I fear that I am writing a requiem for myself.Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
One dark night early in July, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was visited by a mysterious stranger. This man, speaking for his employer, requested that Mozart compose a Requiem Mass in honor of a countess who had recently died. Mozart thought over the offer for some time, and at last he accepted. Half his commission was paid immediately, and the remainder was to be delivered upon the work’s completion. The strange visitor then left the Mozart home, disappearing into the darkness. Within five months, Mozart fell ill with an unknown disease.
Mozart continued to compose the Requiem on his sick-bed, even on the day of his death. According to an eyewitness account, his last movement was an attempt to express with his mouth the drum passages in the Requiem. On December 5th, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died at the age of thirty-five years, leaving his Requiem unfinished.
The Introit of Mozart’s Requiem is the only section in which all of the orchestral and vocal parts were finished by the great composer himself. The Kyrie, Sequence, and Offertorium were penned by Mozart only in skeleton form. The Requiem would be later finished, largely by Mozart’s pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr. The music is hauntingly beautiful, inspiring awe and fear of the final judgement in a way unlike any other composition. The richly poetic Latin words of the Mass of the Dead take on an even more sublime power, making even the listener who is ignorant of the meaning of the lyrics tremble, a testament to Mozart’s remarkable genius.
Every creative act and every artistic expression of the True, Good, and Beautiful is inspired by God. We might like to take complete credit for a great painting, for instance, saying to ourselves that the human mind is capable of capturing the most sublime elements of beauty. This is true in a sense, but at the same time, it falls short of the truth. Any artist, whether a musician, painter, or writer, will speak of the need for inspiration. What is this inspiration? How do we receive it? From whom does it come? To the Catholic, it is clear that this inspiration, a faint vision of the True, Good, and Beautiful, is a gift from God granted to the artist who attempts to show the beauty contained in creation.
Mozart seems an overpowering example of how a lowly human being could be given inspiration by God to such a level that his resulting work approaches the transcendent. Mozart’s genius, his great musical talents, and his sublime ability to capture in music the seemingly ungraspable were all unmatched Divine gifts. Mozart’s life, works, and unfinished Requiem seem planned to the smallest particular by God. In a special manner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was God’s work.
Through the musical gifts and inspiration given to Mozart, it seems clear that he was specially used by God to show the True, Good, and Beautiful. However, his life was cut short, seemingly without reason. There are times when we question the Divine plan or wonder whether God remains distant rather than being immediately present in our everyday lives. Perhaps Mozart’s death was simply a tragic occurrence in which God played no part but simply allowed the natural cycle of sickness and death run its course. Yes, Mozart died in the prime of his life, but not without reason. His life’s work was completed. In his thirty-five years, Mozart had composed fifty million bars of music, more than a trained copyist could write in a lifetime. After over thirty years of constant creative work that would touch people’s hearts long after his death, Mozart seemed to have accomplished God’s purpose and simply was called by his Maker to his eternal rest.
The Mass of the Dead is not meant to be only a remembrance of a departed soul. It is not meant to be solely a prayer for the deceased. The Requiem Mass is a reminder for us still on earth that each one of us will stand before our Creator with all our sins exposed, each offense against His Divine Majesty made present to our eyes. We will, at that moment, know exactly how grievous our sins are, and we will know that we are to be judged. Then we will tremble, for the verdict will be either eternal happiness with Our Lord in heaven or an eternity in the fires of hell.
Is it not better for us to quaver in holy fear at the first words of the Sequence, the ‘Dies Irae,’ and amend our lives than for us to tremble as judgement is passed for us to be cast into eternal damnation? Only if we truly comprehend that one day we will be tried before the throne of God and held accountable for each of our sins can we realize the amount of prayers a departed soul requires. This is the purpose of the words of a Requiem Mass. One must understand that the Requiem does not signal the end of a soul’s need for assistance. Instead, the prayers of the Requiem Mass remind and tell us that we must pray unceasingly for the departed soul and prepare ourselves for our final judgement.
Mozart’s Requiem was left incomplete by God for a purpose. The music may be unequaled in power and beauty, but it also conveys the profound meaning of the Mass of the Dead. Just as Mozart’s Requiem was unfinished, so also is our duty toward the departed soul not yet finished. Perhaps God is sending us a message.