Special Event: “Remembering the Genocide of European Roma during World War II”
Requiem Mass in D Minor, K. 626 (1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born in Salzburg, January 27, 1756
Died in Vienna, December 5, 1791
“Grant Them Eternal Rest.” The solemn words that open the Mass for the Dead plead for enduring peace, but as the 35-year-old Mozart composed his miraculous Requiem in the fall of 1791 he experienced no such comfort. A relentless work schedule, declining health, and dark moods clouded much of the last months of his life.
When Mozart received a mysterious request to compose a Requiem during the summer, two ambitious operas were in the offing. He was already composing The Magic Flute, which he had to interrupt when he got a prestigious commission to write a serious opera, La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus), for the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. Mozart composed that work feverishly in August, traveling to Prague at the end of the month to conduct its premiere on September 6. He then returned to Vienna to finish The Magic Flute, writing two additional numbers just before conducting its triumphant premiere on September 30. Within weeks he composed his great Clarinet Concerto and a small cantata to celebrate the opening of a new temple of his Masonic lodge, New Crown Hope, in Vienna.
At some point in September Mozart began serious work on the Requiem, but legend has it (and more about other legends later) that when his wife, Constanze, returned from a rest cure at a spa in Baden she was distressed to see how exhausted he was and how obsessed he had become in particular with the Requiem, which she allegedly took away from him. Mozart nonetheless returned to its composition somewhat later and worked on the piece until his death early in the morning of December 5.
The well-known movie Amadeus fictitiously has Mozart on his deathbed dictating the Requiem to his rival Antonio Salieri, who was long rumored to have poisoned him. Although there was no such documented final meeting between the two composers (or any murder), Mozart did reportedly gather Constanze and various colleagues around him to sing through parts of the Requiem and instructed his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr on how to finish the piece. The haunting opening of the Requiem, the only part completed entirely by Mozart, may have been performed at his funeral a week later.
Constanze enlisted a series of Mozart’s students to finish the Requiem; she asked Joseph Eybler, who did only minimal work, as did two others who orchestrated some incomplete sections. Most of the task of completion fell to the 25-year-old Süssmayr, thus earning him some limited fame as well as some infamy. Over the course of the 19th century Mozart’s Requiem became the most famous musical setting of the Mass for the Dead, and was sung at memorial services for Haydn, Beethoven, Weber, Chopin, and other celebrated musicians, as well as at funerals of public figures such as Napoleon.
It is hardly surprising that so many legends surround the work. The idea of someone of Mozart’s gifts, just age 35, writing what he allegedly came to believe was his own musical memorial was immediately appealing to his contemporaries and even more so to later Romantics. Very soon after Mozart’s death a newspaper in his hometown of Salzburg reported that he composed the piece “often with tears in his eyes, constantly saying: I fear that I am writing a Requiem for myself.”
There are numerous uncertainties about the Requiem, most importantly about who actually composed much of the music. The manuscript shows that Mozart completed only the opening Introit, as well as most of the following Kyrie. The next sections were extensively drafted by Mozart, but not finished. For the final sections no authentic materials survive.
The mysteries about the piece begin with the circumstances of its genesis. A legend emerged that a “grey messenger” appeared to Mozart with the anonymous request for him to write a Requiem but that he was not to ask who was initiating the commission. In fact it came from one Count Franz von Walsegg, who hired noted composers to write pieces that he would then pass off as his own. (It is not entirely clear that his intent was fraudulent—he seems to have enjoyed having invited audiences guess who the composer actually was.) In any case, Mozart was given half the handsome fee in advance and, although pressed with his opera projects, he was hardly in a financial position to refuse the lucrative offer.
Mozart had recently received an unpaid appointment as assistant music director of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Vienna’s most prominent), which meant that composing sacred music would henceforth play a larger role in his career. Although he had written many religious pieces during his early years in Salzburg, this activity dropped off after he moved to Vienna in 1781. His greatest sacred work, the Mass in C minor, K. 427, had remained unfinished, and such, of course, would be the fate of the Requiem as well. The masterly late music for the Requiem encompasses Mozart’s astounding range of styles, beginning with the pleading expressiveness of the Introit even before the first words are sung. The contrapuntal virtuosity of the double fugue in the Kyrie gives evidence of his increasing interest in the music of Bach and Handel. Mozart the keen dramatist is also present in this sacred score—the Magic Flute character of Sarastro may come to mind with the bass solo of the Tuba mirum.
After Süssmayr finished the piece, he wrote out a new score so as to avoid suspicion of its multiple composers; he forged Mozart’s signature and dated the manuscript 1792. The Requiem was then dispatched to Count Walsegg who in turn copied it all out again in his own hand and wrote “Requiem composta del Conte Walsegg” at the top. He conducted the work on December 14, 1793, at a Mass in memory of his wife, who had died two years earlier at age 20.
Only the Introitus of the Requiem is complete in Mozart’s hand, while the vocal parts of the Kyrie through the Hostias survive together with some indications for the figured bass. The Lacrimosa stops after eight measures. Thus after the opening entirely by Mozart, there follow sections for which he provided most of the music but that required fleshing out of the orchestration. For the last movements—the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, and concluding communion—there is nothing in Mozart’s autograph manuscript. Süssmayr asserted in a letter written in 1800 that he wrote this music himself (“ganz neu von mir verfertigt”—wholly composed by me). The claim has aroused considerable debate. In the early 1960s a sheet of Mozart’s sketches for a projected fugal end to the Lacrymosa was found, and there has long been speculation that other such sketches were available to Süssmayr, as well as whatever Mozart may have told him while writing the piece. The general consensus is that the music for the missing parts of the Requiem is at a much higher level than Süssmayr’s other sacred music and therefore must have been based on authentic Mozart materials. Thus when something awkward or less satisfactory appears in the score poor Süssmayr is blamed, putting him in the unenviable situation of getting little credit and a good deal of blame. In any case, the music that opens the Requiem returns for the final communion, thus ensuring a genuine Mozartean frame to the work.
—Christopher H. Gibbs, James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Music
Bard College Conservatory of Music Presents
Special Event: “Remembering the Genocide of European Roma during World War II”
Conducted by Ádám Fischer
László Z. Bitó '60 Conservatory Building
A special event, conceived by acclaimed Hungarian conductor Ádám Fischer, explores issues of history and responsibility. A panel discussion, moderated by Leon Botstein, includes Fischer and leading figures from the fields of history, human rights, and international law. A performance of the Mozart Requiem by the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra, students of the Bard Graduate Vocal Arts Program, Bard College Chamber Singers, and members of the chorus of the Longy School of Music of Bard College follows.
Katherine Maysek, mezzo-soprano
Matthew Slipp, tenor
Andrew Munn, bass
Bard College Chamber Singers, Longy Conservatory Chorale, members of the Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program.
James Bagwell, chorus master
This event has passed.