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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June 14th, 2011

No Tape Deck Required: Making the Perfect Mix

tapes“Now the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art, there are many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing… To me, making a tape is like writing a letter – there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again… A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.” from Nick Hornsby’s “High Fidelity”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve categorized things according to music, and have always believed that my life should be accompanied by a soundtrack. Events throughout my day, significant or mundane, often trigger a series of songs to accompany my mood.  An afternoon of cleaning requires either the soulful sounds of Stevie Wonder or perhaps The Black KeysArcade Fire or Florence and the Machine are the best remedy for the stuck-in-traffic blues.  The White Stripes go along perfectly with my morning routine and Beck’s “The Information” is a requirement for any road trip.

Naturally, along with the constant soundtrack in my head, I developed a mini-obsession with creating music mixes. I love the challenge of discovering a song that would seamlessly connect The Strokes “Gratisfaction” with The Flaming Lips “The W.A.N.D.” all while still fitting the mix’s theme. I find endless ways to challenge myself. Is it possible to get Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the same mix with Owl City “Cave In?” You bet it is. Just throw in some Stevie Wonder and perhaps a Ryan Adams track to ease the transition and you have a flawlessly constructed compilation. I’ve done playlists to see how many different genres I can mix together. I’ve done playlists made from songs all released in the same year. I’ve even heard of playlists made so the song titles rhyme. That seems like a headache to me, but I admire the creativity!

Some may feel that the delicate art of making mixes is reserved for middle schoolers or the hopeless romantics of decades past, but they are missing out on a highly underutilized means of self-expression. Like writing in a journal, creating mixes allows you to express yourself in a unique way, to take what’s in your head and permanently encase it within a CD. I can listen to mixes I made years ago and still remember exactly what I was feeling when I made it.

Cecil County Public Library’s CD collection has been one of the best places for me to get inspired. To construct the perfect mix, I check out CDs from the library, find the right songs, and then buy them online or cue them up with a free site like Grooveshark.  No more buying a whole album just to find that I only like one track. The library’s collection saves me money and gives me the freedom to explore the artists or genres that I’ve been curious about – greats such as Blind Old Dogs and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. And who knew that the “World Music” section had so many treasures? So don’t let the fine art of creating music mixes die with the dust covered tapes in your attic — put a smile on someone’s face and make them a mix! Stop by the library and check out some inspiration.

Want to hear the great songs in this post? Search our collection or you can listen to a special mix for free online.  Now, with the library’s collection at your fingertips, what’s going on your playlist?


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