The Requiem was written as Mozart lay dying in 1791. Though his death is still somewhat of a mystery, (and he was buried in an unmarked grave), the work itself is still as vibrant a piece that exists, especially being a Requiem Mass for the departed, it stands either alongside the other great Requiems, like Verdi, Berlioz and Faure, Brahms, and each morning I listen to it, it is a constant source of inspirational beauty.
There are many completions of the Requiem and completed by many as well, for Mozart died before its completion.
Further, this is a work of special interest to clarinetists for Mozart uses a low tessitura of wind instruments of the orchestra, his clarinet of choice is the Basset Horn, (not the Basset Clarinet which is somehow strangely in vogue presently.)
The Basset Horn is not a horn and really not a clarinet as such, nor is it an alto clarinet, but a rather strange looking cross between a boxwood clarinet and some kind of curved bassoon-looking instrument, played with clarinet fingerings and pitched lower, and with one of the most gorgeous of clarinet sounds, only up to the clarion and no higher.
The two basset horns begins this piece playing a reverential counterpoint to its main theme, which is strangely beckoning and obvious the work of difference and excellence. If you know the work, you’ll understand , and friends if you don’t, you’re missing a great work for both clarinetists, and by the most outstanding and original composer of perhaps the entire history of music. (here is the first section,played by two Basset Horns
And in addition, only a part of the work were left, sketches if you will, and still it towers above the repertoire of both Mozart and of Requiems.
What are some of the little-known facts about this incredibly well-known work?
Mozart was a happy man during this compositional tour de force of his last month alive. He was racing to fullfill commissions, two of them due in two weeks in two different cities, La Clemenza di Tito, his first Opera in 10 years, premiered in Prague, and the Magic Flute in Vienna, which had a stunning debut in Vienna, unlike Prague where the reviews were mixed.
(La Clemenza of Titio, has a gorgeous aria for Soprano, and clarinet obbligato., “Parto, Parto”) He finished the Clarinet Concerto in October and on November 18 conducted a new cantata for his Masonic Lodge.
He had one final work to complete, for in July, Count Franz Von Walsseg, through an unidentified emissary , had agreed to handsomely pay Mozart for a Requiem, half the fee in advance and half upon completion. There are mostly strange reasons why Von Walsseg anonymously approached Mozart, however the best is the fact that this fellow was in the habit of commissioning composers to write works which he would call his own. Von Walsseg intended the work to be played each year in memory of his wife, whom Mozart had known . The story goes that the emissary appeared dressed all in grey and had dark skin and a strange accent. Actually he was a servant of Walssep who happened to be tall and dressed in grey and had an accent because he was Turkish.
Mozart set to work on the Requiem in October, the previous month having being spent in illness, depression and thoughts of imprending death. Also his wife was recuperaing from a fall and was away.
What took Mozart? The most likely cause was a viral epidemic that swept through Vienna in November. On the 20th he was swollen and couldn’t write because of this edema, which spread through his entire body so much so, that he couldn’t even sit up in bed or turn his body, so it was impossible to even take up a pen.
Before he died he was able to complete only the Requiems opening movement, along with the Kyrie and portions of the Sequence, the Dies Irae and ending with the Lacrimosa. In the remaining sections he left either drafts or sketches half finished and for the concluding movements, nothing. It is said that Mozart summoned singers to his bedside to sing the parts he had already written.
Even though only the skeleton of the Mass was composed by Mozart, it remains one of his most enduring and most frequently performed works.
Despite his illness, Mozart really it is supposed, had no idea that he was dying.
But that too is conjecture.
(There are those who believe that Mozart was placed upon earth to simply write music, a vessel of excellence, which when full, complete, then so too, would he be complete.)
Since much of the Requiem lay unfinished at his death , his wife Costanza in dire need of money, had to get the piece completed so she could rceive the rest of the commission. She had to do it anonymously, which is where Sussmayr, a former student of Mozart, enters.He finished the work. Though his work has mostly been criticized it is to him that we owe the thanks for the completion of the Requiem, which helped Costanza to pay her bills, and gave us this completely different work of Mozart. Actually though highly criticized, it was Brahms who stated that it was the best versions and the official one.
Ah, and why different. First, there are no similar works in his huge output except perhaps in his Masonic Choral Music.
And to listen to the work, we are immediately conscious of basically a work of the Baroque, full of contrast , counterpoint, and concertato. There are many contrapuntal section and varying tempi. It’s an exciting work for a 53 minute long Requiem Mass, and is constantly changing. Mozart was a Classical composer however this piece os loaded with tributes to Bach and the Conertato style.
How did he do it? We know that he corrected very little of what he wrote. It just came out, perfect. There is much more to be written about the Requiem, and I will, but in later pieces on this site.
If you don’t know it, please listen to it,for it is dedicated to theclarinet perhaps like no other of his works.
stay well, best regards, Sherman