St. James Cathedral in Seattle Washington is home to a rare and precious event which is fast becoming a tradition. The Cathedral’s extremely impressive Music Ministry celebrates All Souls Day Mass every November 1st, with a spectacular and elegant performance of Mozart’s masterpiece “Requiem Mass in D Minor”. Mozart’s last great work was written as he was dying of an unknown cause (famously portrayed in the well done, but highly fictional movie “Amadeus”, as a poisoning by a jealous Antonio Salieri).
This year, I, along with Mrs. Ruminator had the privilege of attending this standing-room only event in the beautiful and acoustically perfect St. James Cathedral. I have listened to Mozart’s Requiem countless times but I must say, experiencing this awe-inspiring work at an actual Mass for the Dead is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that reveals a completely new understanding of this sublime work.
The Cathedral, filled to standing room a half-hour before the Mass, fell into a reflective silence as the great pipe-organ began a solitary bell-like chime. Then, at precisely 7:30PM the Cathedral Orchestra and 80-voice Choir of St. James, under the direction of James Savage, began the haunting and beautiful Introit. This opening piece is anchored on a strong bass theme and the 21-bass section of the choir did not disappoint, contrasting perfectly with the higher ranges. The Death Registers of St. James Cathedral dating from 1907 were solemnly and stately carried from the back of the church towards the alter as the grand entrance procession continued. It sent chills up the spine and many celebrants could be seen wiping tears from their eyes. Mozart’s great prayer was wonderfully underway.
From the haunting and forlorn “Salva me” (save me) of the Sopranos to the wonderfully melodic Lacrimosa, the choir and orchestra could not have performed better. (my one, minor, observation would be the Conductor’s choice of holding the basses back at the “dona eis requiem” in Lacrimosa.) This in one area where I believe the bass section can dramatically and positively enhance the entire prayer. But I do not in any way want to imply that this interpretation of the Requiem was anything other than divine.
As the program noted, “These prayers, filled with images of eternal rest and perpetual light, ask more of us than mere reflection on past losses. They encourage us to bring to the present those we have loved and known; to acknowledge their continuing presence in our lives, to pray for them not in the past tense, but in the present and future tenses.”
Never in my life, have I attended, let alone witnessed a sacred Mass by one the great classical composers in the context in which is was intended. It’s one thing to attend a concert. It’s completely something else to attend a Mass as a practicing Catholic, aware of the great mystery of the Eucharistic Celebration. Contrary to the profane individual portrayed in the play/movie “Amadeus”, Mozart was by all accounts an extremely devout Catholic by today’s standards. And the Requiem Mass could only be inspired by a sincere and sublime understanding of Christ’s redemptive powers.
There were many non-Catholics in attendance at this wonderful performance. I cannot say for sure that they were similarly impressed by this spectacular production, but impressed they were