29 Mar 2012

Mozart – Requiem

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) – Mozart was not able to complete his greatest work. His progress on the Requiem was undermined by the busy commission schedule and failing health that marked his final year of life. By all accounts, he labored unsuccessfully to finish the music from his deathbed, often in great agony. Was this suffering due to illness or was Mozart poisoned? If so, by whom? A bitter rival? The secret commissioner himself?

THE MUSIC – If the mystery surrounding the Requiem sounds like grand fiction, it is because a great majority of it is. First things first: Antonio Salieri did not poison Mozart. No one did. The most credible diagnosis of his fatal sickness was rheumatic inflammatory fever, a condition with symptoms very similar to those mentioned in Mozart’s medical history. Another popular myth concerns the shadowy “gray messenger” that called on Mozart to offer the secret Requiem commission. This “sinister” man was likely no more than a lawyer’s clerk under the employ of Count Franz von Walsegg. The name Walsegg, at last, offers us some certainty. He did commission the Requiem in honor of the recently departed Countess and though he did forbid Mozart to attempt to learn his identity, it was not for the reasons history would have us assume. Walsegg evidently had a penchant for commissioning works in secret so he could present them later as his own. It was a relatively harmless habit, especially when compared to a poisoning, and his name came to light soon after Mozart’s death anyhow. The incomplete score left the Count and Mozart’s heirs with a dilemma. Mozart’s students, Süssmayr principal among them, took the first stab at a completion though they were certainly not the last. Many scholars have since tried to improve upon that original effort, including Robert Levin (1994), who made changes to the orchestration while also adding the recently discovered Amen fugue.                        

THE WORLD – The United States ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791. Found (and founded) in 1791 were the element Titanium by English mineralogist William Gregor, the London Observer, the Bank of the United States and the State of Vermont.

THE CONNECTION – The Mozart Requiem is a popular work. The last Utah Symphony Masterworks presentation came in 2008 under the direction of Pietari Inkinen.