December 2, 2009
Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY
Lacrimae Beati (2009) means "Tears of the Blessed One," the blessed one in this instance being Mozart. The title also refers to the source material for this ten minute work – The Lacrimosa from the Mozart Requiem. It is generally assumed that the first eight bars of the Lacrimosa are among the last that Mozart wrote. For nearly 30 years, I have thought about these bars, and the circumstances in which that music and most of the requiem were composed.
In the second half of 2002, I was living in Berlin on a fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin. At the time I was orchestrating the first act first of my opera Margaret Garner. On Friday, October 27th, I flew to Vienna to see a performance at the Vienna State Opera that my friend and colleague Thomas Hampson was involved in; my plan was to stay in Vienna for the weekend and return to Berlin on Sunday evening. On Sunday morning October 29, 2002, I wanted to visit the cemetery in which Beethoven was buried, and had a taxi take me from my hotel. I wound up not at the Central Cemetery, where Beethoven IS buried, but at an 18th century cemetery named St. Marks. With the cab waiting for me outside, I walked up and down each row of graves, slowly realizing that I was in the wrong graveyard. In a moment of frantically going through the row of tombs, I tripped over a tree stump falling flat on my face. When I picked myself up, I found myself a few yards away from a single granite gravestone in a clearing with the name “Mozart” inscribed. (Obviously, this tombstone marked the general area in St. Marks where it was believed that Mozart was buried along with others in a mass grave in 1791.)
Later that evening I flew in a fifty seat Lufthansa mini-jet that found itself in the midst of 200 mile an hour headwinds. The plane shook violently, the pilot issued a severe warning and I kept hearing, as if it were a tape in my mind, the Lacrimosa from the Mozart Requiem. We were indeed in the middle of a hurricane like storm, and with the two Lufthansa pilots in charge, they heroically brought the plane down safely. Driving back to the American Academy in Berlin I saw several large trees which had been uprooted. I realized I was fortunate to be alive.
Lacrimae Beati is as much about the Requiem of Mozart and his struggle to complete the work, as it is about my experience of it in the air on October 29, 2002.
-Richard Danielpour (November 2009)