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Mozart's 'Requiem'

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Requiem Mass (K626) in D Minor was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791. As it turned out, this was Mozart's last piece of music. He was commissioned to write it by Count Franz Walsegg-Stupach, although this was unknown to Mozart. Count Walsegg-Stupach wanted a Requiem as a memorial for his wife - and was probably planning to pass it off as his own. He sent along a messenger, thought to be his steward, Franz Anton Leitgeb, to pay Mozart and check how the Requiem was coming along.

Already ill with a fever, Mozart got sicker and sicker when writing the Requiem. He started fearing the worst, that he was writing the Requiem for his own funeral.

Without completing the Requiem, Mozart died on 5 December, 1791, at the age of 35. He had left notes on the first seven sections and the day before his death he had been well enough to sing parts of the incomplete Requiem with some of his friends. Mozart himself sang the alto part, and used friends and actors from his new opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) for the other parts. Benedikt Shack (who played Tamino in Die Zauberflöte) sang the soprano part in falsetto, Franz Hofer (a violinist and Mozart's brother-in-law) sang the tenor part and Franz Gerl (Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte) sang bass. One oral source, possibly containing inconsistencies, said that when the group was singing the Lacrimosa, Mozart broke down and began to sob uncontrollably.

After Mozart's death, his wife Constanze tried to find somebody to complete the Requiem. She first asked Joseph Eybler, who had been one of Mozart's students, to complete the Requiem, but Eybler gave up after a very short time. Franz Süssmayr, who had been another of Mozart's students, and a good friend of Constanze, then agreed to complete the Requiem. He wrote some sections himself, but also repeated and expanded upon parts Mozart wrote. Much of the end of the Requiem is similar to the beginning as Süssmayr borrowed from sections Mozart had already written.

The Requiem was not played at Mozart's funeral, as it was not ready and it is not known if any music was played, but his Requiem has been played at memorials for him ever since.

Mozart's Requiem?

It is still uncertain exactly how much of the Requiem Mozart wrote. Obviously, he composed all the parts written in his handwriting. Unfortunately, it cannot be assumed that the sections not in his handwriting were composed by his students, as he may have given dictation to students working alongside him, or got them to fill in harmony after he had written in the main part. Nowadays, it is generally assumed that Mozart stopped composing eight bars into the Lacrimosa, when he died, and that Süssmayr continued. The Mozart-Süssmayr version of the Requiem is the most well-known, although other composers (mainly modern) have continued it, based on how they think it should be.

Mozart's Death

Although Mozart's official cause of death was miliary fever, some people claim he was murdered. In the film Amadeus, based upon the play by Peter Schaffer, it was implied that a rival composer, Antonio Salieri, murdered Mozart. Salieri said in old age 'I poisoned Mozart', although nobody knows whether he meant this literally or figuratively, or was even telling the truth. This idea also appears in a poem by Aleksandr Pushkin, and a two-act opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Other people are also thought to have murdered Mozart and Mozart himself at one time felt he had been poisoned, and told this to his wife1.

Performances of the Requiem

A friend and admirer of Mozart, Baron van Swieten, arranged the first performance of Mozart's Requiem for 2 January, 1793, in Vienna. This was before the performance by the 'owner' of the work, Count Walsegg-Stupach. Baron van Swieten arranged the performance to raise money for Mozart's wife Constanze and she received 300 ducats from the performance.

Count Walsegg-Stupach eventually conducted the Requiem in December, 1793, while Constanze was trying to get the Requiem printed to make money. Count Walsegg-Stupach claimed sole ownership and to allow Constanze to publish the Requiem under Mozart's name he apparently had to be pacified with a financial settlement.

More recently the Requiem was performed simultaneously in many different locations around the world. This was called the 'Rolling Requiem' and was planned to commemorate the terrorist attacks in September, 2001.

About the Music

The parts of the Requiem are as follows:


  • I Requiem aeternam
  • II Kyrie


  • I Dies irae
  • II Tuba mirum
  • III Rex tremendae
  • IV Recordare
  • V Confutatis
  • VI Lacrimosa


  • I Domine Jesu
  • II Hostias
  • III Sanctus
  • IV Benedictus
  • V Agnus dei


  • I Lux aeterna

The Requiem is for four solo voices (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), chorus and a small orchestra, by today's standards. The orchestration is uncommon, as it uses basset horns2 to make the piece sound more solemn.

The words are in Latin3. Most Requiems use the same or similar text taken directly from the Catholic Church. Mozart's Requiem, like many others, begins with 'Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine' which translates as 'Lord, grant them eternal rest'.

The Requiem is often described as being the most heart-wrenching piece of music in the world. It begins with a haunting melody, followed by a dramatic crescendo of minor chords and then the choruses sing the Latin phrase mentioned above. The most dramatic movement is often considered to be the Confutatis, which has angry singing over a furious string background. In the film Amadeus, Mozart was shown dictating to Salieri how this movement should go, explaining his ideas about the orchestration. Although the film implied that Salieri was helping Mozart, and that the Confutatis was the last part of the Requiem that Mozart wrote, which is incorrect, it still gives a beautiful description of the Confutatis. Confutatis is followed by Lacrimosa, thought to be the most sorrowful part of the Requiem, and the last part Mozart wrote.

1It is now thought that the illness Mozart was suffering from can cause a metallic taste in the mouth, which may be why he felt he had been poisoned.2A type of clarinet invented shortly before Mozart wrote his Requiem.3Except for the Kyrie, where the phrase used was originally Greek.

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