History of Mozart’s Requiem

Archive, School Events

By Amalie Nohe-Moren

On January 6th the BSA Choir and Orchestra performed Mozart’s Requiem. In honor of the amazing performance and all the music students’ hard work here is a bit of insight on the history of this famous piece. 

The Requiem in D minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most performed and well-known Requiem Masses of the last centuries. From its commission to its completion, the piece is surrounded by dramatic tales. 

A requiem mass is a type of composition intended to accompany the religious ceremony of a Requiem mass also known as a Mass of the dead. The  name suggests it is a Mass in honor of someone’s death, often played at a funeral. 

The Music played during a Mass of the dead provides catharsis to those in mourning. It evokes deep sorrow and reminds people of the great power of God to give and take. 

Mozart’s Requiem would be the last composition he would write, as he died before he could complete it. This event, as well as some mystery surrounding the commissioner’s identity, lead to wild rumors and eventual misinformation becoming part of the complex history of the Requiem. 

The story goes that an unknown person solicits Mozart to write the piece, and originally he is uninterested, so he asks for an unreasonable high price. However, the commissioner agrees to it, so Mozart is forced to begin. While writing the piece, Mozart begins to have fears that the composition he is making is for his own funeral. He becomes terribly ill and tells his wife, Constanze Mozart, that he believes he is being poisoned. Eventually, he dies after the work is completed. 

This would be the story his wife would tell biographers which went on to inspire  plays by  Antonio Salieri, another composer who was acquainted with Mozart, as being the perpetrator behind the poisoning. 

The first play, which created this story, was Mozart and Salieri by Alexander Pushkin. The play inspired the Tony award winning play and the Best Picture film  Amadeus

The story of Amadeus fascinated the public. It depicts the idea that talent is a gift from god and is unfit for a person like Mozart, who is characterized as a crass and childish man. Salieri is the opposite of Mozart and believes he is superior in character, which brings him to curse god for passing him over when he believes he deserves genius.

 Salieri isn’t just jealous but is envious of Mozart and decides to kill him, so he commissions a Requiem from Mozart anonymously.Through the plot of Amadeus and the idea that Mozart was poisoned by anyone was a fabrication, the true story behind the requiem and the composer’s death is still fascinating. 

First, Constazne’s motives for lying about the creation of Mozart’s Requiem are mostly due to her wanting to keep all the profit from the piece’s commission. 

The truth was that Mozart did not live long enough to complete his work, and in order to have the piece finished, other composers helped use the pieces Mozart left behind to create the work we know today. However, if anyone found out that this happened, it would decrease the public appeal of the piece as well as force Constanze to split the profits. 

Though Mozart probably wasn’t poisoned, his death was still forever intertwined with the Requiem. One account states that while writing the Lacrymosa, a movement in the mass, Mozart was so terrified by the words he was writing that he stopped after eight bars and died before he could ever finish it.

 Almost half the composition was left incomplete at Mozart’s death. Despite this, the Requiem was pieced together in the end to be the masterpiece it remains to this day. It is a great Mass as it channels deep emotions to humble all listeners before the great face of death.

To contact this writer, email Muse Newspaper at musebsa@bsfa.org.

Headline photo caption:

BSA music students preform Mozart’s Requiem. Photo credit: Baltimore School for the Arts Instagram.