Mozart in the Madeleine

When he died in December 1791 at age 35, the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was still working on his last composition, his Requiem Mass in D Minor (K. 626).

The Requiem had been commissioned by a mysterious messenger with wads of money who wouldn’t say who he was working for. This has led to countless speculative stories over the years, including highly fictionalized accounts in Milos Forman’s 1982 film Amadeus and in the opera Mozart and Salieri by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), which I saw when it was staged at the Frankfurt Opera in 2007. 

After Mozart’s early death, someone started a rumor that he had been poisoned by the composer Antonio Salieri, out of envy. This rumor was completely unfounded (and Salieri went on living in Vienna for another 34 years after Mozart’s death without being accused or investigated in any way), but the rumor has proved to be very persistent.

Because of all the mystery surrounding Mozart’s Requiem, I took the opportunity to hear it performed in a mysterious venue in Paris, La Madeleine, which is a large Catholic church disguised as a Greek temple.

As the white house lights were dimmed, the place started to look more and more mysterious. It was easy to imagine a black-cloaked messenger lurking in the shadows somewhere.

The performance was by the Amadeus Choir and the Jean-Louis Petit Orchestra under the direction of Luc Baghdassarian, who had won first prizes in several “Young Conductors” and “International Conductors” competitions in Switzerland, Rumania and Austria.

Location, aerial view and photos of La Madeleine on

Vélib’ station 8005 at Place de la Madeleine

I went to and from the Madeleine on the Vélib’ bikes. They are available 24 hours a day and they all have front and rear lights that go on automatically, day or night, whenever you start to ride.

Thanks to Vélib’ lots of people have discovered how exhilarating it is to ride around Paris at night. Public transport schedules get thinned out in the late evening anyway, so by taking a bike you can avoid having long waits for the next train or bus to come.

Between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. the trains and buses stop running altogether, so to get home you have to take a bike or a taxi. (A bike is much more fun, and cheaper.)

My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2017.

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8 thoughts on “Mozart in the Madeleine”

  1. You bring up an interesting idea Don! No proof, just a rumor? Would those perpetuating the rumor have read a book, article or seen a portrait be just like people of today taking the Internet as, “truth” for information?

  2. How did you like the acoustics in the Madeleine? We went to hear the French flautist, Patrick Gallois, there and found it didn’t do him justice.

  3. Since Mozart had the unmitigated gall to die before finishing, his assistant was hired to try and complete the Requiem. Unfortunately the last several movements clearly don’t have the magic that the rest of the piece has.

  4. The mysterious messenger history with themusic added interest in to your post. Great idea. I like the idea of biking in Paris at night, I’m certain Paris has a different feeling at night.

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