Peace and tranquility has returned to my life after the stresses of GCSE revision and non-stop football being on the TV, even worse football being played in the house. I try to be nonchalant and calm as my kitchen cabinets are used as goals, but eventually it gets the better of me and there follows the most almighty explosion. It would have been so much easier and less stressful if I could have just done the revision myself but that would defeat the purpose. I now feel in need of a holiday somewhere hot and very expensive but sadly that is not to be so listening to the Mozart Requiem Mass will have to suffice.
A few weeks before his own death, Mozart, was approached in July 1791 by a gentleman acting on behalf of an anonymous patron who wished to commission a Requiem Mass. We now know this person to be Count Franz von Wazlsegg-Stuppach whose wife had died in February that year. The Count was a keen amateur musician who had the odious reputation of palming off other people’s music as his own and saw such an opportunity with the Requiem. All negotiations with the stranger were done in secret and to the dying Mozart, well known for his superstitions, this had the hallmarks of the supernatural.
By the time Mozart started work on the Requiem he was terminally ill, however he became increasingly obsessed with it calling it his “swan song”. On his death bed he managed to complete only the Requiem and Kyrie sections and for most of the others he had written the vocal parts and some bass harmonies. As a result of Mozart’s death, his wife Constanze, now facing destitution and fearing that she would have to pay back the money already paid for the Requiem, tried to illicit the help of other composers to finish the work. The task eventually fell to Franz Xaver Sussmayr, a former pupil.
Sussmayr completed the work and copied the entire score in his own hand-writing thereby making it virtually impossible to determine who wrote what, it was then handed over to the stranger.
No mention was made of Sussmayr’s part in the compostion and for many years it was generally believed that Mozart had indeed written the entire Requiem, although amongst Mozart’s circle it was commonly known that the composer did not live to complete the work. As such, some considerable controversy later ensued as to the work’s authenticity, this was compounded by the fact that Count Walsegg’s score disappeared for some fifty years. Fortunately this complete score and Mozart’s original did both survive and it has become much clearer as to who wrote what. Although Mozart is known to have played through and discussed the music with Sussmayr, it seems more likely that he would have passed on ideas he carried in his head but had not yet written down, so we can never been entirely sure what is Mozart’s and what is Sussmayr’s.
Mozart’s Requiem Mass has attained the status of cultural icon, artistically because it explores the full range of human emotion and also historically because it was used as a “Rolling Requiem” around the world in commemoration of the victims of 9/11.
There are numerous fabulous recordings of the Mozart Requiem so it is very difficult to choose one. The one I recommend is by John Eliot Gardiner with the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir. The all start cast includes soloists Barbara Bonney, Ann-Sofie von Otter, Willard White and Hans Peter Bloschwitz. I particularly like this recording because although performed on period instruments it still has a big sound.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner is acknowledged as a key figure in the early music revival of the past four decades. The extent of his repertoire is illustrated by over 250 recordings for which he has been awarded numerous awards.
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