiem until October of that year. Little did Mozart know that this composition, meant to commemorate the dead, would foreshadow his own death in the months ahead. By the end of November, Mozart became severely ill and was confined to bed, yet he continued to work on the Requiem. Despite the great effort, he was unable to complete it before his untimely death on December 5 at the age of 35. Shortly after, Mozart’s pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed the work, and since then, only a handful of composers have had the courage to also try and finish what was left incomplete.
Since its first completion, Mozart’s 233-year-old masterpiece has been unanimously celebrated for all its musical beauty and grandeur. Sadly, a vast majority of performances have focused solely on this, doing little to evoke the work’s true function – a work not for the concert stage but instead a mass to commemorate the dead.
In my vision for programming this piece, I present the Requiem with more intentionality and relevance by incorporating three distinct compositions to the traditional concert experience: a hymn by Hildegard von Bingen ‘O Virtus Sapientiae (‘O Strength of Wisdom’), the first movement of Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11, and lastly, Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question. These works are directly integrated within the Requiem – without taking anything away from Mozart’s music or Süssmayr’s contributions – to complement on the Requiem’s themes of life and death, and to help create a space for modern-day reflection.
Bingen’s hymn introduces the concert before Mozart’s music is heard. Its ethereal drone and chant aid in easing us into a reflective state, away from the busyness of our day-to-day lives. Following this, Mozart’s Requiem begins and proceeds in its normal sequence through the ‘Confutatis.’ At this point in the mass, Reich’s WTC 9/11 interjects. This jolting work incorporates voice recordings of air traffic controllers and first responders from the tragedy of 9/11 and is used to connect with the text of the Requiem – “When the accursed are confounded, consigned to the fierce flames…I pray…my heart contrite as if it were ashes: protect me in my final hour.” Immediately following WTC 9/11, the Requiem’s ‘Lacrimosa’ – “O how tearful that day…on which the guilty shall rise from the embers to be judged” – incites us to contemplate 9/11 and the countless other tragedies. Mozart’s mass continues. When the ‘Agnus Dei’ (‘Lamb of God’) fades, Ives’ The Unanswered Question is heard from afar. The solo trumpet poses the perennial question of human existence. The woodwinds try to answer ever so feverishly until they finally succumb from their futile attempt. The music gives into silence and the Requiem’s ‘Lux aetérna’ concludes the concert, redirecting our minds to the essence of the requiem – eternal rest.