Mozart – Requiem K. 626 (Süssmayr)

Edit: From December 2020, unfortunately this video is no longer available on YouTube. Copyright companies change their terms with Youtube frequently, and this has meant that (at the moment at least) the music is blocked until Youtube renews their contract with the copyright holder. If this does ever happen, it probably won’t be for a while, so I would suggest this video with a condensed score until a new video can be made with an updated recording. I’m really sorry about this – no one’s in any trouble though, and the video is still online, just hidden! If the terms do change it should reappear automatically and I’ll remove this message.

The masterpiece that would become his final commission: Mozart never had the chance to finish his requiem, only leaving the first couple of movements and a few scraps of paper; suspiciously never found. The story of what would follow is  fraught with deception, competition and even a homicide conspiracy, all of which would keep Mozart’s death secret from the public for years afterwards.

Count Franz von Walsegg was an Austrian nobleman and amateur musician – but as a member of the aristocracy, he wasn’t going to let people think he was any less than the greatest musician in the western world. He had a reputation for anonymously commissioning the top composers in the country to write music for him under false pretenses, only to publish it as his own. Mozart’s Requiem was no exception.  

Mozart received half of the substantial payment upfront, and set to work, managing to write the Introitus (Requiem Aeternam) in full, and virtually completing the Kyrie (Eleison), through to the first few bars of the famous Lacrimosa. Mozart fell ill with a condition which is still disputed to this day [see footnote 1], and died before being able to complete his Requiem, leaving his widowed wife, Constanze Mozart, behind.

This is where the deception began – Constanze met with a few of Mozart’s top former students, since she was keen to be paid the other half of the money from the rich Count, and was willing to play dirty to get there. Joseph von Eybler was one of the first, but Mozart was so famous and well-respected as a musician at the time that he felt finishing his Requiem was too much pressure for him. However, it was some of these ideas that inspired Franz Xaver Süssmayr’s interpretation, which was the version sent to the Count, and the edition which is usually performed today.  Süssmayr used Mozart’s original material, while adding in a few extra pieces himself;

The Requiem itself, with Süssmayr’s added material, is fairly typical in structure, comprising of a standard Requiem Mass as would be performed in the Catholic Church. Süssmayr made use of a full SATB choir, with four SATB soloists – Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass – which was indicated by Mozart in part by the use of a solo soprano in the Introitus, followed by hints at solo work on top of the full choir in the sequence.

Even though most of it isn’t actually Mozart’s music, his Requiem is today one of his most popular works, and has inspired so much more music from it. Its popularity was huge, and since the Count fell for the plot, it became one of the most frequently performed non-operatic choral works ever written – and it remains one of “Mozart’s” most performed works today.

Hope you found this interesting! I am by no means an expert on Mozart’s Requiem, and there is so much more to write about, but hopefully this will give you a brief insight into this fascinating piece. 🙂

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[1] There are some theories that Mozart was poisoned by Antonio Salieri, who was a talented composer with the bad luck of living in the same era and place as the much more famous Mozart. Rumours quickly spread across the country, which Salieri refuted heavily – probably in truth – but nonetheless his severely damaged his reputation, and gave him terrible mental health into his old age. Most modern historians now believe Salieri was in no way responsible for Mozart’s death, but the actual cause still remains a mystery.

[Source: Otto Erich Deutsch: Mozart, A Documentary Biography (1966) Stanford University Press.]

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