52/365 Mozart’s Requiem in Dresden

Dresden in 1945

Mozart’s Requiem is a remarkably intimate work. I’ve always thought so, always felt the benefit of its modest intensity. An unwavering promise is built into its musical foundations that gives it a strangely restorative quality.

I’m listening to the BBC Singers on Radio 3 sing the work in a performance recorded at Milton Court in London. It, like the work, is a compelling listen. No flabby bits, no extraneous material, just one absorbing musical treatment after another. That, I suspect, is the genius of Mozart.

It helps I know the work: introduced to it as a teenager by my music teacher who ran the school chapel choir; played it at county youth orchestra; sang in it again at University; the leader of the orchestra in that University concert sings in the choir tonight — it’s therefore difficult not to listen to the concert on the radio without thinking of University nearly 25 years before.

What really makes Mozart’s Requiem intimate isn’t those personal memories. Or at least, not those ones. Instead, it’s a memory of a performance given as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the bombing of Dresden, when I was working with the English Symphony Orchestra that this work with a particular emotion.

We had been given instructions not to walk to the concert venue, close as the Dresden Culture Palace was to our hotel. “We’re expecting there to be violent protests,” warned Jennifer the Australian orchestral manager, “everyone take the bus.”

The protests never materialised. I suspected over-dramatisation of the circumstances so that managerial responsibilities could be inflated.

We did as we were told. The bus made its quiet way to the venue, like the many hundreds of people walking in silence into the auditorium. A sombre mood prevailed. Mozart’s music matched the solemnity of the occasion. Nobody clapped. Nobody spoke. Instead, they listened intently, stood respectfully at the end to acknowledge the performers, before exiting the auditorium in silence at the end.

Afterwards, the deafening post-concert silence ringing in our ears, we followed the crowd out of the Culture Palace. We walked down a thoroughfare before hanging back in a shop doorway to watch thousands of Dresden inhabitants process in silence with candles in their hands.

It was the most most beautiful moment of solidarity I’ve ever seen.

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