Mozart's Requiem and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms

Hallam Choral Society, Hallam Sinfonia & Ellen Mawhinney
Group types: Choruses, Orchestras
  • Saturday 8 December
    7.30 – 10.00pm
Ticket typeCost
Under 16free

Two great works that encompass a wide range of musical styles, an exciting exploration of the meaning of faith.

A Journey of Faith

The composition of Mozart’s Requiem is surrounded by a shroud of mystery and intrigue, and that’s before you even get to the music. The commission was delivered to an over-worked and terminally ill Mozart by an anonymous patron, causing the already superstitious Mozart to come to the grim conclusion that he was writing a Requiem Mass for himself. This may have turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as the stress of coping with the Requiem’s composition as well as other commissions such as for the opera La Clemenza di Tito ultimately put Mozart in an early grave before he could finish it. The completions were made by Mozart’s student Franz Süβmayr under the watchful eye of Mozart’s wife Constanz. The piece itself is one of the most dramatic scores that Mozart produced and is brimming with a sense of anguish, pain, and a striving for redemption.

Bernstein’s much-loved Chichester Psalms provides a contrasting picture. Originally commissioned in 1963 by Rev. Walter Hussey at Chichester Cathedral for its 1965 festival, this commission came at the ideal time for Bernstein. He had just decided to take a sabbatical from his musical directorship of the New York Philharmonic to take a well-needed respite from conducting and focus on his other great passion; composition. The Chichester commission gave him the perfect project. Unlike a good portion of the music Bernstein composed in this sabbatical, Chichester Psalms is firmly rooted in tonality. Bernstein stated ‘I spent almost the whole year writing 12-tone music and even more experimental stuff. I was happy that all these new sounds were coming out: but after about 6 months I threw it all away. It just wasn’t my music; it wasn’t honest. The end result was Chichester Psalms, which is the most accessible, B-flat majorish tonal piece I’ve ever written.’ Chichester Psalms combines the texts of Psalm 2, 23, 100, 108, 131, and 133, all in Hebrew as a desperate plea for peace in the Middle East. It fuses elements of traditional Christian choral music with Yiddish folk music and there are even ‘hints of West Side Story’ (as requested by Hussey) in it with complex rhythms and brass writing. The final result is a pulsating, gripping piece with an irresistible energy that gives voice to Bernstein’s strong but often conflicted relationship with his faith.

These two great works that hail from two opposite ends of the musical spectrum encompass a wide range of musical styles, providing an exciting exploration of the meaning of faith.


Hallam Choral Society, Hallam Sinfonia, Ellen Mawhinney (Soprano), Phoebe Rayner (Alto), Alex Hume (Tenor) and Aaron O'Hare (Bass)


  • Mozart: Requiem
  • Bernstein: Chichester Psalms

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