Arts & Culture

Mystery surrounding Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ still fascinates

Lianne Coble, soprano
Lianne Coble, soprano

As Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart laid on his deathbed, he composed his final work, thinking the piece would be performed at his funeral. An unnamed stranger had commissioned the work. As Mozart’s illness progressed, he came to view the stranger in gray as a messenger of death. The Wichita Symphony Orchestra will perform this piece, Mozart’s “Requiem,” just a few weeks before the anniversary of the composer’s death, Dec. 5, 1791.

“There’s a real thrilling passion behind it,” said Michael Hanawalt, the orchestra’s new choral director. “Because he becomes convinced that he is writing his own requiem, he really makes the music so powerful.”

Approximately 180 vocalists from the Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Bethel College Concert Choir will join the symphony as they perform this massive work. Hanawalt, a professor of choral music at Wichita State University, has performed this piece as a conductor, a chorus member and a tenor vocalist.

“The first four movements are some of the best three minutes of music you will ever experience live,” Hanawalt said. “This is one of the more fascinating pieces that he has ever written.”

There are many reasons for the fascination with this well-known piece. A rumor that circulated for centuries was that fellow 18th century composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was the stranger. This rumor was brought to life in the film “Amadeus.” The actual stranger has piqued the interest of listeners for centuries. It turns out, Count Walsegg-Stuppach, who often commissioned works and passed them off as his own, wanted the piece to mark the anniversary of his wife’s death. Lastly, because the “Requiem” was not finished at the time of Mozart’s death, there are differing ideas as to who completed the work.

Because of its sheer beauty, this piece has caught the imagination and devotion of many. Four award-winning soloists will sing the “Requiem” in Wichita: soprano Lianne Coble, alto Quinn Ankrum, tenor Robert Allen and bass Jason Grant.

“This work has some of the most beautiful classical/choral writing in it,” said Allen,who teaches music at the State University of New York at Oswego. “The more I sing it, the more I find in it musically.”

Coble, the daughter of professional musicians, grew up with this piece.

“This is Mozart’s last hurrah,” Coble said. “He just writes so well and so perfectly for the voice.”

Although this masterpiece, which takes up almost an hour, is the showcase of the evening, the concert starts out with a work by Antonio Salieri, who was an accomplished 18th century composer.

Salieri, a Venetian by birth, wrote many well-received operas. “Sinfonia, Veneziana” is a 10-minute overture consisting of three short movements.

Also on the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, which was written when Mozart was 17.

If You Go

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra: Mozart and Salieri

Special Guests: Lianne Coble, Quinn Ankrum, Robert Allen, Jason Grant, Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chrous and Bethel College Concert Choir

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 15, 3 p.m. Nov. 16

Tickets: $19-$57, 316-267-7658,