I often play light classical music in the background of my classes. One perennial favorite–used on days when the muse so strikes me for something slightly more intense–is Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor. I’ve been intrigued with this work ever since I first heard it. When I think of Mozart, I think of the grace of his perfect genius: light, playful, clever, refined. But this final work, this is something different.
Myth and legend and Amadeus aside, it’s still hard not to imagine some of Mozart’s own morose foreboding about his imminent demise embedded into the woeful strands of this work. Mozart is still himself, though, and even in a work of precise focus, moods run the full possible gamut: parts are mild and melancholy, parts are violent thrashing in the face of death, much is composed and dignified acceptance of mortality, a subdued peace reached between oneself and the way of things.
The best experience with Requiem came one day several years ago when a class of older kids was reading to themselves while this played and after a while one girl turned to me and said, “This music makes me want to kill myself!” She wasn’t complaining about having to hear classical music, and she certainly wasn’t making a serious threat! She was joking (I’m proud that my humor is apparently such that otherwise misunderstood kids usually feel safe opening up without fear of being judged), and sharing a perception. I appreciated the fact that once again Mozart had worked his magic: across the gulfs of time and space, he had connected with a foreign soul and forged a bond. A concrete feeling about mankind’s inevitable drifting out of this world had been communicated as clearly as if he’d been sitting there telling her his life story. Of such is art.
And when I then told the class the story behind this work–the story of Mozart’s tragic young death and the mysteries behind the completion of the Requiem–they were honestly fascinated. Of such is education.
Here is a fine video set to the Lacrimosa section: