The Backstory to Mozart’s Requiem

On May 5, 2018 OFS will be presenting Mozart’s Requiem.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 in Austria. While his father, a minor composer and experienced music teacher gave his older sister keyboard lessons, three-year-old Mozart would look on. Soon he was picking

out thirds on the clavier and by the age of 5 was composing little pieces which his father wrote down.

In 1791 Mozart was commissioned by Count Franz von Welsegg, an Austrian aristocrat, to write a requiem mass – a mass of the dead or funeral mass – to memorialize his wife who had died at age 20. The grieving Count was only 28 at the time and never remarried. Mozart began composing Requiem late in 1791 but became quite ill. He told his wife that he felt as if he was writing the piece for his own funeral. In fact, he died on December 5, 1791 before finishing Requiem.

His wife, Constanze was keen to have the work completed so that she could collect the final payment from the Count. She secretly asked another composer to complete it and in the end it was one of Mozart’s students, Franx Xaver Sussmayr who completed the task. He used Mozart’s pages that were completed in skeleton with some prominent orchestral parts briefly indicated and vocal parts and the continuo (the accompanying part that includes bass line and harmonies) fully notated. Sussmayr completed Requiem with Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei and then added a final section, Lux aeterna, insisting this was all done according to Mozart’s directions.

The play, “Amadeus” and more recent movie with the same title are highly fictionalized accounts that are considered myth and legend and do not accurately portray Mozart’s final days.