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Mozart: Requiem, K. 626
Mozart began composing his Requiem in 1791, but did not live to complete it. The Süssmayr arrangement runs approximately 60 minutes in performance and is scored for solo soprano, also, tenor, bass, choir, 2 basset horns, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, organ, and orchestral strings.
It is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of classical music that the most-often heard and best-loved of Mozart's works is the one of which he actually composed the smallest percentage. The circumstances of his Requiem's composition are by now common knowledge. In July 1791, Mozart received a commission, via anonymous courier, from Count Franz von Walsegg, a Viennese nobleman with a habit of commissioning music from well-known composers and then passing it off as his own. His offer was substantial, and Mozart, ever on the edge of poverty accepted.
Mozart set to work on the Requiem in October 1791, but had completed only a fraction of the work before taking to his bed in mid-November, with what was to be his final illness. At the time of his death, only the opening Aeternam was finished. Of the Kyrie, part of the sequence, and the Offertory, he had completed only the vocal parts, a bass line with figures (to indicate harmonies) and occasional fragments of instrumental sketches. The remaining movements—Sanctus, Benedictus, Osanna, Agnus Dei, and Communio—were apparently completely uncomposed at the time of his death.
Desperate for funds, Mozart's wife Constanze took it upon herself to find someone to complete the Requiem so that she could sell it as Mozart's. The project was undertaken by one of Mozart's pupils, Franz Xavier Süssmayr. Thanks to his efforts, the Requiem was completed by February 1792, and Constanze was paid the full amount owed.
Not surprisingly, the Requiem does not resemble any of Mozart's earlier large-scale choral works. Gone are the operatic flourishes and the brilliance that is evident in his earlier choral works. Mozart omits the upper woodwind, using no flutes, oboes or clarinets, and no French horns. The resulting tone is undeniably dark, but warm, with none of the desperation of a man who knows his end is near, as has often been suggested.
Süssmayr's work has been harshly criticized, not without good reason—the Requiem is full of errors in harmony, and his musical ideas were no match for Mozart's. However, despite its detractors, the Süssmayer completion of the Requiem has remained the standard version, despite several new completions in recent years. This may be because, despite what Süssmayr (or anyone else) might have done to the Requiem, its tone remains purely Mozartean—and the work remains one of the greatest settings of the Requiem text in history.
Programme Note by Margot Rejskin
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