10 October 2008

Mozart’s Requiem in Christ Church Cathedral

Patrick Comerford

To celebrate the launch of its new orchestral outreach programme, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, is presenting the Mozart Requiem (K. 626) and the Duruflé Requiem (Op. 9) on Thursday next, 16 October, at 8 p.m. The evening will feature the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, with the Orchestra of St Cecilia, conducted by Judy Martin and with soloists Katy Kelly (Soprano), Duncan Brickenden (Counter-tenor), Peter Davoren (Tenor), John-Owen Miley-Read (Bass)

Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626), composed in 1791, was Mozart’s last composition, and is one of his most powerful and recognised works, not only for its music, but also for the debate over how much of the music Mozart completed before his death, and how much was later composed by his student Franz Xavier Süssmayr. Despite the debate, the Requiem has taken a prominent place as one of Mozart’s most important works.

When he died on 5 December 1791, Mozart had only completed the opening movement (Requiem Aeternam) in all of the orchestral and vocal parts. The following Kyrie (a double fugue), and most of the Sequence (from Dies Irae to Confutatis), is complete only in the vocal parts and the continuo (the figured organ bass), though occasionally some of the prominent orchestral parts have been briefly indicated, such as the violin part of the Confutatis and the musical bridges in the Recordare. The last movement of the Sequence, the Lacrimosa, breaks off after only eight bars and was unfinished. The following two movements of the Offertorium were partially worked on – the Domine Jesu Christe in the vocal parts and continuo (up until the fugue, which contains some indications of the violin part) and the Hostias in the vocal parts only.

A sketch for an Amen fugue was discovered in the 1960s, and some believe this belongs to the Requiem at the conclusion of the Sequence after the Lacrimosa. Others argue that this Amen fugue was not intended for the Requiem and it may have been part of a separate unfinished Mass in D minor to which the Kyrie (K. 341) also belongs. However, there is compelling evidence placing the Amen Fugue in the Requiem based on current Mozart scholarship.

A mysterious commission

The Requiem was commissioned anonymously by the eccentric Count Franz von Walsegg from Mozart through intermediaries. In mid-July, a messenger – probably the count’s steward, Franz Anton Leitgeb – arrived with a note asking Mozart to write a Requiem Mass. The count routinely commissioned works by composers and then passed them off as his own. He wanted a Requiem Mass he could claim he composed to commemorate his wife Anna, who had died on 14 February 1791 at the age of 20

Around the same time, Mozart was also commissioned to write the opera La clemenza di Tito to mark the coronation of the Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia in Prague on 6 September. Throughout August, Mozart concentrated on working on that opera. He left for Prague on 25 August, and completed the opera on 5 September, a day before he conducted the premiere of La clemenza di Tito.

By the end of September, he had completed his revision of The Magic Flute, which had its premiere on 30 September. A week later he completed his Concerto in A for clarinet. From 8 October, he then worked on the Requiem and a Cantata, until 20 November, when he was confined to his bed due to illness.

Mozart was not aware of his commissioner’s identity at the time he accepted the project. He shared with his wife that for certain he was writing this piece for his own funeral, and he spoke of “very strange thoughts” regarding the unpredicted appearance and commission of this unknown man. When he fell ill while writing the work, he told Constanze: “I am only too conscious my end will not be long in coming: for sure, someone has poisoned me! I cannot rid my mind of this thought.”

Shortly after midnight on 5 December he died of acute rheumatic fever and he was buried two days later in Saint Marx Cemetery.

Secrecy and deception

Because Mozart received only half of the payment in advance, Constanze Mozart was anxious after his death to have the work completed secretly so she could collect the final payment. She later claimed her husband had left explicit instructions for the completion of the Requiem on “little scraps of paper.” Joseph von Eybler worked on the movements from the Dies Irae up until the Lacrimosa. In addition, a striking similarity between the openings of the Domine Jesu Christe movements in the Requiems of the two composers suggests Eybler looked at later sections.

But Eybler felt unable to complete the remainder, and returned the manuscript to Mozart’s widow, who passed the task to on Franz Xavier Süssmayr, who had already helped the dying composer to write the score – in his last days, Mozart’s limbs had become extremely swollen. Süssmayr borrowed some of Eybler’s work, added his own orchestration to the movements from the Dies Irae onward, completed the Lacrimosa, and added several new movements normally be included in a Requiem: Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. He then added a final section, Lux aeterna, adapting the opening two movements written by Mozart to the words that finish the Requiem.

Süssmayr finished the Requiem in early March 1792, and the completed score was finally sent to Count von Walsegg with a forged signature of Mozart, but dated 1792. On 2 January 1793, a performance of the Requiem was arranged for Constanze’s benefit by Gottfried van Swieten, and by early December 1793 the Requiem was delivered to Count von Walsegg, . On 14 December 1793, the Requiem was performed in the memory of the count’s wife Anna in the church at Wiener-Neustadt. On the anniversary of Anna’s death on 14 February 1794, the Requiem was performed again in the Patronat Church at Maria-Schutz on Semmering.

Myths surrounding the Requiem

There are many myths surrounding the Requiem, whose complex history is marked by deception, secrecy and the manipulation of public opinion. One series of myths involves the role Antonio Salieri played in commissioning and completing the Requiem and his role in Mozart’s death. These myths are retold in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus and the movie based on it, but the story is also found in a 19th century play by Alexander Pushkin, The Little Tragedy of Mozart and Salieri, which was turned into an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Other myths surrounding the Requiem include one that Salieri commissioned the Requiem from Mozart so it could be played at Mozart’s own funeral after Salieri poisoned him. There is a myth that Salieri helped to complete the Requiem while Mozart was on his deathbed, although there is nothing to suggest that Salieri had anything to do with any part of the Requiem.

Then there is the myth that Mozart worked on the Requiem up to the moment he died. But in his dying days, Mozart was too sick and his hands too swollen for him to work any more. On the other hand, he had the Requiem, so far as he had worked on it, sung to him on one of his last days. It is said that the Lacrimosa moved him to tears, and that he tried to voice drum parts at the very end of his life.

And there is the myth that the Requiem was played at Mozart’s funeral. However, Mozart died in the early hours of 5 Dewcember 1791, had a small funeral, and was buried in an unmarked grave. A memorial service was organised by Mozart’s friend, Emanuel Schikaneder, on 10 December 1791, but we do not know what music was played.

It is said by some that everything after the Lacrimosa was composed by Süssmayr. But what Mozart might have told Süssmayr about the Requiem is not clear. Both Constanze and Süssmayr created the myth of Mozart leaving “scraps of paper” with “detailed instructions,” but this was never true. Constanze promoted Süssmayr as a pupil of but he never studied under Mozart.

Mozart’s widow, Constanze, kept secret the fact that the Requiem was unfinished at the time of her husband’s death so she could collect the final payment from the commission and to allow Count von Walsegg create the impression that he wrote the work.

Tickets and information

Tickets for Thursday evening are €20 each and €10 for unsighted seats. They are available from the Music Department at Christ Church Cathedral: telephone 01-6778099; email: music@cccdub.ie . Further information is available at:

Patrick Comerford is a canon of Christ Church Cathedral and Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute

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