Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Requiem

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: Approx. 50 Minutes
Genre: Requiem
Time of Creation: 1791–1792 (completion not by Mozart)
World Premiere: 02 January 1793 (posthumously – Vienna – without knowledge of the commissioner)

Table of Contents

Mozart's Requiem in 5 Sentences

The genesis of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem is a veritable thriller: Mozart was commissioned to compose a Requiem in 1791 and received half of the payment for it as an advance, but fell seriously ill during the work and eventually died without having completed the work. Mozart’s widow Constanze was, for understandable reasons, very anxious to be able to deliver the completed Requiem to the commissioner, which is why she commissioned several of Mozart’s students to complete the work – in particular Joseph Eybler and Franz Xaver Süßmayr. Süßmayr completed the Requiem, signed the score by forging Mozart’s signature, and delivered the finished work to the commissioner in 1792. Constanze Mozart received the second part of the payment, but the “deception” was later exposed (see below, “Questions and Answers”).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Mozart's Requiem

Highlight 1: Introitus – Requiem aeternam

The only movement in the work that is entirely Mozart’s. Somber is this pulsating opening, with woodwinds overlapping and gradually “dragging” upward:

Highlight 2: Kyrie

From here on, there is only Mozart’s “scaffolding”: He has written down all the vocal parts and a bass part (provided with numbers for harmonization). The “composition” is thus still by Mozart, but the “instrumentation” is no longer. In his completion, Süßmayr takes up these first two movements (Introitus and Kyrie) again at the end of the work and thus builds a “formal parenthesis.”

Highlight 3: Dies irae

The Dies irae, which “bursts in,” symbolizes the Last Judgment. Again, the vocal parts and figured basses are by Mozart, and the instrumentation is likely a mixture of Eybler’s and Süßmayr’s additions:

Highlight 4: Lacrimosa

One of the most famous movements from Mozart’s Requiem – the Lacrimosa, in which tears are symbolized – is only partially from Mozart. Mozart’s manuscript breaks off after the first eight bars:

3 Questions and Answers about Mozart's Requiem

Question 1: Who commissioned Mozart's Requiem?

The Austrian Count Franz von Walsegg, who was a rather eccentric guy. He commissioned the Requiem from Mozart through intermediaries, because he himself wanted to remain anonymous for a specific reason: He wanted to pass the Requiem off as his own composition. So on December 14, 1793, Franz von Walsegg conducted “his” Requiem from a score in which he had himself entered as the author, on the occasion of a requiem mass for the deceased Countess Walsegg.

Question 2: How was the deception discovered?

Around 1800, the music publisher Breitkopf & Härtel contacted Constanze Mozart and Franz Xaver Süßmayr about printing the Requiem. Süßmayr did not press for his name to be mentioned, so Breitkopf & Härtel soon published the work as an “original” Mozart work.

The publisher also advertised this publication in various newspapers – which Count Walsegg read. He then publicly revealed himself as the commissioner and made demands on Constanze Mozart. Thereupon (presumably) a settlement was reached as well as, that is certain, a meeting at a notary’s office in which the original Mozart parts in the score were identified.

Question 3: Who collaborated in the completion of Mozart's Requiem?

The largest part was done by Mozart’s student and assistant Franz Xaver Süßmayr. The collaboration of Mozart’s friend Joseph Eybler is also assured. However, it can be assumed that Constanze Mozart commissioned even more Mozart students to complete the Requiem.

2 Recommended Recordings of Mozart's Requiem

Recording 1: Orchestre national de France, Choeur de Radio France, Marita Solberg, Karine Deshayes, Joseph Kaiser, Alexander Vinogradov, James Gaffigan (live, 2017)

This recording was made as part of the Saint-Denis Festival in the impressive atmosphere of the basilica there:

Recording 2: WDR Symphony Orchestra, WDR Radio Choir, Christina Landshamer, Marie Henriette Reinhold, Martin Mitterrutzner, Franz-Josef Selig, Dima Slobodeniouk

From the U.S. pianist Robert D. Levin comes a completion of the Mozart Requiem, performed here. Levin has worked extensively on the “myth of the Mozart Requiem.” I know many people who prefer this version to the “Süßmayr version:”

1 Quote about Mozart's Requiem

If Mozart had written nothing else but his violin quartets and his Requiem, this alone would have made him immortal.

Joseph Haydn

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