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Mozart Requiem – Süssmayr Completion


W. A. Mozart’s Requiem with Exultate’s Festival Choir and Orchestra, recorded in 2015.


Exultate’s Festival Choir and Orchestra performance of the Requiem by W.A. Mozart, recorded in 2015.

See biographies for information about the soloists on this recording.

Listen to a sample of Domine Jesu:

Thoughts on the Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

When Mozart died in the early morning hours of December 5, 1791, he left his final masterpiece, the Requiem, unfinished. Less than three months later, a completed score of the Requiem was delivered to its anonymous commissioner. How was the Requiem completed and how would Mozart have completed it had he lived? These mysteries have tantalized musicians for over two centuries.

Mozart received the commission to compose the Requiem from a mysterious ‘Gray Messenger’ in the summer of 1791. The Messenger paid half the commission in advance, but insisted on guarding his patron’s anonymity. Already committed to compose an opera for the Bohemian Court, Mozart left for Prague and didn’t begin work on the Requiem until his return in September. Before long he became convinced the Messenger had come to warn him of his own mortality and that he was indeed composing the work for his own death. Concerned with this morbid fascination, his wife Constanze hid the score and forbade him to work on the Requiem for several weeks. But, shortly after resuming work in mid-November, Mozart became ill and took to his bed. He gathered a choir of friends around his bedside the afternoon of December 4th to sing the movements he had completed. He died less than twelve hours later.

In dire need of money to support herself and her two young sons, Constanze asked several noted composers to complete the Requiem so she could collect the balance of the commission. Mozart’s students, Freystädtler and Eybler, filled in some of the orchestration, but it fell to Franz Xaver Süssmayr to actually complete the score. Busy composing an opera of his own, Süssmayr rushed to meet the February deadline imposed by the mysterious Messenger. Able to imitate Mozart’s handwriting, Süssmayr forged Mozart’s signature on the title page and gave no indication that he had composed any part of the finished score.

Not content with collecting the commission, Constanze had two copies of the Requiem made for her own use. One she sold to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. The other she later sold to publishers Breitkopf & Härtel of Leipzig in 1799. Learning of the pending publication, the anonymous patron finally revealed himself. Count Walsegg confessed that he had commissioned the work in honor of his late wife Anna, and had passed it off as his own composition at her memorial service. No longer able to claim authorship of the Requiem, he at least wanted a refund of his investment. He eventually compromised by accepting several pieces of music in compensation.

Those conversations with the publisher sparked a great controversy surrounding the Requiem. Süssmayr, who had kept his silence for eight years, wrote the publishers stating that the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei were entirely his own composition. Abbé Maxmillian Stadler, one of Mozart’s close associates who may have helped complete the Requiem himself, carefully marked Count Walsegg’s score to indicate which handwriting was Mozart’s and which was Süssmayr’s. Still, Breitkopf & Härtel  published the first work not worthy of Mozart, noting many errors in voice leading and also recognizing melodic material borrowed from Handel and Bach. Controversy as to the merits of the Requiem raged within the musical community for decades. In 1826, 23 years after Süssmayr’s death, André of Offenbach finally published an edition giving Süssmayr credit for his completion.

Half a century later, Johannes Brahms published a new edition of the Requiem in which he declined to fix any of Süssmayr’s errors. History, it seemed, had decided to accept the version delivered to Count Walsegg as definitive. Then, in 1960, musicologist Wolfgang Plath discovered previously unknown sketches for the Requiem in a collection of Mozart manuscripts at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek. These were clearly among the “scraps of paper” given Süssmayr by Constanze, which he had disregarded in his haste to meet the February deadline. The most important sketch indicated that Mozart intended the Lacrimosa to end in a fugue on the text “Amen.” He subsequently published a new version of the Requiem by completing many of Mozart’s fragments and correcting some Süssmayr errors. There are also several other versions in print.

The mystery of Mozart’s Requiem can never truly be laid to rest. Exultate has chosen, at this time, to perform the “original” completed score of Mozart and Süssmayr.


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