Mozart’s Requiem Mass: Exploring Music History


Requiem is the last uncompleted work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the prominent composer, and a funeral mass written in the canonical Latin text. The writing was finished by the disciple of Mozart, mainly by Franz Xaver Süssmayer. Requiem is one of Mozart’s most famous works, the creation history of which is mysterious and tragic. This paper focuses on examining how and why the identified piece of music was composed.

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In July 1791, Mozart, an all-European renowned musician, a member of the Bologna Academy, and holder of the Order of the Golden Spur, worked on The Magic Flute opera. One evening, a stranger dressed in all black visited him and ordered a requiem mass. Later, it became clear that it was Count Franz von Walsegg, an amateur music lover who used to buy someone else’s works and pass them off as his own. He needed Requiem to honor the memory of his wife, who deceased at the beginning of the XIX century (Melograni 242). The customer left the fee and deadline for the order at the decision of the composer and offered a good deposit yet did not disclose his name. Mozart agreed due to the constant lack of money and his impractical nature about everyday affairs.

Today, it is impossible to establish at what exact moment the work began. In the well-preserved letters of Mozart, he mentioned the work on all the compositions that were released at that time. For example, the coronation opera The Mercy of Titus, The Magic Flute singspiel, several small compositions, and even the Little Masonic Cantata were noted. Only Requiem has not identified anywhere with one exception: in a letter whose credibility is disputed. It should be stressed that the composer could not dispose of the idea that he was writing a memorial service for himself (Sollers 154). There was chaos in his head and trouble collecting the thoughts. The image of a stranger did not disappear from his eyes, and Mozart felt that his death would be soon.

The symptoms of an incomprehensible etiology began to bother Mozart in the summer – six months before his death. Doctors could not agree on the causes and diagnosis of the disease. The level of medicine of that time did not allow accurately diagnosing the patient’s condition based on the contradictory symptoms. For example, the image of the stranger who was constantly in the visions of Mozart harassed his already disturbed nervous system.

These were hallucinations, and if other symptoms could be attributed to kidney disease, edema, or meningitis, hallucinations did not fit into this picture. Some doctors suggested that unidentified symptoms were referred to arsenic poisoning (Melograni 245). In this case, it becomes clear why the doctors who had gathered for the consultation a week before the death of the composer could not agree on the disease, except for one issue – it was not long to wait.

The stranger appeared again to notice the results of the work. Mozart begged himself another month to complete the work, but the mysterious visits of this man in black seemed to him some ominous sign. If one adds to this the general emotional and physical state in which Mozart was at that time, it becomes clear why he sometimes began to tell his wife and friends that he was writing a farewell mass to himself.

Despite the inexplicable illness deteriorated every day, the composer worked extremely hard. The Magic Flute was over, and its premiere took place on September 30. After that, Mozart composed the Little Masonic Cantata, which he conducted in the middle of November. When the strength completely left the composer, he dictated the music to his disciple, Süssmayr, who lived in his house. In December, the part of Requiem called Lachrymosa was complete.

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On the evening of December 5, friends gathered at the bedside of the patient and sang Lachrymose. Mozart played the viola part, but burst into tears and could not continue (Mozart’s Requiem 58). The next day, he deceased, and the last piece he wrote was Hostias. The remaining pieces of Requiem, Sanctus (Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts), Benedictus (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God who carries all the sins of the world, grant You rest) were added by Süssmayr.

The end of Mozart’s work was offered to be entrusted to several masters. Some of them, overloaded with affairs, could not surrender to this work (Melograni 245). Others were afraid to compromise their talent by comparison with Mozart’s genius. However, it was known that during the life of Mozart, Süssmayr often sang together with him the composed numbers, they discussed the development of this work, and this disciple was informed about the whole course of Requiem and as well as the basics of instrumentation.

In his interpretation of the form of the mourning Mass, Mozart intentionally followed established traditions. In his Requiem, there are 4 sections with several numbers. The music of the last section largely belongs to Süssmayr, although here Mozart’s themes are also used. In the final number, the material of the first chorus is repeated – the middle section and reprise. The basic tone of Requiem is d-moll – the tragic, fatal. The most dramatic numbers are 1, 2, 7, and 12, and all music is fastened by intonation connections. The second role is played by second turns and the chaffing of the tonic with introductory tones, which appear in the very first theme.

Even though the other composer also contributed to the creation of Requiem, Mozart produced the canonical edition of the work, although others were proposed after it. Two autographs of Requiem were preserved, one of which belongs to Mozart, and the second – more complete – to Mozart and Süssmayr. Musicologists are still discussing the extent to which Wolfgang Amadeus’s student was involved in writing the given masterpiece.

Modern analysts try to reconstruct the original ideas of the master, considering them from the perspective of Süssmayr’s musical decisions. For example, aesthetic resonance is evident in the orchestration of Introit through frequent segues as well as voice doublings (Keefe 25). More to the point, Sanctus and Benedictus also represent the active involvement of the mentioned composer in the work on the given musical piece. However, Mozart’s Requiem is the great heritage left to humanity.

The question of the interaction of the musical styles of the mentioned composers remains unanswered. The contribution of Süssmayr is, however, criticized by Levin et al., who states that the positive judgments of the scholars might be not relevant (583). The key argument provided by the above author is that the assumptions provided by others are vague and unsubstituted. The rhetoric and sense of style are regarded as the issues to be evaluated instead of romantic notions.

While examining the creation of Requiem, it is essential to pay attention to Mozart’s wife, Constanze. She clearly understood that the commissioner who ordered the mass wanted to receive it, but it was not finished. Therefore, Constanze distributed various rumors about the death of Mozart one of which is that he felt his death and strived to complete the piece (Melograni 284). It was rather important for her to keep in secret that Süssmayr was the person who completed the work. The myths about the poisoning of Mozart and the opinion that it was Antonio Salieri who finalized Requiem were also created by her efforts. One of the premises of the latter is the play written by Alexander Pushkin and called Mozart and Salieri.

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Requiem completes the creative path of Mozart, being the last work of the composer. As an epilogue of a lifetime and artistic testament, Mozart wrote it to order, which he received in 1791, but he could not immediately start. Requiem evoked numerous myths and discussions: one of the main questions is what is written by Mozart, and what was added by Süssmayr? Authoritative musicologists are inclined to believe that the authentic Mozart text goes from the very beginning to the first 8 bars of Lacrimosa. After that, the disciple took up the business, relying on draft sketches and some oral instructions of Mozart.

Works Cited

Keefe, Simon P. ““Die Ochsen am Berge”: Franz Xaver Süssmayr and the Orchestration of Mozart’s Requiem, K. 626.” Journal of the American Musicological Society, vol. 61, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1-65.

—. Mozart’s Requiem: Reception, Work, Completion. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Levin, Robert D., et al. “Finishing Mozart’s Requiem. On “‘Die Ochsen am Berge’: Franz Xaver Süssmayr and the Orchestration of Mozart’s Requiem, K. 626” by Simon P. Keefe, Spring 2008.” Journal of the American Musicological Society, vol. 61, no. 3, 2008, pp. 583-608.

Melograni, Piero. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Sollers, Philippe. Mysterious Mozart. University of Illinois Press, 2010.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, June 9). Mozart’s Requiem Mass: Exploring Music History. Retrieved from

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"Mozart’s Requiem Mass: Exploring Music History." StudyCorgi, 9 June 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Mozart’s Requiem Mass: Exploring Music History." June 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Mozart’s Requiem Mass: Exploring Music History." June 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Mozart’s Requiem Mass: Exploring Music History'. 9 June.

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