Requiem (Mozart)

From Academic Kids

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the Requiem mass in D minor (K. 626) in 1791. It was Mozart's last composition and is also, perhaps, one of his most powerful and recognised works.


Composition and completion

The work is scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists and choir, and a small classical orchestra comprising two basset horns (a type of tenor clarinet), two bassoons, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, organ, violins, viola, cello and bass. At Mozart's death on 5 December 1791 he had only completed the opening movement (Requiem aeternam) in all of the orchestral and vocal parts (although recent evidence suggests that a few bars of orchestration were added in by someone else). The following Kyrie, and most of the Sequence (from Dies irae to Confutatis), are complete only in the vocal parts and the continuo (the figured organ bass), though occasionally some of the prominent orchestral parts have been briefly indicated, such as the violin part of the Confutatis and the musical bridges in the Recordare. The last movement of the Sequence, the Lacrymosa, breaks off after only eight bars and was unfinished. The following two movements of the Offertorium were again partially done -- the Domine Jesu in the vocal parts and continuo and the Hostias in the vocal parts only. In the 1960s a sketch for an Amen fugue was discovered, which would have concluded the Sequence after the Lacrymosa (a few scholars dispute that this Amen fugue was intended for the Requiem, but the majority of Mozart scholarship believes that it was).

Mozart had been commissioned anonymously to write the Requiem (by intermediaries acting for the eccentric Count Walsegg von Stuppach) and received half of the payment in advance, so his widow Constanze was keen for the incomplete work to be finished (probably in order to receive the other half of the payment). Josef von Eybler was one of the first composers to be asked to complete the score, and had worked on the movements from the Dies irae up until the Lacrymosa, at which point he felt unable to complete the remainder, and gave the manuscript back to Constanze Mozart.

The task was then given to another junior composer, Franz Xavier Süssmayr, who borrowed some of Eybler's work in making his completion. Süssmayr added his own orchestration to the movements from the Kyrie onward, completed the Lacrymosa, and added several new movements which would normally comprise a Requiem: Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. He then added a final section, Lux aeterna by adapting the opening two movements which Mozart had written to the different words which finish the Requiem mass, which according to both Süssmayr and Mozart's wife was done according to Mozart's directions. Whether or not that is true, some people consider it unlikely that Mozart would have repeated the opening two sections if he had survived to finish the work completely.

There is some possibility other composers may have helped Süssmayr, or that he might have discovered sketches by Mozart amongst the papers for the Requiem. The elder composer Maximilian Stadler is suspected of having completed the orchestration of the Domine Jesu for Süssmayr. The Agnus Dei is also suspected by some scholars to have been based on instruction or sketches from Mozart because of its similarity to a previous Mass by Mozart. Many of the arguments dealing with this matter, though, center on the perception that if part of the work is high quality, it must have been written by Mozart (or from sketches), and if part of the work contains errors and faults, it must have been all Süssmayr's doing. A frequent meta-debate is whether or not this is a fair way to judge the authorship of the parts of the work.

The completed score, initially by Mozart but largely finished by Süssmayr, was then dispatched to Count Walsegg, complete with a counterfeited signature of Mozart, and dated 1792. The various complete and incomplete manuscripts eventually turned up in the 19th century, but many of the figures involved did not leave unambiguous statements on record as to how they were involved in the affair.

Despite the controversy over how much of the music is actually Mozart's, the quality of the music itself has overridden many concerns - particularly the opening 7 bars for orchestra alone, or the powerful Dies irae.

Modern completions

Since the 1970s several musicologists, dissatisfied with the traditional "Süssmayr" completion, have attempted alternative completions of the Requiem:

  • Franz Beyer
  • Duncan Druce
  • C. Richard F. Maunder
  • H. C. Robbins Landon
  • Robert D. Levin

"Traditional" editions have been inclusive, for example, the Beyer edition attempts to revise aspects of Süssmayr's orchestration in a more Mozartean style, whereas Robbins Landon has chosen to orchestrate parts of the completion using the partial work by Eybler as a more reliable guide of Mozart's intentions. The "radical" edition by Maunder dispenses completely with the parts known to be written by Süssmayr, but retained the Agnus Dei after discovering an extensive paraphrase from an earlier mass. The version by Levin is more of a synthesis between the two extremes, by taking the basic themes from the Süssmayr movements and using them to re-compose these movements. Both Maunder and Levin use the sketch for the Amen fugue discovered in the 1960s to compose a fitting end to the Lacrymosa.

Myths surrounding the Requiem

Despite its acclaim and recognition, the "Requiem" is perhaps one of the most mysterious pieces Mozart composed - around which many legends have grown (thanks largely to Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus and the movie made from it). They are, as follows:

  • Myth: A strange messenger requested a Requiem that appears to be for Mozart's own funeral.
    • Reality: Commissioned by Count Walsegg-Stuppach. He did use a messenger, and it appears that he wanted to take credit for the work himself (although scholars differ on whether or not Mozart was aware of this -- it's possible that the Count paid Mozart extra money to allow his music to be used for this purpose.)
  • Myth: Antonio Salieri helped to complete the Requiem on the deathbed of Mozart.
    • Reality: Completed by Süssmayr, at Constanze's urging (there is nothing to suggest that Salieri had anything to do with any part of the Requiem).
  • Myth: Mozart actively worked on the Requiem up to the moment he died.
    • Reality: In the last days of his life he had become too sick (his hands were swollen) to work on it any more. He did have the Requiem (as far as it went) sung to him on one of his last days (reportedly the Lacrymosa moved him to tears), and there is a report of him trying to voice drum parts at the very end of his life, but the portrayal in Amadeus of Mozart working through the night just before he died is not accurate.
  • Myth: It was played at Mozart's funeral.
    • Reality: Mozart had a small funeral on 6 December 1791, and was buried in a communal grave. A memorial service on 10 December 1791 was organised by Mozart's friend and librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, at which one of the completed movements (the Introït) might have been performed; we do not know what music was in fact played.
  • Myth: Everything after the Lacrymosa was composed by Süssmayr.
    • Reality: Although the Lacrymosa breaks off incomplete after 8 bars, as noted above, the vocal and continuo of the Domine Jesu and the vocal parts of the Hostias are in Mozart's hand. The complexity of the Domine Jesu, with its frequent use of counterpoint and three fugues, would be very unlikely as the work of Süssmayr, given the nature of the Hosanna fugue which he did compose.
  • Myth: Mozart gave Süssmayr detailed instructions on how to complete the Requiem.
    • Reality: Exactly what Mozart might have told Süssmayr about the Requiem is not clear. Some scholars believe that when Mozart stopped work on the Requiem, he was still well and had no idea that his death was impending (and thus wouldn't have bothered telling Süssmayr anything). By the time he knew he was dying, it was too late. Others believe that Mozart and Süssmayr had conversations about the Requiem before his death. We will likely never know the answer to this question for sure, and there tends to be a lot of myth and romance wrapped up in the subject. One point sometimes brought up is that Süssmayr was a second (or third) choice of Mozart's wife to finish the Requiem -- if Mozart had detailed discussions with Süssmayr, it wouldn't seem that he would be so far down the list.

The Requiem in Amadeus

The parts of the Requiem played in the movie Amadeus are the following:

  • Introitus (the first movement)
  • Dies Irae (the third movement)
  • Rex Tremendae (the fifth movement)
  • Confutatis (the seventh movement)
  • Lacrymosa (the eighth movement)

The Autograph at the World's Fair

The autograph of the Requiem was put on display at the World's Fair in 1958 in Brussels. At some point during the fair, someone was able to get their hands on the manuscript and tear off the bottom right-hand corner of the second last page (folio 99r/45r), containing the words "Quam olim d: C:" (an instruction that the "Quam olim" fugue of the Domine Jesu was to be repeated "da capo", at the end of the Hostias.) To this day the perpetrator has not been identified and the fragment has not been recovered.

While the traditional viewpoint has been that Mozart's last work was on the Lacrymosa, some modern scholars believe that he skipped the completion of the Lacrymosa (perhaps because he was certain of how he would complete it) in order to draft the more difficult Domine Jesu and Hostias sections. If this theory is true, then "Quam olim d: C:" might very well be the last words Mozart wrote before he died. It's probable that whoever stole the fragment believed that to be the case.

External links


  • C. R. F. Maunder,Mozart's Requiem: On Preparing a New Edition, 1988
  • Christoph Wolff, "Mozart's Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies, Documents, Score", 1994de:Requiem (Mozart)

es:Requiem (Mozart) it:Requiem (Mozart) ja:レクイエム (モーツァルト) pl:Requiem Mozarta


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