The Requiem Mass is based on the text of a medieval Catholic funeral service. Its messages are the Day of Wrath, the Last Judge’s terrible punishment onto the sinners, their fierce pleading for mercy, the allmighty and relentless God and the merciful Jesus Christ. Neither the religious dogma, nor mysticism prevail in Mozart’s Requiem, which is of course, a work of a true humanist. Like all his other compositions, the Requiem is permeated with tender love and sympathy for man. Warm lyricism interlaces with profound dramatism here. Man’s suffering, despair and hopes, the ordeal he has to pass through and the pain he has to endure, these are the themes of the Requiem, a work of unprecedented perfection, beauty and power of expression. Mozart’s Requiem is duly ranking among the highest summits of world music.
There is, of course, the sinister and romantic story of the Requiem, Mozart’s last composition, which he left unfinished. In July 1791, an ominous-looking stranger called upon Mozart and ordered from him a Requiem Mass for an unnamed patron. Mozart dwelt upon the mystery of this incident until in his rundown and feverish condition it became a portent of disaster. As a matter of fact, the whole thing was no more than one Count Franz von Walsegg sending his steward to induce the composer to write secretly for him a work that he fondly believed he could palm off as his own and have it performed in memory of his wife. Mozart carried out his work piecemeal, for simultaneously with the Requiem He created, among other things, such outstanding operas as Die ZauberflSte (The Magic Bute) and La Clemenza di Tito.
After Mozart’s death, on December 5,1791, Constanze, the composer’s widow induced Sussmayr, his former student, to finish the score in an imitation of Mozart’s handwriting. Both Constanze and Sussmayr later recalled that Mozart, already gravely ill, continued working on the Requiem, explaining to Sussmayr the idea and the plot of his composition. Constanze also stated that she handed Sussmayr Mozart’s sketches to the Requiem, of which only two have an actual existence in Mozart’s handwriting now. This all put scholars to a deal of trouble and the very fact of there being any rough sketches by Mozart was doubted for a long time.
Of Mozart’s fair copies which have been preserved to our day, only the first movement, the Introitus is fully completed. The score for the next two movements – the Sequenz and the Offertorium – is fully written only for the solo parts, the famous Lacrimosa, the last section of the Sequenz, presents an exception here, there being in existence only two bars for orchestral introduction and the next six measures for the chorus. Completely missing from Mozart’s original are the Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and the Communio (Lux Aeterna). All this combined with Sussmayr’s assertion that it was he who finished the Lacrimosa and “composed anew” the Sanctus, Benedictus and the Agnus Dei, led many a scholar to negate, basing themselves on the available evidence, Mozart’s authorship in these sections. But such a conclusion runs counter to the results of the stylistic analysis and is all the more doubtful because all church compositions by the none too original Sussmayr are paled to extinction by comparison with the Lacrimosa or the Agnus.
Mozart’s Requiem is written for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, combined chorus, orchestra – the strings,basset horns (an ancient instrument most often replaced by clarinets now), bassoons, trombones, trumpets, kettle-drum – and organ.
Such an unusual composition of the orchestra (Mozart used no woodwinds except the dark colours of basset horns and bassons) makes the score sombre and forcefully urgent.
The first movement of the Requiem, the Introitus, commences with the introductory prayer, Requiem aeternam which gave the name to the whole composition. The music of this Adagio, uniquely monolith in its thematic development, speaks of deep restrained suffering, warth, doom and supplication. In the middle section of it, sung by the soprano solo, Mozart works in, as purely vocal, a traditional chorale, a psalm melody, which is heard twice in variegated form. In recapitulation he skilfully combines the first theme with its polyphonic variation from the middle section.
The Adagio is followed by the second movement It is a double fugue, the Kyrie eleison. It is a truly brilliant model of polyphonic art The first theme is a formidable, unrelenting exclamation, the second is energetic, urgent striving forth. The forceful unarrested melody is crowned with powerful chords.
The score of the second movement – the Sequenz, has six numbers. The text of the Sequenz dates back to the twelfth century. It is one of the most impressive works of medieval Catholic art depicting the terrifying scene of the Doomsday.
Its first section – the Dies Irae is full of dramatic feeling, it is outstandingly picturesque and urgent with a chordal chorus and agitating strings.
The Tuba mirum is profoundly human, gentle and lucid. The trumpet calls upon the dead to rise from their graves and appear before God’s throne for the terrible moment of the Last Judgement. But instead of the relentless Sabbaoth, Mozart apparently introduces here Sorastro from the Majic Flute, the representative of light goodness and humanity. The sacred fear of the divine Judge is replaced by heartfelt lyricism resembling the musical characteristics of the ideally chaste Pamina and Tamino from the same opera.
The Rex tremendae majestatis creates a staggering image of God punishing the sinners, their fierce pleading, their awe-captivated souls fervently praying for mercy. The music is full of force, it is high-flown and flowery in style; a residue of Handelian archaism clings to it Three canons (2 for two voices in the chorus and 1 for four voices in the orchestra) are beautifully interoven into the music texture. The piece finishes off with a stirring complaint
Basset horns, violins and soloists in the wonderful setting of the Recordae build up a brilliant model of polyphonic design. The noble and tender music gives birth to a feeling of restful hope. The tenderness of its musical characteristics calls to memory the gentle images of women from Mozart’s operas.
The Confutatis, the dramatic climax of the composition, speaks of the sinners’ sufferings, weighed down with deadly fear. The sombre chordal chorus in the low register, aided by trombones, outcries of basses and tenors counterposed by clear women’s voices, then grow into fierce pleading of the whole chorus, rendering the music a sense of expectation, both secret tense and perturbed.
After the dramatic Confutatis there follows the famous Lacrimosa. The troubled and lucid music is full of sorrow, supplication and foreboding of doom, succeeded by themes of hope and faith. Lucid lyricism, humanism and stunning sincerity are clothed here in such a perfect and noble setting, few of the world-famous composers can boast of.
Next comes the Offertorium consisting of two prayers -the Domine Jesu and the Hostias – which in Catholic service precede the sacrament. In the former the music is full of dramatism, the latter is solemn and elevated; one and the same rhythmic and impulsive fugue concludes both the prayers.
For the Sanctus which is fragmentary and not fully developed Mozart, evidently, sketched only a few bars.
The Benedictus is mild, joyful and sincere. The stylistic analysis gives us reasons to assert that the Benedictus, though not in Mozart’s handwriting, must surely, but for a few bars, have been dictated by him. The fugual Osanna, a little bit variegated, concludes both the Sanctus and the Benedictus. It is also unmistakably Mozartean in style. In Agnus Dei the awful picture of the sinful world (resembling most tragic pages of Byron’s Don Juan) is contrasted to the anxious and hopeful pleading for peace and salvation. These intonations are close to the mood of the first movement of the Requiem, which makes the whole composition an indivisible entirety. The impression is also strengthened by the intonational likeness of other movements. Moreover, the Requiem is concluded by a large part from the Introitus.
Constanze Mozart mentioned that the use of the fugue from the first movement as recapitulation and climax and ending, was what Wolfgang was directing Sussmayr to do on the evening of his death.