A (Mostly) Mozart Requiem

Saturday April 6 | 7pm | Wesleyan Memorial Chapel

The Department of Classical Studies, in association with Prof. Birney's class "Death and the Afterlife in Egypt and Greece" is sponsoring a performance of Mozart's extraordinary Requiem mass, along with the Libera Me by Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried, William Tavener's Song for Athene, and poetry by Billy Collins. These works of music, ritual, and poetry were composed to guide, honor, and remember those who have gone before, and echo literary traditions about the soul and afterlife that have their origins in the ancient Mediterranean.

Directions and Parking Information:

The concert will be in Wesleyan Memorial Chapel (221 High St., Middletown CT.) 

Directions to Wesleyan Campus 

Map of Campus and Parking Options



Libera Me 
Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried (1776-1841)

The Libera Me was written and performed for Beethoven’s funeral in 1827 by the Viennese composer Ignaz von Seyfried. The Libera Me is one of the portions of the Requiem liturgy that Mozart did not set to music in his own work. Seyfried set the piece in the same key as Mozart’s Requiem (D minor) and scored it for the same range of voices, and declared that it would make a suitable ending for Mozart’s famous (and famously unfinished) work. Traditionally, the Libera Me is sung graveside at the at the end of the Requiem Mass, just before burial. In our program, we present this as a prelude, as it offers a glimpse of musical themes that will be expressed fully in Mozart’s work (particularly the Dies Irae and Lux Aeterna). The language begs for deliverance from fire on the day of judgement, and appeals for eternal rest.

Libera me Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda
quando caeli movendi sunt terra, dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.
Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo, dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae. Dies illa, dies magna et amara valde.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that terrible day
when the heavens and earth shall be shaken, when you will come to judge the age by fire.
I am made to tremble and am afraid, since the trial and anger are coming.
That day, a day of anger, disaster and sorrow; that day, a mighty and exceedingly bitter
Give them eternal rest, Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.

Requiem Mass 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, inter alia (1756-1791)

In addition to being a piece of extraordinary beauty, the Requiem Mass of Mozart and the story of its composition has acquired a special mystique. The piece was commissioned from Mozart by an individual who insisted upon remaining anonymous (an “unknown, gray stanger”). This is now believed to be Count Franz of Wallsegg, who frequently commissioned work secretly so that he could perform it as his own. Mozart wrote the piece in his last year of life, but died having completed only the first movements, although having sketched out others. The work was completed through the cooperative efforts of his wife Constanze and his students Joseph Eybler and Franz Süssmayer, but there has long been debate over which pieces were written completely by Mozart, which were scaffolded by Mozart but finished by others, and which were composed by others drawing upon his notes.

In 2022, the composer M. Ostrzyga undertook a commission to produce a new source-critical edition of the Requiem. This new version leaves intact those sections which are well established as being Mozart’s own work, but offers some new interpretations, particularly evident in the later movements, drawing heavily upon the body of Mozart’s own liturgical music and voice settings, along with influences of Bach and Handel which Mozart himself acknowledged. It also incorporates an Amen fugue discovered in 1962 in a sketch confirmed to be handwritten by Mozart, which has been connected with the end of the Lacrimosa. Those familiar with the Requiem will find much of Süssmayer’s version largely intact, but will note some significant changes to later movements such as the Sanctus and Benedictus.

Click HERE to see the complete Latin lyrics and English translation of all movements of the Requiem text.

Song for Athene

John Tavener (1944-2013)

Tavener was inspired to write Song for Athene while attending  the Greek Orthodox funeral service for a young actress and family friend by the name of Athene Hariades. He claimed that he heard the piece fully formed in his mind while listening to the chanted Alleluias, and later wrote the music down, just as he had experienced it, upon returning home. The piece is best known for having been performed at the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales. 

Much of Tavener’s music was inspired by poetry – some of his more famous works are settings of the poetry of William Blake, for example  – and as a convert to Orthodox Christianity, he was particularly moved by the liturgies and mystic traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church. Song for Athene draws on language from Shakespeare, the New Testament, and the Greek Orthodox funerary rite.  The images from the Orthodox rite that appear in Tavener’s piece (the wellspring of life, the door of paradise, etc.),  are ideas and concepts with connections to Egyptian myth and Greek mystery cult.

May choirs of angels sing thee too thy rest. Alleluia
Remember me, O Lord, when. you come into thy kingdom.
Give rest, O LOrd, to your handmaid who has fallen asleep. Alleluia
The Choir of Saints have found the Wellspring of Life and Door of Paradise. Alleluia
Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia
Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you. Alleluia



Sarah Asmar (soprano)
Sarah Asmar has thrilled audiences across the country with “her crystalline soprano” (Minneapolis Star Tribune). Her operatic roles include Violetta (La Traviata) with Opera Southwest, Ofelia in Faccio’s Amleto with OperaDelaware, Gilda (Rigoletto) with Baltimore Concert Opera, Yum-Yum (The Mikado) with Hawaii Opera Theatre, Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with Sarasota Opera, Musetta (La Bohème), and Desdemona (Otello) with Opera Southwest. She also performed with Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston, Opera Idaho, Skylark Opera, Ohio Light Opera, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. In 2023, Sarah joined Hartford Performs as Advancement Director. The nonprofit brings teaching artists into the Hartford Public Schools to provide arts-integration programs, combining her love of the arts and arts education. She began her musical studies as a violinist and holds both a Bachelor of Music in violin performance and a Master of Music in voice from Boston University.

Benjamin Rauch (alto)
Countertenor Benjamin Rauch spent a year singing soprano with the GRAMMY® awarding winning ensemble Chanticleer, performing on major concert stages across the United States, Europe, and Japan. Solo engagements include Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Kodály’s Missa Brevis, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and Hamor in Handel’s Jephtha. He has performed as a soloist with numerous ensembles including Chanticleer, Crescendo, Greater New Haven Community Chorus, New Haven Chorale, Hartford Opera Theater, and the New Britain Symphony Orchestra. Benjamin teaches commercial voice and ear training at The Hartt School, University of Hartford. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Vocal Intensive Program (VIP) and runs Benjamin Rauch Voice Studios where he teaches private voice. Having completed his 200-hour yoga teacher training at West Hartford Yoga, he specializes in teaching yoga for singers. Instagram: @benjaminrauch

Igor Ferreira (tenor)
Brazilian-born tenor and pianist Igor Ferreira received his master’s degree in Piano Performance from the University of Hartford, under tutelage of Prof. David Westfall and Prof. Frederic Chiu. He was featured in the TV Show Segunda Musicalon TV ALMG for three years. As a lyrical tenor, Mr. Ferreira was a soloist for Hartt Symphony Orchestra and Hartt Choirs,  Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, and Crescendo Choirs and Orchestra. He was a tenured member of the prestigious Coral Lírico de Minas Gerais, the professional opera choir from Minas Gerais state (Brazil). Recently, he was the Piano Clinician of the 2022 The Hartt Suzuki Institute, at Uhartt (where he served as faculty) at the 2023 Green Mountain Suzuki Insitute (VT). He is faculty at the Westport Suzuki Music School and continues his vocal studies with Benjamin Rauch.

Luke Scott (bass)
Described by the New York Times as "robust-voiced " Luke Scott appeared in New York's Broadway district in the critically acclaimed Figaro 90210 followed by Don Giovanni with Salt Marsh Opera, Trial at Rouen with Odyssey Opera,  L'Elisire D'amore and Le Nozze di Figaro with Opera Naples, L'Italiana in Algeri with Opera Theater of Connecticut, Tosca with Long Island Lyric Opera, La Boheme at the Natchez Festival, Camelot with Indianapolis Opera, Ludus Danielis with Early Music Seattle, South Pacific with Norwalk Symphony, and Purcell's Tempest at the Connecticut early music festival.  Other appearances include the Oregon Bach festival, Boston Camerata, Mississippi Opera, Maryland Symphony, Opera on the Avalon, El Sistema in Venezuel, Opera Western Reserve, and Art song preservation society of NY.  Mr. Scott has received awards from the Martina Arroyo Foundation, Bel Canto Scholarship Foundation, Shreveport Opera, and Gerda Lissner Foundation. 

Jonathan Reuning-Scherer (conductor)
Jonathan Reuning-Scherer, conductor, is Director of Music at Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hartford.  A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Yale School of Music, he directed the choir GodSong between 2000 and 2015.  Jonathan also served as music director for the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival between 2019 and 2023.  When not making music, Jonathan is Senior Lecturer in Statistics at Yale University and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Hartt School of Music, is Treasurer for the Greater Hartford Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and serves on the Board of the Choir School of Hartford.




A scholar of religion in the late 19th – early 20th century, Philippe Aries, examined the larger patterns of thought in western religions. Western society, he claimed, had gone from accepting death as a natural process, to increasingly fearing death, to finally concealing death. While simplistic, it does capture a sensibility that is common to religious traditions from across the ancient Mediterranean, including Christianity: the idea that the dead cannot navigate the underworld and find paradise on their own. Rather, they or their families require specialized knowledge, imparted by teachers, mystics, or priests, to be followed in life and after death, in order to ensure safe passage to eternity. 

The Requiem mass does precisely this, offering pleas on behalf of the dead for mercy, for safe passage through judgement and fiery torment, to find peace, eternal rest, and resurrection. Many of its ideas, themes and imagery, however, have a long history in the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly the religious traditions of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. Two are explored briefly below.


Judgement Day

The first documentation of the notion of a day of Judgement after death appears in ancient Egypt. While there are allusions to the practice as early as the Middle Bronze Age (ca 1700 B.C.), the earliest illustrations occur a few centuries later, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This is one of many collections of spells and images that were deposited with the dead (either on the coffin, on papyrus scrolls, or painteed on the tomb walls) that gave instructions on how to navigate the underworld. These offered specific spells to speak in order to placate  guardians and demons one met along the perilous path, or instructions on how to navigate dangerous pitfalls (i.e. the Lake of Fire). 

At the midpoint of the journey was Judgement, as illustrated in this scene from the Papyrus Ani Book of the Dead below. Here the heart of the deceased is shown being weighed against the feather of ma'at (truth, or order), and the outcome is judged by Osiris, king of the underworld. Amet the Devourer, the crocodile-headed beast, stands by waiting to eat the heart of those who fail the test. Those who succeed continue their journey, and enjoy a happy afterlife in perpetuity. (Thoth, the god of writing, magic and wisdom, stands placidly by to record the outcome.)

Judgement Scene, Book of the Dead (Papyrus Ani), 1250 B.C.
Book of the Dead, Judgement Scene. Papyrus Ani (1250 B.C.)

One of the spells included in the Book of the Dead is a special appeal to one's own heart not to confess any secret sins which might result in conviction: 

"Oh my heart which I had from my mother!
Do not stand up as a witness againt me; do to be opposed to me in this tribunal, or be hostile to me in the presence of the keeper of the balance!"

In some, though not all, Greek afterlife traditions, the dead were judged not merely by Hades as Lord of the Underworld, but by a panel of three judges who had been great kings in their previous lives: Minos, Rhadamanthos, and Aeacus. These determined whether a soul was worthy of an afterlife in the Elysian fields.  Once she arrived in the underworld, Persephone was thought to lend a compassionate and moderating influence.


Wellsprings and Waters of Resurrection

Tavener's Song for Athene makes reference to the "wellspring of Life". This is a particularly rich image. Life-giving wells play a role in Jewish and Christian tradition, from the well of Miriam well in the Old Testament, to the Annunciation of the birth of Christ, in which Mary is celebrated as the wellspring of life for her role as mother of god. In the ancient Mediterranean, nearly every afterlife tradition integrates some aspects of a cosmogony – a creation myth – into the journey through which the soul of the deceased is either resurrected, or joins others in a blissful eternity. Both in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, water plays a key role in these tales.

In the Hermopolitan creation myth of Egypt, attested as far back as the Early Bronze Age the first god Atum arose from Nun and Naunet, the primeval waters of creation. Egyptian magical texts, drawn in coffins and on tomb walls, often show the deceased as a soul following trajectory of the sun, traveling through the perilous underworld to rejoin their body, and once rejoined, traveling through yet more dangers to be fully “reborn” in the afterlife, much as the sun crests the horizon at dawn. The body of the sun is stored in the deepest part of the underworld within the primeval waters of Nun. It is these life-giving waters which in Egyptian tradition restore not only the soul (ka) and body of the deceased, but also their ba – their personality, or sense of self --  and thus preserving their identify for the afterlife.

Initiants in some Greek mystery cults were buried with sheets of thinly-hammered gold (see above), which contained specific instructions for navigating the underworld.

Orphic gold lamella from a tomb in Hipponion, Greece. 4th c. B.D.

One of the overarching dangers in the Greek conception of the underworld was that the soul would drink from the waters of Oblivion (Lethe), waters which would make you forget who you were. This state of death is illustrated in Homer’s Odyssey, where souls of the dead flit about, aimless and bodiless, without the ability to speak or remember. The gold tablets give the deceased specific instructions on how to drink not from the spring of oblivion, but rather the Wellspring of Memory, thus preserving not only their vitality but also their self-knowledge. 

…“when you are about to die, you will find yourself at the House of Hades. On the right there is a spring, by which stands a white cypress. Descending there, the souls of the dead seek refreshment. Do not even approach this spring.

Beyond it you will find cool water flowing from the Spring of Memory; there are keenly discerning guards before it who will ask you what you seek from the shades of murky Hades.

Say: “I am the son of earth and star-filled Heaven, I am dry with thirst and dying, but give me swiftly cool water flowing from the pool”. They will take pity on you by the will of the Queen of the Underworld (Persephone), and will give you water to drink from the Spring of Memory. Then you will go on the great Sacred Way along with the other initiates (mystai) and bacchantes (bacchoi).”

The waters of this spring are thus made available to those who know the right spells to say, words which engage the compassion and protection of Persephone, goddess of the underworld.