Since his death in 1791, Mozart's music has remained a profound presence in the midst of world events, both tragic and joyous. Today,...

Mozart's Requiem: Consolation in Camelot


Since his death in 1791, Mozart's music has remained a profound presence in the midst of world events, both tragic and joyous. Today, as we recognize the anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and reflect on an era, we find that Mozart's music was there, providing beauty and strength in Camelot's darkest hour. It helped a family, and a nation, say goodbye.

The Kennedy family attended mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on January 19, 1964 where Mozart's Requiem was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the President's loving memory. It's significant to note that this was the first time in U.S. history that Mozart's Requiem had been celebrated as a liturgy.

In the article, "Return to Camelot: Music of the Kennedy Years," Christopher Purdy writes: "The Mozart Requiem sang and thundered and begged and comforted. The country began healing to Mozart's music during this performance."

The mass was broadcast on national television (NBC) and the performance was recorded and sold (RCA Victor) in record stores. Watch and listen to excerpts.

"The music was wonderful and beautiful. Mozart's Requiem is not a depressing work, it is graceful and powerful," said Joan Bennett Kennedy.

The worldwide music community responded with several tribute performances led by such renowned musicians, composers and conductors as Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Issac Stern. The words offered by Bernstein that November are as relevant today as they were all those years ago. He answers a question I often ponder: As music continues to be a binding fabric of humanity across time, what is our resolve in the face of such unspeakable tragedy? Bernstein: "This will be our answer to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

As an apprentice with the Washington National Opera, I was inspired whenever my work for the company took me away from the studio and administrative offices to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This is where President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy's legacy for the arts lives on. I'd also like to mention here the fact that the First Lady also played a pivotal role in making historic preservation a consideration in the formulation of national public policy (read more).

The arts were a part of their lives in The White House and they demonstrated a regard for and recognition of cultural and intellectual excellence. In closing, I'd like to share a quote from President Kennedy's speech at Amherst College on October 26, 1963, less than a month before his assassination (See full transcript). His words are timely.

"I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction." (President John F. Kennedy)

Sherry


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