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The Requiem: Mozart’s (More or Less) Final Work
January 17, 2018
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Ever since it’s creation in 1791, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor has been shrouded in myth and mystery. The work was commissioned through a messenger who delivered an unsigned letter, asking Mozart to write a Requiem mass in memory of the anonymous gentleman’s recently deceased young wife. Legend has it that Mozart may never have known who hired him to compose this work, though it later emerged that it was Count Franz von Walsegg, an amateur musician who may have intended to pass the work off as his own, a ruse he was known to have carried out with works by other composers.

Mozart succeeded in completing the first two movements, the Requiem aeternam and Kyrie, and only managed to sketch out the remainder. A letter from Mozart’s widow, Constanze, suggests that he left his ideas for the structure of the work on “little scraps of paper”.

Another myth contends that Mozart believed he was composing the Requiem for his own funeral, and that he suspected his friend and colleague Antonio Salieri of poisoning him…

What we do know is that Mozart began working on the Requiem during a highly productive period of his life, when he completed a piano concerto, a cantata, a pair of string quintets and a clarinet concerto, not to mention two operas — The Magic Flute and La Clemenza di Tito — that, in time, were to become among his most admired works. Very ill by then, he was still working on the Requiem mass on the day he died, December 5, 1791.

After her husband’s death, Constanze was intent on finding someone to finish the composition — in secret — so that she could claim the Requiem was entirely written by Mozart, and then collect payment from the Count. First, she gave it to one of Mozart’s students, Joseph von Eybler, and then to another composer in Mozart’s circle, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who delivered the 14-movement version we know today, complete with a counterfeited version of Mozart’s signature. Over the last 50 years or so, many other composers, dissatisfied with the Süssmayr version, have reworked various sections of the Requiem.

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