Thursday, December 5, 1991

Today in Music (1791): Mozart died, leaving his unfinished Requiem surrounded by myth

Requiem Mass in D Minor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (composer)

Composed: 1791

First performed: ?

Charted: --

Peak: --

Sales (in millions): --

Genre: classical > choral music


  1. Requiem aeternam
  2. Kyrie
  3. Dies irae
  4. Tuba mirum
  5. Rex tremendae
  6. Recordare
  7. Confutatis
  8. Lacrimosa
  9. Domine Deus
  10. Hostias
  11. Sanctus
  12. Benedictus
  13. Aguns Dei
  14. Lux aeterna

Average Duration: 51:33


4.502 out of 5.00 (average of 5 ratings)


“The sublimest achievement that the modern period has contributed to the church.” – E.T.A. Hoffmann WK


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About the Work:

Mozart’s “deathbed composition…ascended to truly iconic status. It did so despite fundamental mysteries of its composition and even its authenticity.” TD His widow, Constanze, “was responsible for a number of stories…including the claims that Mozart received the commission from a mysterious messenger who did not reveal the commissioner’s identity, and that Mozart came to believe that he was writing the requiem for his own funeral.” WK

“A tangled skein of myths and fairy tales imagine the deathbed genius collapsing upon his manuscript (myths powerfully reinforced by the 1984 film Amadeus), but many facts about the piece are clear.” TD “The Countess von Walsegg passed away in February 1791. The Count commissioned a requiem mass from Mozart via a clerk (the ‘Grey Messenger’ of Requiem-mythology). Mozart accepted the job for his unknown patron, having desired to compose some ‘higher form of church music.’” TD

In October and November of 1791, Mozart worked on the piece, TD “but it was unfinished at his death on 5 December the same year.” WK Constanze “arranged for his friends and pupils to complete the other movements.” TD “A completed version dated 1792 by Franz Xaver Süssmayr was delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg.” WK “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.” WK

“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…Constanze.” WK

“Mozart’s Requiem contains five sections, each capped by a fugue: ‘Requiem/Kyrie,’ ‘Sequence (Dies Irae),’ ‘Offertory,’ ‘Sanctus,’ and ‘Agnus Dei.’ Throughout, choral writing drives Mozart’s music; even the four soloists rarely sing alone. The darkly colored orchestra supports the choir with often vivid motives. This pictorial aspect is most evident in the Sequence: Tuba mirum (solo trombone), Rex tremendae (regal dotted-rhythms), Confutatis (fiery accompaniment), and Lachrymosa (sighing strings). Not only do individual movements display an extraordinary level of motivic unity, Mozart carefully creates motivic relationships across the entire Requiem. The very first melody sung by the basses (Requiem aeternam), for instance, is repeated at the very end and also echoes throughout the work; the opening melody of ‘Dies irae’ translates into major mode to open the Sanctus. Mozart is never afraid, however, of acknowledging his debt to earlier traditions of church music. His fugues deliberately reference Bach, and in the first movement alone he quotes from Michael Haydn’s Requiem, Handel’s funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, Messiah, and the Gregorian chant known as the ‘Pilgrim’s Tone.’” TD

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Last updated 12/4/2023.

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