Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) | Requiem, K. 626
The origins of Mozart’s last, unfinished work, the Requiem, have long been shrouded in mystery. Dramatic accounts of all sorts, including stage and film, have attempted to portray the commission in a variety of ways. In one account, a dark angel of death appeared and instructed Mozart to write the work to celebrate his own impending death; in another, Mozart’s supposed archrival Antonio Salieri commissioned it from the dying composer so that he might later put his own name on the work to present it in honor of Mozart.
The truth of the Requiem’s commission may be less dramatic than the aforementioned macabre scenarios but it is still relatively unusual. In 1791, while at work on his opera Die Zauberflöte, Mozart received a commission from a stranger who asked him to compose a requiem mass, asking him to work in complete secrecy and tell no one of the commission. It was later learned that this stranger was a messenger sent by one Count Walsegg-Stuppach, who wanted the Requiem as his own memorial to his recently deceased wife and who intended to have the work recopied in his own name. Mozart initially did not even figure as its composer.
Like so much of Mozart’s church music (the C minor Mass comes to mind), the Requiem was destined to remain unfinished. Following the composer’s death on December 5th 1791, it was his widow Constanze’s mission to get the work completed – by whatever means possible – in order to present it to the count and collect the remaining commission. On Mozart’s death, Constanze (or perhaps someone acting on her behalf) gave the incomplete score to Joseph Eybler, but he did little more than to fill in the instrumentation in certain sparse sections. The task eventually fell to Mozart’s pupil and close friend in his last months, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who was perhaps not the most gifted composer, but could keenly imitate Mozart’s style and is reputed to have had conversations regarding the shape and feel of the work with Mozart prior to his death. This being the case, it is not clear why Eybler was ever approached.
Mozart only completed the first two sections of the work; Süssmayr would later claim that the ‘Sanctus’, ‘Benedictus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’ sections were entirely of his own creation. He adapted Mozart’s music from the two opening sections for use in the ‘Lux aeterna’ and ‘Cum sanctis tuis’ sections and orchestrated the entire section from the ‘Dies Irae’ to the ‘Hostias’, for most of which Mozart had left figured bass notation and a top line in order to preserve continuity. Given the documentation that remains – Mozart’s autograph score with Eybler’s notations, Süssmayr’s additions and some miscellaneous sketches, it is unlikely that we will ever know whether Süssmayr’s claims were true or not. It was in his interest to claim authorship of the majority of the work; it was in Constanze’s interest to claim that the majority of it had been her husband’s. The completion has been criticized as clumsy and unfaithful to the spirit of Mozart by Richard Strauss, the conductor Bruno Walter and many others; several other completions of the work have been undertaken in recent years, most notably by Benjamin Britten (1970) and Franz Beyer (1971).
The sections are as follows:
I. Introitus: Requiem
1. Dies Irae
2. Tuba Mirum
3. Rex Tremendae
1. Domine Jesu
2. Hostias / Quam olim Abrahae
VII. Agnus Dei
VIII. Communio: Lux aeterna