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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756 - 1791
Picture Picture
W.A. Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27/01/1756 - 05/12/1791), an Austrian composer, born in Salzburg. Maybe one of the most gifted composer of all times.
Composed in:1787
Musical form:unknown
In memory of:Mozart's bird
Mozart records in one of his account books that he bought himself a pet - "27 May 1784 starling bird 34 Kreuzer" - and taught it to sing the theme that opens the final movement (of Piano Concerto no. 17, K. 453), noting further that the bird persisted in singing one note incorrectly and holding another for too long. (The botched tune was duly inscribed by the composer and remains for our inspection.) Baron Georg Nissen, the Danish diplomat who would later marry Mozart's widow Constanze, was present at the bird's exequies three years later and noted: "When the bird died [Wolfgang] arranged a funeral procession, in which everyone who could sing joined in, heavily veiled - a sort of requiem, epitaph in verse." (That music has not survived.)
Contributor:Tassos Dimitriadis
Requiem in D minor
Composed in:1791
Musical form:mass
Text/libretto:Latin mass
In memory of:Anna, wife of Franz, Count von Walsegg
Label(s):Decca 417 746-2
Virgin Classics 7243 5 61769 28
Telarc SACD 60636 (ed. Levin)
Channel CCS 18198
In the summer of 1791, Mozart worked on the recently commissioned opera The Magic Flute. Other commissions were also coming in, including an opera for the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. It was at this time that an anonymous stranger approached Mozart and asked him to compose a requiem mass. This stranger remains unknown to this day, as Mozart was never able to discover his identity.Mozart's Requiem was originally commissioned by Herr Franz, Count von Walsegg, a wealthy nobleman and owner of extensive estates near Vienna, who intended to perform it in February, 1792, as a tribute to his wife (Anna) who had died the preceding February.
Mozart began work on the Requiem in September, and in October he began feeling ill. He was increasingly disturbed by visits from this mysterious stranger, and slid into physical decline quickly. He became convinced that this Requiem was his own Mass of the Dead. Deathly ill with only two weeks to live, Mozart reviewed the work he had done on the Requiem with his assistant, Süssmayr, and presided over a reading of the Requiem with friends and family. The "Introit" and "Kyrie" were essentially complete, most of the other parts were outlined, and the "Lacrimosa's" first eight measures were written.
Mozart died on December 5, and the following day friends gathered for his funeral outdoors. His wife, Constanze, was too ill to attend. A storm raged as his body was transported, unaccompanied, beyond the city gates to a churchyard where his body was laid to rest in an unmarked pauper's grave.
It was up to Süssmayr to complete the masterpiece, which he immediately did. Thirteen months after Mozart's death, it was performed on January 2, 1793 in a benefit for Mozart's wife, Constanze. Beethoven, when asked to comment on the masterpiece, is quoted as saying that whoever wrote the Requiem was a genius.
The Requiem Mass, K. 626, is one of the last of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's catalogued pieces. In July of 1791, Mozart had already been commissioned to collaborate on Die Zauberflöte with, his good friend Emanuel Schikaneder. According to The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians Mozart, this commission reportedly gave Mozart much pleasure; he enjoyed collaborating with Shikaneder, and Mozart's frequent letters to his wife Constanze reveal a happy frame of mind, full of affection and teasing banter concerning his pupil and family friend, Franz Süssmayr. It was during this time that Mozart was approached by a mysterious stranger clad in grey and asked to compose a requiem, all in the utmost secrecy. This "stranger' has been identified as Count von Walsegg zu Stuppach, an amateur musician who wanted to pass this work off as his own.
According to Ivor Keys, this was "an innocent diversion' of the Count's, a parlor trick where, in his home, the Count would pass out parts of anonymous music to hired professional performers. Guests would then have to guess the composer, and some were courteous enough to suggest the Count. But Count Stuppach's motives are in truth unknown.
Mozart began working on the Requiem immediately., but Die Zauberflöte, another opera, a concerto, and a cantata kept him busy. His letters from this period continue to be high-spirited and enthusiastic. However, he took seriously ill at the end of November, 1791, and was treated by two leading Viennese doctors, Closset and Sallaba. Mozart's wife, Constanze, and her younger sister Sophie nursed him back to health slowly. On December 3, he seemed greatly improved and the next day a few of his friends gathered to sing over with him parts of the unfinished Requiem. But just before one AM, on December 5, 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died.
Peter Shaffer's play and subsequent movie, Amadeus, have perpetuated quite a few myths surrounding Mozart's death and the Requiem in particular. In the film, Court Composer Antonio Salieri is credited with commissioning the Mass from Mozart, dressed in a costume that he had once seen Wolfgang's by then-dead father Leopold wear. Salieri allows his hatred and jealousy to overcome his love of God and takes advantage of Mozart's illness to drive him to his death -- but not before Mozart has completed most of the mass. Salieri's plans are thwarted when Constanze snatches the unfinished Requiem away from his clutches. The success of this Academy Award -winning movie has unfortunately validated these myths to the point that they are taken as truth by laymen. In reality, Salieri was simply a contemporary of Mozart's, and reportedly enjoyed his work hugely (Keys).
Another myth hints that Count Stuppach secretly had Mozart poisoned, but this is highly improbable. Mozart was at first diagnosed as having died from "severe miliary fever'. On the medical authority of his two Viennese doctors, Closset and Sallaba, it was decided that he had in fact died of "rheumatische Enzfindungsfieber ", rheumatic inflammatory fever. His health had not recently been good, and although a young man when he died at the age of thirty-six, this fever seems perfectly consistent with the symptoms recorded (swelling limbs, high fever, paralyzing pains in the joints, and severe headaches) and Mozart's medical history. One previous supposition of the cause of death, uraernia following a lengthy spell of kidney disease, however, might make for an explanation of the hallucinations Mozart suffered during his last days, Furthermore, this might explain the somewhat abnormal attitude Mozart had towards the Requiem; he was, by some reports, obsessed with it.
Mozart had completed certain parts of the Requiem before his death; the whole "Introitus" (though without actually writing out the instrumental parts of the "Kyrie"), and the vocal parts, bass, and leading instrumental parts of the "Dies irae" up until its final section, the "Lacrimosa", which was there (incomplete) only to the eighth bar. He also wrote out the vocal parts, bass, and some of the violin for the "Domine Jesu" and the "Hostias". The rest was left unfinished.
When Wolfgang Amadeus died, his widow Constanze was fearful of losing the commission for the Requiem; only fifty ducats had originally been advanced. She first turned the score over to one Joseph Eybler, who had attended Mozart assiduously during his illness and for whom Mozart had written a recommendation for the post of Kappellmeister. Joseph Eybler began by completing the orchestration of the "Dies irae", quite respectably, but stopped at the "Confutatis"; at this point, he would have needed to begin "composing" where Mozart left off.
The Requiem was then completed by Franz Süssmayr. He had helped Mozart on several operas; for example, he prepared a rehearsal score for Die Zauberflöte, and was clearly qualified for the task. Why Mozart's widow Constanze did not choose him for the completion in the first place is completely left open to conjecture; many musical scholars have guessed and created rather bizarre stories about the relationship between Constanze and Süssmayr. The two had long been friends; Wolfgang had left Constanze in Süssmayr's care at Baden while he was working on Die Zauberflöte. Scholar Dieter Schickling has suggested (among other things) that Süssmayr may have been the father of Franz Xavier Wolfgang Mozart, Constanze's youngest son, who was born around this time. This accusation is heartily rebutted, however, by another Mozartean scholar, Joseph Heinz Eibl. These soap-opera sagas aside, a far more important question concerns how far Süssmayr truly knew Mozart's intentions for the rest of the mass.
The Abbe Maximillian Stadler was called in by Constanze to put Mozart's manuscripts into order after his death. Thirty-five years later Maximilan Stadler made two important statements concerning this matter in his Defence of the Authenticity of Mozart's Requiem, (Vienna, 1826): 'The widow told me that there were some few leaves of music found on Mozart's writing desk after his death which she had given to Herr Süssmayr. She did not know what they contained, nor what use Süssmayr made of them. "...and Süssmayr did not have much more to do in the completion than most composers leave to their copyists.' The first claim of Stadler's is likely; the second, very unlikely.
Additionally, Constanze's younger sister, Sophie, was in 1825 quoted (Nissen, 1825) by saying that "Süssmaier was there at Mozart's bedside, and the famous Requiem lay on the bed-cover, and Mozart was explaining to him how he ought to finish it after his death." So the picture painted by Shaffer in Amadeus has some basis in the truth: instead of the jealous, almost demonic Salieri working through the night as Mozart grew closer and closer to death, there was in fact simply the devoted student Süssmayr.
Still, this question of the authenticity of the current completed Requiem Mass is somewhat undecided and must remain so, since no other information exists on the matter. Thus it will simply remain a subjective decision made on the part of each scholar as to how truly "Mozart" the "Sanctus", "Benedictus", and "Agnus Dei" are.
The Requiem Mass begins with the "Introitus", and basset-horns as the treble line, sober and dignified, and violins underneath palpitating in a manner that conveys utter hopelessness; the chorus chants 'unto Thee shall all flesh come' with an almost Handelian flavor. The climax of this piece, however, moves on to more passionate, chromatic tones. In the "Kyrie", this passion continues and we are rushed forward to our doom, chanting 'Christ have mercy'. This chorus continues with what Keys calls "frightening intensity" through the "Dies irae", held for a moment at the trombone solo of "Tuba mirum"; the florid trombone solo acting as the voice of human pleading on judgment day. These alternations flavor much of the "Rex tremendae" and the "Recordare"; the "Rex tremendae" is an intense cry of eternal suffering, while the "Recordare" has once more a more human sound, almost wistful and containing some hope in its pleas. The "Confutatis" encapsulates this alternating form, the tenors and basses sing of eternity and severity, while the light lilting sopranos and altos respond with some breath of hope. Under all, the strings are at times jarring and then sweet. The "Lacrimosa", containing the last notes Mozart ever wrote, begins with haunting strings and vocal lines, ending in a dazzling crescendo 'Amen'.
The "Domine Jesu" resembles the "Kyrie" in the sense that one feels one is being catapulted forward into final judgment, with no time for further repentance. The "Hostias" has a slower, more contemplative mood, and the Sanctus promptly returns us once more to a chordal, Handelian mood, all fire and brimstone. Fittingly, the "Benedictus" finally gives a more forgiving and comforting message to the listener and sinner, imparting God's forgiveness. Its tone is somber and yet without pain or suffering. The vocal lines and orchestration themselves sound at peace - even celebratory in the final fugal section. The "Agnus Dei" serves in this mass as a reminder of our everlasting devotion and duty to God, combining hellfire, suffering, pleading, Handelian fugal melodies, and finally, triumph.
This often terrifying and fearful music is much in contradiction to the stoicism of the Masonic Funeral Music of the era, and yet somehow through it we are granted a glimpse of a great musical genius in his last, somewhat tortured days, a man who was convinced that he was writing the Requiem Mass for his own death. And so he was.
In July 1791, Mozart began the Requiem on commission from Count Walsegg-Stuppach, who wanted the Requiem to honor his recently deceased wife. The Count often commissioned great composers secretly, in order to quiz his court musicians, and in some cases, to represent the works as his own. It seems probable that the Count intended to claim authorship of the Requiem, as Mozart was sworn to secrecy about their contract.
Unfortunately, Mozart died on December 5, 1791, before the Requiem could be completed. He had composed the voice parts, bass and orchestration of the early movements - the voice parts and bass of the "Domine Jesu" and "Hostias", and the first eight bars of the vocal parts to the "Lacrymosa". His death left his widow Constanze with the responsibility of delivering a completed score or returning the commission fee of 50 ducats. Since she and Wolfgang had been financially distressed for years, she decided to engage Joseph Leopold Eybler, a student of Mozart's, to complete the task. After Eybler failed to deliver, Mozart's friend and favorite pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, finally recopied the completed portions and added the remaining movements. How much of the music is truly Süssmayr's is purely conjecture because during Mozart's illness Eybler visited the house frequently to discuss the progress of the project and sight-read vocal ideas with the composer. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in Vienna in 1791, not having reached his thirty-sixth birthday, he left to the world a catalogue of works, which in size, variety and mastery is the most prodigious in musical history. Starting at the age of five, in thirty years Mozart had composed forty-one symphonies, twenty-one operas, and hundreds of instrumental and choral pieces. Ludwig von Köchel's catalogue of Mozart's works lists over six hundred compositions, granting the final Köchel number, K626, to Mozart's final masterpiece, the Requiem.
Mozart's astounding accomplishments require no embellishment. Nevertheless, Mozart's rapid deterioration and death while composing the Requiem is the subject of many fabulous accounts of his final days. It is true that Mozart was commissioned in secret to write the Requiem. The story that Mozart spent his last hours providing the alto while three friends helped him develop a quartet for the Requiem is possibly true, but is unlikely and without basis. Equally lacking in substance is the theory that Mozart was poisoned by his professional rival, Antonio Salieri. The frequently repeated account of Mozart's body being unceremoniously thrown without proper funeral in a mass grave of Viennese peasants is known to be false.
One source for these tales was Mozart's widow, Constanze, who, to collect the remainder of the fee from Count Walsegg, certainly misrepresented the degree of completion of the Requiem. Constanze's assertion that the work was near completion when Mozart died was quite inaccurate, but the claim lent credence to the accounts of Mozart frantically composing just before breathing his last. Vienna, shocked by the sudden death of the composer whose Magic Flute was currently playing to delighted audiences, probably provided the "human interest" speculation that turned Mozart's funeral at St. Michael's and his burial in a small grave with a wooden marker into the story of an unceremonious interment in a mass grave. As a final speculation, consider again Constanze, who, after Mozart's death, toured Europe with her sisters, singing Mozart's works. Constanze died in 1842, having survived the Maestro by fifty years! She was a singer and a performer and the widow of the great Mozart during the peak of the Classical Era in music. If Constanze had chosen to offer a less dramatic account of Mozart's death, she would have been believed, but human interest sold in the 18th and 19th centuries, as it does today.
Another enduring but unsubstantiated tale is that Mozart confided to friends that he was composing a requiem to his own death and memory. Whether Mozart stated such an intention is a matter of conjecture; the story could be true, given the circumstances of Mozart's last days. It is beyond question however, that Mozart's genius, the dedication of his friends and students, and the passion of two centuries of audiences have made the Mozart Requiem just that; a memorial requiem to Mozart himself.
Author:Andrew Hadley
Picture Picture Picture Picture
Statue of Mozart
in Salzburg
Statue of Mozart
in Vienna
Fragment of the
"Dies irae" score in
Mozart's handwriting
Constanze Weber
(1762 - 1842),
Mozart's wife