The time seems right to write about Mozart`s Requiem, as there have been several performances recently and some discussion. A Requiem Mass in Catholicism is a Mass in honour of the dead. Mozart was very depressed at the time of writing it, partly because he thought it was heralding his own death and partly because of poverty, and partly due to severe physical illnesses (which were receiving inappropriate medical treatment).
During the summer of 1791 two events conspired to interrupt Mozart’s work on “Die Zauberflote” (The Magic Flute) – an opera which was important to keep in with his Masonic friends on whom he was financially dependent. This work was well advanced, but two events conspired to delay completion.
Firstly, Mozart received a mysterious masked visitor who Mozart described as a strange tall man dressed head to toe in dark grey. This man offered him a large sum of money to compose a requiem for his employer’s widow. This was on condition that it was a secret that Mozart had composed it rather than his employer who intended to pass it off as his own work and Constanza who was always grasping for money encouraged him to accept the commission. There was a second condition that Mozart would make no effort to find out who his employer was.
Half the money would be paid in advance and Mozart promised it would be delivered in a few weeks. We know now that his employer was Count Franz Von Walsegg. The Count was exceedingly fond of his young wife, Anna and wanted to have a memorial to her with a wonderful Requiem Mozart’s Requiem Page No 2 but unfortunately by getting Mozart to write it and pass it off as his own. The Count was a keen amateur musician and had his own private orchestra in his castle – they indulged him by pretending that they did not realise the works they were playing were by various composers and not by the Count, in these pre internet days he got away with it.
The second interruption was Mozart decided to write an opera “La Clemenza di Tito” for the coronation of Leopold II (who had already been crowned Holy Roman Emperor) as king of Bohemia, the coronation was to take place in Prague, a place where Mozart had happy memories of previous successes, which was a journey of three days by stagecoach, he had also to travel there to conduct the first performance of “The Magic Flute” which was not finished and he finished it on the journey. We can only imagine how awkward that was as it is difficult enough to work in a modern smooth car using an iPad or similar. But Mozart was using an inkwell and a quill pen and on very rough roads nevertheless he managed to complete it on the journey and in the inns where he stayed overnight.
One might wonder why Mozart gave an opera like “La Clemenza di Tito” so much priority. Certainly, Leopold owed Mozart no favours. On the contrary, he often slighted him in favour of Salieri, but Mozart had great affection for Prague after many successes there and he hoped to obtain the post of Kapellmeister. The opera was coolly received not surprisingly when written in a great hurry dramatically poor and with indifferent recitatives by Sussmayr. The Empress described the opera as “German swineishness” which is surely FAR too harsh as it contained some excellent music, as attested to by both the illustrious musicologist Dent and also by Beethoven.
Surely all this activity was more than enough for any composer in the best of health, whereas Mozart was very poorly. The mysterious stranger returned to “chase up” the requiem and Mozart was very fortunate that he accepted these delays with a promise from Mozart that he would get on with the requiem in earnest and give it priority. There are a great deal of myths and erroneous information about the Requiem, partly because of stories put about by Constanza, Mozart`s wife, and partly because of the film “Amadeus” by Peter Schaffer, which some people take as factual, although it was only intended as entertainment. However, the mischief was started a hundred years before, in a play by Alexander Pushkin.
WHAT IS NOT IN DISPUTE
In 1791 Mozart was depressed and in poor health, and also in penury because by this time his music was out of fashion, but more because of his wife`s extravagance. At this stage, incredibly, he was also working on several compositions simultaneously (surely more than enough work for even a composer in good health). But in this attempt to deceive the public the Count was thwarted by Constanza. However, that was only possible by “ratting’ on the secret contract that the count was to be the composer. So, she certainly comes out of it as money grasping, devious and unethical.
DISPELLING THE MYTHS
First, I will dispel the myths, and then go on to give new information which comes in substantial measure from the musician and composer Duncan Druce (see later).
A major myth is that Mozart asked his “friend and pupil” Sussmayr to finish the Requiem. But “many people say it is likely that Sussmayr was just a copyist who had worked on copying parts for “The Magic Flute.” However, this was contradicted by both Charles Osborne and William (see acknowledgements) who stated he was a pupil.
I put forward that the probable explanation was that thewea; the Freemason. Puchberg who was always receiving entreaties from Mozart for money, and wasted of it, advised Mozart to take on twelve people for musical reasons and, with Mozart being so short of money, he may only have taken on some the untalented. Not really pupils’ in the accepted sense. Mozart`s writings on his opinion of Sussmayr cannot be repeated here except for the word “blockhead” because there was much bad language, and certainly Sussmayr was so careless that when he forged Mozart`s signature he put the date as the year after Mozart had died, i.e. as 1792.
It is more likely that he agreed to complete the Requiem to aggrandise himself in association with Mozart and also so that he could claim the second half of the money which was arranged from the Count`s commission, which he pocketed entirely for himself for his very poor work instead of giving it to Constanza who was due the money as Mozart’s widow.
Critical opinion is that it was completed very poorly showing no talent or inspiration, poorly orchestrated with inappropriate Mozart’s Requiem Page No 5 doubling of musical parts, as well as being full of a great many technical errors. It is extraordinary that Sussmayr`s version is still performed despite there being a considerable number of finer alternative completions.
While dispelling myths can I say that there is no indication, far less evidence, that Salieri murdered Mozart. I think it is shameful that Schaffer`s film makes it out to be a fact and so is a nasty slur on Salieri and his descendants. The consensus of medical opinion is that Mozart died of rheumatic fever combined with his poor mental state, and the fact that he had had poor and inappropriate medical treatment. It is doubly unfortunate that Mozart died so young and there is an indication that he was entering a new style of composition leaving the legacy of Haydn etc. behind. One can only wonder what he would have gone on to compose.
NEW INFORMATION (from DUNCANDRUCE) on the completion by Sussmayr.
When I was a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Music at York University I was privileged to befriend the musician and composer Duncan Druce who was at York for a second MA degree in Music. He decided to re-complete the Requiem in collaboration with a handwriting expert. Druce and this handwriting expert found the following appalling frauds. What an infernal cheek!
1) Parts where Sussmayr had forged Mozart`s style of score writing and forged Mozart`s signature as well to make people think he had composed them. Mozart’s Requiem Page No 6
2) Some sections that had been fully completed by Mozart had been changed by Sussmayr .
3) Sussmayr further aggrandised himself, and compounding the fraud, Sussmayr copied out some large sections that had been entirely completed by Mozart, in his own hand, to make people think he had composed them and forged Mozart’s signature, carelessly putting the date the year after Mozart had died.
Stripping all the above away, i.e. leaving only what he was sure had been composed by Mozart, Druce then completed The Requiem, making full use of some sketches and notes that had been left by Mozart. It was first performed to great critical acclaim at Hovingham Hall in Yorkshire by the University of York Choir and Orchestra and later performed at the Proms in about 1991 and published by Novello.
The illustrious professor Wilfred Mellers said about the Requiem that it was “hard to tell where Mozart finished and Druce began”. It is a great shame that Mozart left us only one Clarinet Concerto (in the key of A major). One might have expected another in the key of Bb (since Clarinettists generally have a pair of instruments) and Mozart was fond of clarinets (writing excitedly to his father about their scope as additions to the orchestra of the day.
Druce found an 8-bar sketch for a movement for such a concerto and completed the movement. Mellers made the same comment on hearing this movement.
Why did Constanza, as Mozart’s widow, sew such confusion about the requiem?
1) She was anxious to get as much money as possible for herself – remember she had kept Mozart poor by constantly spending his money going on health cures at spas.
2) She was concerned that she would not get the second half of the money from the Count (although in fact Sussmayr had already pocketed it for himself instead of giving it to her).
3) She suspected that the publishers would not pay so much if they knew it was by a minor composer rather than Mozart.
AN ALTERTNATIVE SCENARIO
Because of the confusion sown mainly by Constanza and because of the lapse of time no one can be sure but the following is speculative and I think more probable especially in view of Mozart’s very low opinion of Sussmayr (blockhead, etc.) I think it is much more likely that he entrusted the completion of the Requiem to Joseph Leopold Eybler who was genuinely his friend and probably also his gifted pupil – it is known he held Eybler’s musicianship in high regard as also did Haydn.
Having suffered serious depression myself I can see why Mozart panicked and entrusted Sussmayr to complete the remainder remember that he was in great financial difficulty which would be solved by getting the second half of the Mozart’s Requiem Page No 8 money from the Count for the completion of the requiem and also money from the publishers to complete the requiem.
Eybler was certainly a modest man for, after completing the Keria and orchestrating it, he stopped there feeling that he could not do justice to Mozart by writing any more. There seems no doubt that Eybler completed that part of the requiem. We see how modest Eybler was in comparison to Sussmayr, who was certainly much less talented to do the completion.
Much of the information comes from Duncan Druce and some from Wikipedia and some from the book ’The Operas of Mozart’ by William Mann and some from the book ‘The Complete Operas of Mozart’ by Charles Osbourne.
Gordon Dalgarno (Revised 14/12/22)