October 26th, 2011

Mozart and the Angel of Death

Requiem_MozartWhen I was a teenager, my parents had the wisdom to give me a gift that I didn’t yet know I’d want. My love for Alanis Morissette and Red Hot Chili Peppers – the other two CDs I was given that year – has long since passed (RIP), but my gushing adoration for Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor lives strong.

Forgive me for being dramatic, but Requiem is truly the most powerful music I’ve ever heard. At times furious and zealous, then tender and solemn, Requiem is a fourteen-movement experience. When I saw the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform it, I was totally overwhelmed and emotional, much in the same way people get when they see Handel’s Messiah performed. The library’s copy of Requiem, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has an urgency and command that makes it very compelling.

And the mystery behind the music makes listening to it all the more exhilarating. Exhausted and broke, 35-year-old Mozart is visited by a stranger dressed in gray. The stranger hands him an anonymous letter, commissioning him to compose music for a funeral. The request is given with a blank check, so despite Mozart’s misgivings, he’s in no position to decline. Even still, Mozart is struck by the chilling nature of the circumstances. Sickness befalls Mozart, making him increasingly convinced that the mysterious visitor was the Angel of Death himself. The taste of death is now on my tongue, and I can already smell the grave.*

The inexplicable foreboding proved prophetic. Mozart died that year, never completing Requiem, arguably one of his finest works. Thanks to Franz Süssmayr, Mozart’s protégée, the unfinished parts were completed.

The exact details of Mozart’s brush with “Death” have been subject of scholarly debate and artistic imaginings, most notably the play-turned-movie Amadeus. In Amadeus, the Angel of Death is Antonio Salieri, a fellow composer, embittered by Mozart’s success and talent. While it made for great drama, we now know that the commission actually came from Count Franz von Walsegg, an unscrupulous aristocrat who stole musical scores in order to feign authorship. In this case, the Count was mourning the loss of his wife and wanted a musical masterpiece written in her honor.

While you might not be familiar with its name, you’ve likely heard parts of Requiem many times. Here’s a short list of where you might have heard it:

Advertisements: Droid, DirectTV, Halo, and Air Jordans
Movies: The Big Lebowski, Elizabeth, Eyes Wide Shut, Primal Fear, X2, Watchmen, and Amadeus

Want to know more? Place a hold on Amadeus (winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture) here online or ask our staff. Learn more about Mozart’s life and legacy in Jeremy Siepmann’s book Mozart: His Life & Music here. (CDs included!)

What are you listening to this time of year?

*words spoken to Sophie, Mozart’s sister-in-law


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October 19th, 2011

Let Us Find Your Next Favorite Book

Pile of BooksThe hallmark of today’s nerd tends to be obsession. These obsessions are wide ranging, from Star Wars to Jane Austen, manga to Mythbusters, Legos to zombies, Harry Potter to Angry Bir….well, you get it. I like to consider myself a well-rounded nerd, but my biggest obsession is definitely books. I get ridiculously happy when the new books come in at the library because a new book holds such promise, such potential. It might be the book that you tell all your friends about. The one that you reread every year. The one that makes you snort loudly with laughter while waiting for an oil change. (Yes, I’ve done that.)

But even better than a new book is an old book that somehow slipped past your radar – an author you’ve never read before, a book you never got around too, or a title that was wildly popular a few years ago.

For a book nerd like me, one of the best jobs at the library is doing a Book Mate. Book Mate is a matchmaking service for readers (between readers and books, not readers and other readers—we leave that up to you!).  Answer a few questions about what you like to read and what you don’t and we’ll give you a list of books we think you might enjoy. We’ll wander the stacks looking for that book that just might be your new favorite, the one you tell all your friends about. Need CD books or eBooks?  Not a problem.  Large Print or Teen books? We can do that too. Heck, we’ll even throw in a DVD if you want. No matter what you read or why you read it, we’ll find something for you.  During the month of October, a few lucky readers who fill out a Book Mate will win free copies of local author Ed Okonowicz’s spookiest books. Fill out a Book Mate form, online here or pick up a paper copy at your local library. We’re book nerds here at the library, so let us put our obsession to work for you.

What’s your nerd obsession?


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