Main Entry: re•qui•em
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin (first word of the introit of the requiem mass), accusative of requies rest, from re- + quies quiet, rest
1: a mass for the dead
2a: a solemn chant (as a dirge) for the repose of the dead b: something that resembles such a solemn chant
3a: a musical setting of the mass for the dead b: a musical composition in honor of the dead
As some of you may or may not know, I'm a fan of classical music. I don't claim to know a ton about it - I don't know how to read music, and I really don't know the difference between B Flat and D Minor, but I do know when I like something. We actually have a pretty decent symphony in Kansas City and I try to get to down to the Lyric Theater as often as possible, though it's tough to find too many others who actually want to pay to go.
Anyway, when I arrived in the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (train station) on Thursday, I stuck my head into the conveniently located tourist information office. While waiting for a window to open up, I noticed a black poster on the wall with "Mozart" written in white and "Requiem" written in bold red. It advertised a weekly performance of the classic work right here in Salzburg.
A bunch of thoughts went through my mind in the next few seconds: I recalled that Salzburg was Mozart's birthplace. I also remembered that "Requiem" was his final composition. I also used my rudimentary German skills to decipher that the performance was to be held in a large church just opposite the composer's childhood home. What more do you need?
Five minutes later I had a 27 Euro ticket to the concert on Saturday night.
I spent the next couple of days exploring Salzburg. It's a beautiful, quaint and classic all at once. Filled with narrow cobblestone streets, tight, colorful buildings and an array of huge churches and ornate cathedrals, the city is dominated by a large hill in the center of the old town capped by a graceful white fortress. For a small town, there's a ton to see. I tried to get in as much as possible, including a visit to the castle, a trip to a nearby mountain to ride up the gondola for a panoramic view of the valley, a tour of Mozart's birth house and even a stroll through the modern art museum.
Between sights, I took some time to walked through the streets of the city. I found them wonderfully interesting; full of small vendors selling beautiful, fragrant fresh flowers; vast arrays of cut meat; cooked sausages; gorgeous pastries, and my favorite - huge-ass pretzels. They had salty, chocolate, and even huge donut pretzels bigger than my head. That's just good business. I saw strange sculptures (including one that looked like a bronzed wringwraith), people playing chess on a life-size board, wonderfully ornate fountains and some amusingly odd street performers.
Saturday night I headed to the concert a little early. I wanted a good seat, but also wanted to explore the church a little. It didn't disappoint. Soaring ceilings, huge white columns, and a multitude of sculptures and reliefs on the walls around the altar.
I didn't realize how much I missed going to the symphony until I sat down. I love the sounds an orchestra warming up; members tuning their instruments, arranging their music on wobbly stands, whispering to each other about something... It had obviously been a while since seen a performance - the last one being in Kansas City before I left. So, I was ready; and seeing the group setting up under the towering height of the church just added to the anticipation.
I was also excited to see Requiem itself. I'd actually seen it in October in Kansas City as a matter of fact. However, seeing it in Salzburg - the composer's birthplace - well, it was pretty cool.
For those of you unfamiliar with the work, you can read more about it here and here. The basic story is that during summer of 1791, Mozart was commissioned to write a requiem by an anonymous patron. He was already ill, and his health continued to decline through the remainder of the year. Healthcare being what it was at the time, at some point Mozart probably knew he had little chance of recovering, and many think the requiem is as much for himself as for the patron. Unable to finish it on his own, he left instructions for its completion before his eventual death in December of 1791. Who actually finished it, and for whom it was commissioned are still subjects of debate.
Movie Break: If you're interested, Milos Forman's excellent "Amadeus", is based on Mozart's life, especially these last few months of his life. While not necessarily historically accurate, it's a great film, and will give you a little insight into the life and times of the composer.
The performance was very good, and much to my delight, the acoustics of the old church worked well. The last note of each movement seemed to hang in the air for a few counts, which added to the somber mood of the piece. All the elements: the music itself, the old church, the sorted history of the work and Mozart's death, the fact that we were in Salzburg... all contributed to creating a haunting atmosphere.
After the concert, I went out to enjoy my last night in Salzburg. I stopped in a little café for a drink, and then wandered to the river. The sun was setting, and I managed to capture a few well-lit images.
I was then drawn to the sound of music and merriment on the other bank of the river. I meandered across the main bridge to find a huge street party. Three or four main thoroughfares were closed off and crowded with people. Stages which had been mere skeletons the day before were now glowing with bright lights and wailing bands. Turns out I had stumbled into something called the "Linzergassenfest" which is basically a big party where several very different bands perform in different parts of the city while vendors and shopkeepers open up their stores. For those of you in Kansas City, think First Fridays but with every street packed with people, live bands performing at every corner and a really cool castle in the background.
I walked around to find a hard rock cover band, an alternative cover band, a set of "Native American Indians" playing "traditional" music, a pretty good jazz band with a bass player who was really into his work, and more. The people were in a great mood - drinking beer, eating bratwursts, and singing along to English lyrics in their very German accents.
Admittedly, it was an interesting departure from the somber, thoughtful concert I'd just been to. In the course of an hour I'd gone from thinking about my own funeral and reflecting on mortality to watching a two-man band playing reggae with an accordion and bongo drums. Goes to show how different people can be on the other side of the river.