The Idea of Transfiguration in the Early German Reception of Mozart's Requiem

Kramer, Elizabeth

Over the past two hundred years, authorship disputes have dominated scholarly
discussions about Mozart's Requiem. From the analysis of handwriting
to the provenance of manuscript evidence, much debate has occurred over
who wrote what when and about the relationship of these details to the
larger contexts for the work. l In our attempts to present new evidence and
theories regarding the Requiem, however, we have largely ignored the very
reasons for investigating its genesis and composition in the first place. Our
motivations as scholars, given Mozart's canonical status and the continual
influence of the work, may seem obvious today. But what inspired the initial
conversation? This essay works from the premise that early nineteenth-century
interest in the authorship of the Requiem grew out of a wider movement
of Kunstreligion (art religion) in German musical aesthetics of the time.
In connection with Kunstreligion, the idea of transfiguration entered music
criticism and writings on aesthetics around 1800 and played a pivotal role in
early texts about the Requiem. Initially employed in vivid comparisons of the
Requiem to Raphael's Transfiguration of Christ, the idea of transfiguration
shaped the debates about the authenticity of Mozart's composition in the
1820s. Critics such as Friedrich Rochlitz, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Gottfried Weber,
and Adolf Bernhard Marx understood the Requiem as the transfiguration of
its composer, listeners, and of music itself. The composition was imagined
to be a site of Mozart's own transfiguration, and concert reviewers described
the heightened "spiritual listening" of some of the Requiem's first performers
and audiences, whose profound experiences were seemingly evoked by
presentations of the work. Drawing on a slightly different sense of the idea
of transfiguration, the Requiem itself was at the center of a transformation
of existing generic categories: what previously would have been considered
"church music" ("Kirchenmusik") now fit into a newer category of "religious
music" ("religiose Musik"). These manifestations of transfiguration,
which developed out of the broader movement of early nineteenth-century
Kunstreligion, led commentators to express concerns about the authenticity
of Mozart's final work. After a survey of the ideas of Kunstreligion and
transfiguration in early nineteenth-century writings about music, this essay
traces the role of the concept of transfiguration in the reception of the
Requiem, from the early anecdotes to the later controversy.



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Columbia University
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October 29, 2014