solo soprano, solo contralto, solo tenor, solo bass, choir, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, organ, timpani, violins, violas, cellos, basses
notes by James Keays
I. Introitus: Requiem
III. Sequentia: Dies irae
IV. Offertorium: Domine Jesu
VII. Agnus Dei
Composed 1791 (incomplete at death).
First performance: January 2, 1793, Vienna.
In his Requiem Mass, Mozart enjoyed the dubious distinction of being able to knowingly leave behind a last testament. Even though not completed, the work stands today as one of the greatest expressions of faith ever cast as a work of art. The catalyst for the work was a commission in July 1791, not from Salieri in the costume of Leopold Mozart, as the film “Amadeus” suggests, but from a wealthy dilettante and fellow freemason, Count Walsegg-Stuppach. It was widely known that the Count regularly presented concerts of works he claimed as his own. Then, at the end of each concert before general festivities, the audience would be asked to identify the composer. This particular commission was, however, intended to be more serious—a Requiem for the Count’s twenty-year-old wife who died the previous February.
Despite his love for larger forms such as a Requiem, Mozart’s first instinct was to decline the commission for the simple reason that he already felt overworked and was, perhaps, experiencing the first symptoms of his final and fatal bout with kidney disease. The decision was probably made for him when the Count’s grey-clad emissary offered Mozart the princely sum of 50 ducats immediately and another 50 at the completion of the work in four weeks. As he began to work on the Requiem, he came to believe that higher sources intended it to be played at his own funeral. After finishing the first two sections, he was forced to suspend work in order to put the final touches on Die Zauberflöte and to travel to Prague for the composition and production of his last opera, La Clemenza di Tito. Late in September, he returned to Vienna to write some Masonic funeral music and his last large scale work, the Concerto for Clarinet, K. 622. He took to his bed in late November and died on December 5, 1791.
At the time of his death, he had scored almost all of the first two movements of the Requiem and left the other seven only in sketch form—most with a figured bass line to indicate the intended harmony. For fear that she should have to return all or a portion of the fee, the composer’s widow prevailed upon Mozart’s pupil Joseph Eybler to score the middle movements and compose the final three. He touched up the orchestration in parts of Mozart’s manuscript but couldn’t bring himself to add his own work to that of Mozart’s. Constanze then turned to another student, Franz Xavier Süssmayr, to complete the work. Süssmayr is usually thought to have composed the recitatives for La Clemenza di Tito. Constanze had already turned to him for help in finishing various other works—mostly to allow their sale for the purpose of alleviating Mozart’s debt.
As for the Requiem, Süssmayr finished it by melodically filling in Mozart’s harmonies and composing the final three sections. This version is the one considered to be “standard” and is being performed this evening. As time goes by, however, more and more scholar-composers are taking umbrage with Süssmayr’s work and producing their own “authoritative editions”. The first public performance reportedly took place at the funeral of Franz Joseph Haydn in 1809. There is, however, record of a fundraising performance just days after Mozart’s death. Which version was used? This and other questions may never be answered. As for Count Walsegg-Stuppach, he paid Constanze the remaining 50 ducats and found his place as an interesting historical footnote.
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