Programme notes

Requiem, K626, Mozart, completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766–1803)

The Requiem Mass in D minor, K626 was commenced in Vienna in 1791 but left unfinished at the composer’s death on December 5. A completion dated 1792 by Süssmayr was delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg, who had anonymously commissioned the piece for a Requiem Mass to commemorate the February 14 anniversary of his wife’s death.

The autograph manuscript shows the finished and orchestrated Introit in Mozart’s hand, as well as detailed drafts of the Kyrie and the Sequence as far as the first eight bars of the Lacrimosa, and the Offertory. It cannot be shown to what extent Süssmayr may have depended on now lost ‘scraps of paper’ for the remainder; he later claimed the Sanctus and Agnus Dei as his own. Walsegg probably intended to pass the Requiem off as his own composition, as he is known to have done with other works: this plan was frustrated by a public benefit performance for Mozart’s widow Constanze.

A modern contribution to the mythology surrounding the work is Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus (and subsequent film), in which a mysterious messenger orders Mozart to write a requiem mass, giving no explanation for the order. Mozart (in the play) then comes to believe that the piece is meant for his own funeral.

Of particular note in the orchestra are the two basset-horns which combine wonderfully with the bassoons and strings, alongside a trio of trombones doubling the lower choral parts (a tradition of classical choral works), two trumpets and timpani (used only for heightened effect). The second trombone has a rare solo! 

In 1789 Mozart was commissioned by Baron Gottfried van Swieten to rearrange Handel’s Messiah: this work likely influenced the composition of Mozart’s Requiem; the Kyrie is probably based on the chorus And with his stripes we are healed from the oratorio, since the subject of the fugato, in which Handel was a master, is almost the same with only slight variations.  There are besides, in much of Mozart’s music for chorus, always baroque elements in the contrapuntal textures and suspension treatment: his boyhood lessons were never wasted!

Colin Touchin

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