Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In the final year of his short life, Mozart received a disturbing visit from a stranger dressed in grey who refused to identify himself. He said he was a messenger from a gentleman who wished to commission a Requiem, or Mass for the Dead to honour the memory of his wife.
Mozart accepted the commission, but the visit preyed on his mind. He was exhausted from work and alcohol, financially embarrassed and the mysterious illness that would kill him had already taken hold. Mozart began to think the visitor was a messenger from beyond the grave, that the commission was from God and the music would be for his own death.
He devoted all his energy to completing the Requiem
, although interupted by work on other commissions. By the time he returned to it, he was seriously ill. He had completed the scoring for about half of it, up to the Hostias
, and wrote sketches for another 3 movements.
But the Requiem
would not be finished by Mozart. He died just after midnight on December 5, 1791, in Vienna. He was only 35 years old. The completion of the Requiem
was left to his friend and pupil Franz Sussmayr.
And so the myths of Mozart's death and the Requiem
began. Some of them were picked up by the playwrite Peter Schaffer in his hit play Amadeus
, later filmed by Milos Forman.
the movie was a two-edged sword for classical music. On one hand it led to a huge revival of interest in the music of Mozart, even amongst non-classical music lovers. On the other hand it perpetuated the myths surrounding Mozart's life and death. Even Schaffer himself has said his Amadeus
is a fantasia based on fact. It is not a screen biography of Mozart, and was never intended to be
Mozart was poisoned by Salieri.
This is simply not true. Salieri was a highly respected and successful composer in his day and may have recognised, envied or even resented Mozart's genius. But Mozart died from what his doctors described as a heated miliary fever, endemic in Vienna at the time.
The Salier-Mozart poison myth began soon after Mozart's death. Mozart is known to have believed he was being poisoned in his final months. He certainly died quite suddenly, but was unwell for several months. Salieri is said to have confessed to the murder, though only in his demented old age, after a suicide attempt. His carers adamantly denied he ever made such a confession.
Mozart probably died from an infectious illness, having been weakened for months from alcoholism and syphilis.
Mozart dictated the Requiem to Salieri.
In his final days, when he could no longer write, Mozart discussed the details and dictated parts of the Requiem to his pupil Franz Sussmayr who completed the sketches for the Recordare, Confutatis
and wrote the final four movements (Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei
) himself based on his discussions with Mozart.
The mysterious stranger was a messenger from God and the Mass was to be Mozart's own Requiem.
The messenger was in fact from a Count Walsegg-Stuppach. The secrecy was not so that he could pass the work of as his own (another myth) but because he was in the habit of giving concerts of new work for his guests to guess the composer.
Mozart was an immature, sex-crazed, drunken maniac, as depicted by Tom Hulce in the movie Amadeus
Well actually, this myth has some basis in fact. Most of us, especially classical music buffs like to think of composers as greater than mere mortals. We put them on a pedestal and idolise them and feel uncomfortable with the thought that they had human faults. It is quite likely that Mozart was quite childlike in many ways, as are many prodigies. A contemporary described him celebrating a performance of an aria from Figaro
by leaping over tables and chairs, meowing like a cat, and turning somersaults like an unruly boy, as he often did in one of his foolish moods
Sussmayr's reconstruction of the Requiem
has been criticised for not being brilliant enough, or not being Mozartian enough and there is certainly a change in tone in the last quarter of the work. There have been several other attempts to complete Mozart's Requiem
in his own style, but Sussmayr's version remains the most convincing, and most often recorded, as is here with Neville Marriner and the St Martin in the Fields.
This recording captures all the pathos, anger and quiet beauty of this work, written by a young man nearing his death and knowing it. It is a dark work in parts, bursting with fury, undoubtedly Mozart's most powerful music. Marriner's version is darker than some, but also more energetic and ultimately uplifting.
Mozart's music became more original, more complex and more emotional the further he got from his exploitative father Leopold. Mozart even refused to attend his own father's funeral. Listen to the Requiem
to hear unresolved guilt, the injustice of dying young, the sublime beauty that is Mozart at his best.
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Requiem Mass for the Dead, KV626
Academy of St Martin in the Fileds
Sire Neville Marriner
FULL LYRICS HERE
- Dies Irae
- Tuba Mirum
- Rex Tremendae
- Recordare, Jesu pie
- Confutatis Maledictis
- Domine Jesu
- Domine Hostias
- Agnus Dei
- Lux Aeterna