Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mozart's Requiem

The Schola are currently busy learning Mozart's wonderful setting of the Requiem for a concert next Friday at St John's, Smith Square. The concert is in aid of The Cardinal Hume Centre. There are just a few tickets left if you would like to attend!

The Requiem was not composed entirely by Mozart  as he died midway through writing it, halfway though the 'Lacrymosa' it is said. 

The work was completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, a friend of Mozart's, but perhaps not, as was claimed by Mozart's widow Constanza, his student. Constanza may have been trying to give validity to the completed work by suggesting that Mozart and Süssmayr had worked on it together but there is no evidence that they had discussed the work prior to Mozart's death.

Constanze's problem was that she could only collect the commission fee from Count Walsegg, the very unusual nobleman who had asked for the work (intending to claim he had composed it himself!), if it was thought to be truly by Mozart. His widow appears to have gone as far as to forge Mozart's signature on the final page of the manuscript, even though it is dated 1792, the year after he had died!

Süssmayr claimed that he completed the work following 'scraps of paper' left by Mozart, sketches of what he intended to compose. This is true to an extent but there are movements that Süssmayr composed in their entirety, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei - it does rather show as they are decidedly less good than the rest of the work.

It is ironic that Süssmayr was not Mozart's student but in fact a pupil of Antonio Salieri, the court composer in Vienna for much of Mozart's time there in the 1780s. Poor Salieri, of course, is accused of murdering Mozart in the famous play and film by Peter Shaffer, Amadeus. In the play, it is Salieri himself who is seen at Mozart's deathbed helping him to complete the Requiem, as in the wonderful scene below where we see Mozart (with an American accent) dictating the 'Confutatis'.

Much of the storyline of Shaffer's play was created by Constanze Mozart herself in the years following Mozart's death in an attempt to make the work appeal to the Viennese public. She stated that Mozart did not know who had commissioned the work, that he was convincied he was composing his own Requiem, that a masked figure delivered the money for the piece, and that he was composing the work on his death bed. Little of this is thought to be true.

But add in a jealous court composer, someone gifted enough to recognise Mozart's true genius but unable to emulate his musical achievements, and you have the plot of the wonderful Amadeus.

This is perhaps my favourite scene from the film.


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