What's a Requiem?

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The term Requiem has become ubiquitous in modern day culture. You can see it in titles for movies, novels and even comic books. Classical music, in particular, has produced a number of Requiems.

But what exactly is a Requiem and how is it different from any other piece of classical music like a concerto, or a sonata? How has come to be used in movies like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream? Or in Broadway musicals like Dear Evan Hansen?

A Requiem or Requiem Mass was originally a Catholic Mass for the dead. The Mass usually begins with the words “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” which means “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord.” Originally, Requiems were strictly religious ceremonies.

As the centuries progressed , the music played as part of a Requiem Mass became more ambitious. Composers began to compose ever more sophisticated requiem pieces. By the 18th century the compositions became so ambitious and the number of musicians so large that the performances moved out of a sacred setting and into a concert setting. That’s how the Requiem began to evolve in settings outside of Catholic funeral services.


Over 2,000 Requiem compositions have been composed to the present day and the they’ve become increasingly secular in nature. Everybody from Verdi to Brahms to Stravinski has composed their own Requiems but the most famous, one of the famous pieces of music period, is Mozart’s Requiem in D minor. The piece has much intrigue surrounding it, including the fact that Mozart died and the composition remained unfinished. Perhaps Mozart knew that in writing this piece, he was writing for his own final rest. Whatever the motivation for it’s creation this magnificent piece of music left an indelible mark on society that still be reverberates through culture today.


The Boulder Chamber Orchestra is performing, along with the Boulder Chorale, the Mozart Requiem in D minor on March 30th at 7:30 pm at the Broomfield Auditorium or March 31st at 8 pm at the Boulder Adventist Church.