A Requiem for the Dead — and the Living

Choral society to perform Mozart classic

A requiem may honor the dead, but for Beth Cody Kimmel, the experience of singing one has prompted a renewed embrace of life.

Beth Cody Kimmel

Beth Cody Kimmel (Photo provided)

Cody Kimmel is a member of the Highlands Choral Society, which will perform Mozart’s Requiem — formally, it’s his Requiem in D Minor — on Good Friday, April 7, at the United Methodist Church in Cold Spring. The performance is being directed by Durward “Woody” Entrekin and will feature soloists Julie Heckert, Holly Mentzer, Paul Phillips and Michael McKee, and the 14-piece Highlands Orchestra.

Mozart wrote the Requiem despite his own deteriorating health. He had not completed it by the time of his death, at age 35, on Dec. 5, 1791. The word requiem comes from the opening words of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, which is spoken or sung in Latin. 

The group last performed the composition in 2016 and its singers are excited, said Entrekin. “Mozart’s Requiem is a masterpiece of Western art,” he said. “It’s an incredibly moving work and it will be a privilege to be able to perform it.” 

As the story goes about its origins, a stranger claiming to represent a man of great importance commissioned the work. Mozart was given half the fee up front, and a deadline of four weeks — although he had to travel during that time to Prague to conduct Tito. On Nov. 20, 1791, back home in Vienna, he fell ill. Mozart felt better on Dec. 3 and 4 and worked on the score.

But on the day he died, Mozart reportedly quipped: “Didn’t I say before that I was writing this requiem for myself?” According to The Complete Mozart, a witness reported that his last breath “was an attempt to express with his mouth the drum passages.”

When Mozart died, only the first movement was scored; the remainder were sketched out. They were completed, at the request of Mozart’s widow, Constanze, by one of her late husband’s pupils, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who had worked on Tito. (This allowed Constanze to collect the second payment.) To the detriment of scholars, Süssmayr rewrote the entire composition by hand, making it hard to distinguish what was Mozart’s and what was his.

For Beth Cody Kimmel, a children’s book author, the Requiem remains a celebration of life. In 2020, two months into the pandemic shutdown, she was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Although she did not feel like going out into the world, she says the choir gave her a community. 

“In our daily lives we might not even meet at all,” she says. “The choir is this glue that holds us together.” 

Of the concert, Cody Kimmel says: “There’s a reason live music is always such a draw — it is a direct emotional experience, especially with the Requiem — one of the greatest accomplishments of one of the greatest composers in the world. Emotions become more stirred up when you hear the music live; listening becomes three-dimensional. There is no correct or incorrect response to the music, but it isn’t complete until it’s listened to.” 

Singing in a chorus is comforting, she adds, because “you stop being your individual self with foibles; everything falls away for the moment you’re singing that piece. You allow yourself to trust the group will catch you in a fall.

“I honestly don’t know where I’d be now if I hadn’t had the choir carrot dangling,” she says. “It was one thing in my life strong enough to get me to summon up the courage to return — the lure was so powerful.” 

If you attend the performance, you’ll spot Cody Kimmel easily enough: She dyed her hair purple and then blue “to remind myself that my exuberance for life is back, in full living color.”

The United Methodist Church is located at 216 Main St. in Cold Spring. The performance, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is free. 

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