About Mozart’s Requiem

On Sunday, March 29, 2020, the Toronto Mozart Players, led by conductor David Bowser, welcome some talented guests at our “Leopold & Wolfgang” concert. Tickets and information here.

Mozart’s Requiem was an anonymous commission from the enigmatic Count Franz von Walsegg who wanted to pretend that he had written it himself for the funeral of his wife.

Mozart fell ill while in Prague for the September 6, 1791, premier of his opera La clemenza di Tito. He died in his home on December 5, 1791. Even while ill, he was occupied with the task of finishing his Requiem.

Not knowing who wanted the Requiem written, led Mozart to believe that he was being paid to write a Requiem for his own funeral. He had been ill for some time and his state of mind was clearly playing tricks. In the event, he died before he completed it.

Despite Mozart’s death, Count von Walsegg, through an intermediary as he still didn’t want to reveal his identity, required the work to be delivered, as it was partially paid, and as agreed in the contract they had both signed.

According to the musicologist Leopold Nowak in the preface to the Barenreiter edition of the Requiem, Mozart’s widow, Constanze, first asked Joseph Eybler, a 26 years old student of Mozart, to continue the piece. Being close to Mozart’s compositional style, Eybler made some additions on the Dies Irae and on the Lacrimosa that the final score still contains, but couldn’t complete the rest of the work as he felt the task was too imposing for him at this time.

Constanze then turned to other musicians who declined, and finally asked another of his students, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, 25 years old, who accepted to complete the score.

Although there is no written proof of communication between Mozart and Süssmayr about the work, it is more than plausible that Mozart exchanged with Süssmayr about his Requiem in the past and left him some thoughts, comments and ideas that could have driven the way he composed the missing parts, including the instrumental parts. First of all, the new edition of the score followed the exact same pattern that Mozart used for the parts already written, even for the ones that had to be entirely composed, for both the instrumental and vocal parts. Secondly, Süssmayr’s own compositions are far from the quality of work he accomplished for the Requiem, and of a different style.

The completed work, known today as the Süssmayr version, was probably finished on the first half of 1792. It was first published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig in 1800.

The completed version of the Requiem was played at the re-burial of Napoleon I in 1840 and at the funeral of Frederick Chopin’s in 1848.

In 2002, on the one-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, choirs around the world sang Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor for 24 hours in a global effort to honor those who died.

Leopold Nowak in the preface to the Barenreiter edition of the Requiem.

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