Sex and Death in Mozart’s “Requiem”

I’ve just come from a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem”. 

There are not many pieces of music that can bring me simultaneously to the verge of an erection and tears.

Many mysteries surround Mozart’s life and this particular work. One reality though is the inter-linkage of sex and death. Mozart passionately embraced life including sexuality but died far too young in 1791 while composing the “Requiem” (more or less accurately portrayed in Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” subsequently made into the 1984 Oscar-winning film by Miles Forman.) Mozart was commissioned by a Viennese nobleman to write the “Requiem” to commemorate the tragic death of his vivacious twenty-year-old wife. Other compositions of Mozart’s such as his opera “Don Giovanni” integrate themes of powerful sexual appetite and the foreboding drama of death.

Sex and death.

I found myself swept away (a.k.a. aroused) particularly in the early movements of the performance at the Toronto Symphony concert. The potent and luxurious harmonies and gradually building intensity of the orchestra, chorus, and soloists in the introductory section felt like a robust and attentive lover enveloping me in foreplay. Then suddenly the energy level catapulted into the vigorously assertive passion of the Kyrie. (It didn’t hurt that the tenor soloist was stunningly handsome.)

And yet as I glanced down at the Libretto drawn from the Mass, the wording was in a different universe from that uttered by lovers in the midst of sexual exuberance. The “Requiem” was after all composed to mourn the loss of a loved one. It’s a work of art about death.

Maybe the worlds of sex and death are not so distinct one from the other. Certainly for many of us who have been impacted by AIDS, the connection has seared our lives and our communities. One of the political slogans in the fight against AIDS has been “Silence=Death”. Mozart’s music crashes through the disabling strictures of silence and opens for all of us a world in which we can celebrate life, including sexuality, and also grapple with death. 

Thank you Mozart.

* * *

My memoir “August Farewell” tells the story of the two weeks between my partner Bill’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. Interspersed among the scenes are vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple. 

Information on “August Farewell” and on my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both the memoir and the novel are available for order from your local bookseller or on-line retailers including,,,,


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