As we get ready for our staging of Mozart’s Requiem in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre, here’s a look at what a Requiem is, and how it has developed…

A Requiem is a Catholic mass for the dead, originally intended for funeral services. The name comes from the first line: ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine’ — ‘Grant them eternal rest, Lord’.

However, the Requiem Mass has inspired many musical compositions over the centuries — over 2,000 to the present day! From the 18th Century onwards, various composers were inspired to score their versions for choral and orchestral forces so massive — some practically operatic — that they couldn’t possibly be performed as part of a normal funeral. These became concert works, and the ‘Requiem’ evolved into a genre all of its own.

First page of the autograph score for Mozart's Requiem

Not all composers chose to set every part of the Catholic liturgy to music, some used other text as well or instead, and as time went on, other musical works treating death or mourning without any religious links at all also became known as a ‘Requiem’.

What they all do is immortalise a composer’s ideas about passing and what comes afterwards for both the dead and the living — while leaving us with some of the most famous, most dramatic and most ethereally beautiful moments in all of Western classical music! Here are some extracts from notable Requiems that you might recognise…

Mozart's Requiem (1791)

Shrouded in mystery, Mozart’s Requiem was his final work, and he died before he could finish it. According to the story, he had become obsessed, believing he was writing the Requiem for his own soul.

The haunting ‘Lacrimosa’ will be familiar (and legend says that the first eight bars are the last music that the composer ever wrote), while the beautiful ‘Recordare’, sung by the four soloists, is often cited as a favourite Mozart moment. Other parts of the Requiem have been used to dramatic effect in film and TV, including in Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Brahms' German Requiem (1868)

In something of a contradiction, Brahms’ Requiem is a non-Catholic work. Instead of the Latin text, he set passages from the Lutheran Bible (in German) to music. The piece focusses on comforting the living, rather than on the dead, and Brahms said that he would gladly have called it a ‘human Requiem’.

Today, the piece is a pillar of choral music. The best-known passage is the lilting ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’ (‘How lovely are thy dwellings’).

Verdi’s Messa di Requiem (1874)

Written for colossal forces, Verdi’s Requiem is hugely dramatic, like many of his operas. He was inspired to write it on the death of leading Italian author Alessandro Manzoni, whom he had admired.

The most famous section — and maybe the most famous section of any Requiem — is the thunderous ‘Dies Irae’ (Day of Wrath) with its pounding timpani. You’ll know it as the go-to dramatic music from any reality TV show…

Britten's War Requiem (1962)

Britten’s Requiem is intended as a mass for all those who lost their lives in WW1 and WW2. Britten himself was a pacifist and influenced by this, he included settings of poetry by Wilfred Owen (who wrote and was killed during WW1) alongside the traditional Latin texts, in a harrowing commentary on the horrors of warfare. This makes the piece almost like a song-cycle within a ritual mass.

Today, it is often performed as a concert work and it took centre stage during the WW1 centenary in 2018. Here’s the ‘Dies Irae‘ — listen out for the brass fanfare which imitates gunfire.

Lloyd Webber’s Requiem (1985)

In a departure from creating musical theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber composed his own Requiem in 1985, in memory of his late father. It won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition the following year.

The piece is best known for the angelic ‘Pie Jesu’, which became a hit single. Originally performed by Sarah Brightman, it has now been recorded by artists all over the world!

Mozart’s Requiem will be performed in a double bill with a new composition by Neo Muyanga After Tears: After a Requiem, in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre, Jazzart Dance Theatre and Cape Town Opera. Both works are choreographed by Dean Hurst.

Requiem runs at Leeds Grand Theatre from Friday 26 May until Sunday 4 June. The production is being performed as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture with generous support from The Linbury Trust. 

Book now


Search our site