Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mass in C Minor and Requiem

Born: 27 January 1756, in Salzburg
Died: 5 December 1791, in Vienna

{Biography} {Mass in C Minor} {Requiem I} {Requiem II} {A Personal Note} {Köchel} {Works} {Amadeus}


Mozart was born into a musical family, as was often the case for composers before the nineteenth century.  His father, Leopold (1719–1787), was a violinist and composer.  Industrious in the latter capacity, his perfectly competent compositions shrivel into insignificance beside those of his son, and he may have stopped composing at precisely the time that his son began.  His most famous work—that is, if it is indeed by him—is the so-called “Toy Symphony” that uses toy instruments, once attributed to Haydn but (perhaps) written by Leopold.  As a violinist Leopold had a far greater impact.  In the year of Mozart’s birth, Leopold’s treatise Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (Essay on the Fundamentals of Violin Playing) appeared, and it remains important for its information on contemporary performance practice.

Mozart’s immense talent was evident from the start, and his sister Nannerl (Maria Anna), who was five years older, was no slouch either.  Both composed and played the keyboard, and the young Mozart was a violinist as well.  They were shown off in Munich and Vienna, where they played for the Empress Maria Theresa.  Then, in 1763, when Mozart was just 7 years old, the family embarked on a three-and-a-half year grand tour of Europe to display both prodigies (they evidently subtracted two years from Nannerl’s age to increase the wonder of her achievement). 
Munich, Augsburg, Mainz, Frankfurt, Aachen, Brussels, Paris, Lille, Ghent, Antwerp, The Hague, Amsterdam, London, Dijon, Lyons, Lausanne, and Zürich were some of the cities visited.  They played for Louis XV, George III, and other royalty, showing off musical talents that included performing, sight-reading, composing, and improvising.  Today they’d have their own YouTube channel. 

Eventually Nannerl grew Too Old for This Sort of Thing; i.e., it was time to marry her off.  Which they did, and none of her compositions survive.  If she had even a tenth of Mozart’s ability, we lost a fine composer.  But we’ll never know.

Mozart, however, kept up the traveling, going with his father three times to Italy between 1769 and 1773.  In the peninsula he was decorated by the Pope, supposedly copied out the Allegri Miserere after hearing it once, met the learned Padre Martini, and  had his opera Mitridate performed twenty-two times in Milan and another opera, Lucia Silla, premiered as well.  In 1777/1778 Mozart was on the road again, this time with his mother, to various cities in Germany and to Paris.  But this journey came to a terrible end with the death of his mother in Paris. 

The point of all this traveling was to get Mozart a job worthy of his talents.  The name of the game at this time was patronage, whether aristocratic or ecclesiastical, but the boy who had enchanted European royalty proved incapable of securing the right position as a young man.  When he wasn’t traveling he was employed with the same establishment as his father, that of the Archbishop of Salzburg.  Boy, those were the days!  Anybody who was anybody had a permanent establishment of professional musicians on call.  In 1757, for example, the Archbishop employed a thirty-piece orchestra, fifteen boy singers, twenty-nine adult vocalists, and ten soloists.  Aside from the Marine Band at the White House, it’s hard to imagine anyone in Washington employing musicians (though Ruth Bader Ginsberg would have been a likely suspect).

Leopold was employed as violinist in the Archbishop’s orchestra and then as deputy Kapellmeister.  Mozart joined the establishment as well, becoming Konzertmeister and then court organist, but neither father nor son were happy being there.  From March 1772 on the Archbishop was Hieronymus Colloredo, who followed the ecclesiastical reforms being promulgated by Emperor Joseph II.  These included limiting the use of instruments in church and shortening the mass, obviously unpopular restrictions for musicians.  Mozart complained that forty-five minutes were now allotted for the entirety of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Epistle sonata, Offertory or motet, Sanctus, and Agnus—hardly conducive for any kind of expansive treatment.

In 1781 Mozart left the Archbishop’s employment, on exceedingly bad terms, and moved to Vienna.  His permanent residence in one of the great European musical centers coincided with his musical maturity, and his early exposure to every trend of the day through his extensive travels blossomed into masterpiece after masterpiece.  He met and became friends with Haydn; not surprisingly, the two greatest composers of their day recognized the genius of the other.  Mozart’s six “Haydn” quartets are one fruit of this relationship.  He also now learned the music of Bach and Handel from the music-loving Baron Gottfried von Swieten, and supposedly made a remark along the lines of “at last! someone from whom I can learn something” upon encountering Bach.  And he still traveled, now in connection with commissions and concertizing.

And how did he earn his living and support his family after he married the singer Constanze Weber and became a father?  Mozart represents the transition in musical life that took place between Haydn and Beethoven.  Haydn was an employee of the Esterhazy family, a servant who wore the family livery; Beethoven was an independent musician who was the employee of no one.  The insanity of the French revolution and the destruction of the Catholic Church in France had their effects elsewhere in Europe, and aristocratic and ecclesiastical patronage gave way to more commercial means of livelihood for musicians (this is a great simplification of a complex process, but the broad strokes are there).

In Vienna Mozart had a minor position as Kammermusicus at the Imperial court, he taught, he published some works, he performed (he was the best pianist in Vienna), and he wrote on commission (e.g., the commission to add wind parts to Messiah in 1789).  In fact, he actually made a decent living for a contemporary musician, having enough money to own a carriage and keep servants.  But he was one of those people who was a ghastly money manager, which eventually generated a series of depressing letters in the later years of his life to a friend begging for money to cover his expenses and debts.  Today he’d have twenty-five credit cards, all maxed out.

It’s upsetting to think about this unbelievable musical mind turning out masterpiece after masterpiece while being simultaneously plagued with money woes.  Or maybe it’s inspiring—evidence that creation is not dependent on ideal circumstances.  But everything is sad about Mozart’s death at the age of 35, of unknown causes, and his burial in a common grave.  And he left the Requiem unfinished.

Mass in C Minor, K. 427

It’s possible you will run across a reference to this mass with a Köchel number of 417a (on Köchel, see below).  Because Köchel’s catalogue was intended to list works chronologically, and because musicologists keep refining that chronology, the catalogue is revised from time to time and new numbers are assigned to some pieces.  But most of us are happy using the original numbers. 

Mozart’s Mass in C Minor is connected to his married life in several ways, so let’s take a quick look at how that is so. 

In 1777, during his travels, Mozart met the Weber family in Mannheim.  The family had four daughters: Josefa, Aloysia, Constanze, and Sophie, all of whom were singers.  Josefa was the original Queen of the Night (and her second husband was the original Pizarro in Fidelio); Aloysia sang one of the main roles in Mozart’s Singspiel Der Schauspieldirctor, she was the original Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and she was the recipient of several of Mozart’s concert arias.  All that came later; while he was in Mannheim he gave her voice lessons and fell in love with her.  The following year he stayed with the Webers in Munich, where the family was now living, but Aloysia made it clear they were not an item. 

Fast forward to 1781.  Mozart had moved to Vienna, where the Webers were also now living.  Aloysia had by this time married actor and painter Joseph Lange (who left us an unfinished portrait of Mozart) and Mozart’s attention turned to Constanze.  For a while he was again living with the Weber family but he moved out after some months to preserve the proprieties.  The situation remained messy, however, and it seems as if Constanze moved in with Mozart at some point in the following summer.  In any event, they wed in August 1782, one day before Mozart received Leopold’s grudging permission for the marriage.  Numerous writers (and apparently Leopold) have seen Mozart as being manipulated/duped/blackmailed/guilted into marriage by Frau Weber.  But it’s impossible to know precisely what happened, there’s a great deal of misogynistic writing involved here, and—most significantly—Mozart himself seemed quite happy with Constanze.  They went on to have six children (only two of whom lived more than six months, however). 

What does all this have to do with the Mass?  Some months after his wedding, in January 1783, Mozart wrote to his father that he’d finished half of the mass he had vowed to write in honor of his marriage.  And in 1829 composer/publisher Vincent Novello visited Constanze, who told him that Mozart promised to write a mass for her safe recovery after the birth of their first child (Raimund Leopold Mozart was born on 17 June 1783 and died about two months later).  The eighteenth century was certainly a time when women routinely died in childbirth, so the idea of a mass to mark survival is plausible.  It’s possible that Constanze misremembered; it’s also possible that the two promises were conflated.  In any event, Constanze was the impetus behind the mass

A long-awaited visit to Salzburg to introduce Constanze to Mozart’s father and sister didn’t happen until July 1783; one can scarcely blame Constanze for not wanting to travel while pregnant.  The “newlyweds” stayed for several months, long enough for the mass (or what existed of it; missing parts would have to be filled in with plainchant or something else) to be performed on 26 October at St. Peter’s there, with Constanze singing the soprano solos.  The mass performance was the climax of their visit; they left for Vienna the following day.  And for whatever reason, the mass was never finished.  Those who are down on Constanze like to imply that the incomplete mass symbolizes buyer’s remorse on Mozart’s part.  It’s more likely, however, that he put it aside to focus on pieces that would generate an income. 

The October 1783 performance was evidently the only time the mass was heard during Mozart’s lifetime.  The music, though, had another outing.  In 1785 Mozart needed to write something for Vienna’s Tonkünstler-Societät.  Evidently pressed for time, he turned to the mass (which had never been heard in Vienna, after all), ditched the liturgical text and added a new one (possibly written by Lorenzo da Ponte, who provided the libretti for the magic trio of Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosí fan tutte), composed a bit of new music, and voilà!  He had a new oratorio for Lent, Davidde penitente, K. 469 (a work that has never taken the world by storm, by the way). 

In terms of the mass, we have a finished Kyrie and Gloria, parts of the Credo and Sanctus, and nothing from the Agnus.  What Mozart left us is excellent, however, so the mass has been “finished” by various individuals over the years.  There’s an edition from 1901 by Alois Schmitt and Ernst Lewicki that pads things out with music by eighteenth-century composer Johann Ernst Eberlin and other compositions by Mozart; there’s a version that Helmut Eder put together in 1986 where he composed new material; and there’s a bare-bones completion for the bicentennial year of 1956 by H.C. Robbins Landon.  That last is the one that is most frequently performed and recorded (it’s the only one I’ve ever sung), although both Claudio Abbado and Helmuth Rilling made recordings of the Eder edition. 

Mozart wrote plenty of masses before K. 427: four at the ages of 12 and 13, then another 13 during his employment for the Archbishop of Salzburg.  Some are of the “missa brevis” type, short works using small forces; others are longer and more substantial in their orchestration.  None of the latter type were especially long, however, owing to the ecclesiastical reforms of 1772.  The mass in c minor—his last mass until the unfinished Requiem—exceeds earlier efforts in virtually every way.  Had it ever been finished, it would have been exceptionally long.  In acknowledgement of its difference from Mozart’s earlier masses, it is sometimes referred to as the “Great Mass” in c minor. 

K. 427 is variously described as a Baroque cantata mass (in the style of Hasse, says Alwes), a symphonic mass, and a secular, operatic mass.  Shrock describes the norms for masses in the classical period as dividing Gloria and Credo into three sections; ending each of those movements with a fugue; including a separate Benedictus in the Sanctus; often bringing back music from the Kyrie for the Dona nobis pacem; using SATB soloists interspersed with the SATB chorus; avoiding both arias and extended solos; and having trombones double the alto, tenor, and bass parts of the chorus.  The incompleteness of K. 427 means that it’s impossible to know what Mozart’s full intentions are, but there’s enough there for us to acknowledge that he was not especially interested in following classical norms for masses.  The layout of what survives, and the performing forces used, are given below.  This is based on the Robbins Landon edition as published by Peters, which lists orchestral needs as flute; 2 each of oboes, bassoons, horns, and trumpets; three trombones, timpani, strings, and organ.  The New Grove, however, lists the surviving orchestration indications as 2 basset horns, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and continuo. 

Kyriechorus and S solocmC
Gloria in excelsischorusCMC
Laudamus teS soloFMC
Gratias agimusSSATBamC
Domine deus SS duetdm3/4
Qui tollisdouble SATB chorusgmC
Quoniam SST trioem¢
Jesu Christe / Cum sancto spirituchorusCMC / ¢
Credo in unum deumSSATBCM3/4
Et incarnatus estS soloFM6/8
Missing all text after “Et homo factus est”
Sanctusdouble SATB chorusCMC
Benedictus SSTB quartet + chorusamC

At the time Mozart was writing K. 427 he was attending informal meetings on Sundays at the Imperial Library, where Baron van Swieten, who was the library’s Prefect, introduced musicians to the works of Bach and Handel.  Mozart immediately recognized the power of their compositions, and Constanze became enamoured of the fugues that Mozart practiced at home (her appreciation of fugue is a strong point in her favor!).  In terms of other vocal writing, Mozart’s two most recent operas were his first truly mature ones, Idomeneo (premiered 1781) and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782).  The c minor mass reflects both Mozart’s mastery of operatic writing and his new-found interest in the glories of the high Baroque. 

The opening Kyrie is in a straightforward tripartite structure, moving from c minor for the first Kyrie to Eb major for the Christe and then back again to c minor for the final Kyrie.  This is the only movement in c minor, although perhaps Mozart would have returned to this key for the Agnus.  One is reminded of Bach’s Mass in b minor, which spends very little time in its opening key. 

The Christe is distinguished not only by the switch to the relative major but also by the introduction of the solo soprano, whose melodic line is occasionally underscored by short choral interjections.  This would have been the first opportunity for Constanze to show what she could do, and it’s actually rather impressive.  The melodic range is wide, from Ab below middle C to a full two octaves above, and the elaborate vocal line incorporates wide leaps and a number of trills.  The solo supposedly incorporates bits from a solfege work that Mozart had written for Constanze earlier.  The final Kyrie brings a return to minor mode and choral writing only. 

The division of the Gloria into seven (or eight, depending on how you count) separate sections marks it as distinctly different from the standard classical division into three units.  Alwes notes that the text divisions match those of Haydn’e Cecilia Mass of 1766; in any event, it looks back to the multiple divisions so common in Baroque masses (think of Vivaldi’s Gloria, with its twelve subsections).  As we might expect, Mozart highlights the distinction among the various sections through key, tempo, meter, and texture, incorporating aria, duet, trio, and fully choral sections.  Choral writing alternates with solo work, and the solos increase in texture from aria to duet, to trio. 

In keeping with the joyful text, Mozart switches to a bright C major and steps up the tempo, moving from the Andante moderato of the Kyrie to a snappy Allegro vivace.  The rapidly moving melodic lines, sometimes inspired by trumpet-like arpeggios, slow down only at the end of the section. 

Laudamus te is an operatic aria for solo soprano, even more elaborate than the Christe and with an equally wide range (a to a’’).  Perhaps it’s not coincidence that Mozart left town the day after its performance, having brazenly introduced the world of theater into the church.  The aria is followed by another surprising movement, the short Gratias agimus, for chorus alone (now expanded to SSATB), that pushes us back into the world of the Baroque with its stately tempo, minor mode, chromatically shifting harmonies, and implied double-dotting.  Delicious!

Since the only thing better than one solo soprano in a mass is two, Mozart creates a duet for two in the Domine deus movement.  We are in triple meter for the first time; the two sopranos playfully chase each other up and down that staff, moving in thirds, imitating each other, and exchanging material.  The most exciting part is probably the traded high Bbs and As in mm. 297–300.  Very nice!

The chorus now has the substanial Qui tollis to sing.  Our texture has expanded still further: we are now in two SATB choirs, sometimes singing together, sometimes in alternation.  This movement is another that hearkens back to the Baroque, and one writer sees a resemblance to “The people shall hear” from Handel’s Israel in Egypt; the movement is also akin to “Surely” from Messiah.  The largo tempo, descending chromatic bass line, unexpected dissonance, dramatic dynamic shifts, and jagged string lines all contribute to the feeling that we are much earlier in the eighteenth century than 1783. 

After the Quoniam trio for the two sopranos and a solo tenor, the chorus, now back in four parts, returns to close the Gloria with a stately “Jesu Christe” followed by the expected fugue on “Cum sancto spiritu.”  Constanze would presumably have joined in—and enjoyed—this rollicking fugue that brings the whole Gloria to a happy conclusion. 

Mozart continues the positive mood with the Credo, whose first section uses SSATB chorus again, maintains the C major tonality, and gives the orchestra a trumpet-style motive in a brisk triple meter for much of the movement.  This substantial choral opening to the Credo is followed by another aria for solo soprano, the beautiful “Et incarnatus est,” which owes something to earlier arias from his two recent operas.  The lilting 6/8 meter and the Andante tempo set the mood for the key theological text of “and was made man.”  And Mozart has laid out Constanze’s soprano parts quite cleverly, so that each one extends the range a half-step higher:  Ab for the Christe, A for the Laudamus, Bb for Domine deus, B for Quoniam, and now high C in Et incarnatus est.  The listener (or Leopold, in Salzburg) would (should) have been duly impressed.  Also noteworthy is a written-out cadenza for the soprano, preceded by the same I 6/4 chord that signalled cadenzas in Mozart’s concertos.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Mozart meant to show off his wife’s talents to his father to prove that he had married someone worthwhile. 

With the final “et homo factus est” Mozart’s Credo music comes to an abrupt end.  We are missing all sorts of key text (e.g., the Crucifixion and the Resurrection).  Before finishing the Credo, however, Mozart sketched the Sanctus—doubtless a simpler construction with its shorter and more abstract text.  The opening eight-part chorus (double SATB; much of chorus II was left unfinished by the composer) tackles the Sanctus, Pleni, and Osanna texts (the last set as a sprightly fugue); this is followed by a new section for the soloists’ Benedictus (where a bass soloist is added to the SST trio—note how Mozart builds up the use of soloists slowly over the course of the mass) followed by a shortened repeat of the choral Osanna.  And that’s it for the mass.  No Agnus survives, if it was ever sketched at all—but it means that the mass ends on a very happy and uplifting note.  Osanna in the highest!

The Mass in c minor was Mozart’s last sacred vocal work until 1791, the year of both the motet Ave verum corpus and the unfinished Requiem.  Of course it makes sense that his sacred music would be concentrated in his years of working for an ecclesiastical court, but Mozart maintained an interest in the world of the church long after leaving the Archbishop of Salzburg.  His first biographer, in fact, claimed that “Church music...was Mozart’s favourite form of composition,” and when Mozart was 22 he wrote “I am a composer and was born to be a Kapellmeister.”  He continued to search for such a position, and in May 1790 he applied for the post of second Kapellmeister at the imperial court.  By the time of his death he was in line to take over as Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s (the one place in Vienna that offered a substantial salary for the post) after the incumbant passed away.  Had he lived, and had that new position come to pass, we might today have much more glorious sacred music from Mozart, or at least a completed Mass in c minor.  But this giant fragment is still a masterpiece, no matter how much of it is missing.

Requiem I

Many years ago I returned to Cambridge after a summer weekend in New York, proudly wearing a new “Mostly Mozart” t-shirt.  That prompted a friend to ask “Mostly Mozart?  What’s the rest?”  To which I responded, of course, “Süssmayr!”

This quip refers to the fact that, although Mozart died before finishing his Requiem, it wasn’t left unfinished for long.  And the version performed most often is that credited to Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766–1803), Mozart’s pupil.  But before we explore the ins and outs of that “collaboration,” we will take a detour for A Brief History of the Polyphonic Requiem Mass  (for “A Short History of the Catholic Mass,” see Bach, Mass in B Minor).

Mozart’s is the earliest Latin Requiem mass that most people know, before other famous ones such as those by Berlioz, Verdi, Fauré, and Duruflé, and preceding as well Brahms’s German Requiem and Britten’s War Requiem, neither one following the pattern of the Latin mass (a wonderful German predecessor in this vein is Schütz’s Musicalische Exequien).  The Mass for the Dead, though, extends back to the time of plainchant, and was performed exclusively in plainchant far longer than the regular mass.  This was owing in part to the solemnity of its service; a similar nod to plainchant and solemnity is found in the Catholic Church’s long preference for plainchant alone during Holy Week.

In the latter half of the fifteenth century we find the first attempts to set portions of the Requiem in polyphony (and, like the normal Catholic mass, anything not set to polyphony would continue to be sung as plainchant).  Guillaume Dufay (d. 1474) probably did this first, but his work is lost.  The earliest surviving polyphonic Requiem is by Johannes Ockeghem (d. 1497), and the best of the early bunch (and possibly third in line chronologically) is by Pierre de la Rue (d. 1518), a spectacular work that emphasizes the depth of sorrow by its frequent use of low C and low Bb.  Which low C and low Bb, you ask?  The low C two octaves below middle C, and the Bb below that.

Yes, that’s rather low!  Fixed pitch, of course, did not exist back in the early sixteenth century, when La Rue’s mass was written.  But there’s a great deal of evidence suggesting that pitch norms for vocal music then were not at all distant from those used today, and may have corresponded quite closely to ours.  A fantastic recording by Vox Early Music Ensemble, appropriately titled Extreme Singing, presents the mass at written pitch, as well as a batch of other low-lying works from the time (including the piece that sinks even further, to low A). 

La Rue’s mass (which was influenced by Ockeghem’s) appears to have served as model for still other early Requiems, and dozens and dozens and dozens were written before Mozart’s—and afterwards, for that matter.  As I write this (2017, the day after Mozart’s birthday), a multi-volume project is afoot to discuss all of these: The Book of Requiems, edited by Pieter Bergé and David Burn.  So a very detailed reference work should appear in the next few years.

All of these early masses were used liturgically, but the Church did not standardize the structure of the Requiem service until the Council of Trent (1545–1563, with some deliberations thereafter), and even then composers chose which sections to set polyphonically.  The service itself never included the Credo or the joyful Gloria.  Items that we encounter most often in famous (and not-so-famous) Requiems include the following:

  • Introit: a Proper section that is the first movement in any mass and that marks the entrance of the celebrants (Requiem aeternam, eternal rest)
  • Kyrie: Ordinary text with a three-fold division for Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), Christe eleison (Christ have mercy), and Kyrie eleison.
  • Gradual: a Proper section, usually musically elaborate, sung in response to the reading of the Epistle.  The text nowadays begins “Requiem aeternam” but before the Council of Trent “Si ambulem in medio umbrae mortis” (Though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death) could be used.
  • Tract: a Proper section that substitutes for the joyful Alleluia in times of solemnity.  The text used is now “Absolve, domine” (Set free, Lord), but before the Council of Trent “Sicut cervus” (As the deer) was used as well.
  • Sequence: a Proper section, normally following the Alleluia, with the lengthy text beginning “Dies irae, dies illa” (Day of wrath, that day).
  • Offertory: a Proper section to accompany the offering of gifts during the service.  The text begins “Domine Jesu Christe” (Lord Jesus Christ).
  • Sanctus: Ordinary text subdivided into five sections (Sanctus, Pleni, Osanna, Benedictus, Osanna).  Composers typically follow one or more of the subdivisions.
  • Agnus Dei: Ordinary text with threefold division.  The Requiem alters the text so that it is not “Lamb of God...have mercy on us” and “Lamb of God...grant us peace” as in the standard mass but rather “Lamb of God...grant them rest” and “Lamb of God...grant them eternal rest.”
  • Communion: a Proper text sung during the taking of Communion.  In the Requiem it is “Lux aeterna luceat eis” (eternal light shine upon them).

The responsory “Libera me, Domine” (Free me, Lord) and the antiphon “In paradisum” (In paradise) are not part of the Mass per se but could be sung during the “Absolution” that followed the mass, sung over the coffin.  Verdi’s Requiem includes the former; Fauré’s both of them.

The Requiem mass is thus what we call a “Plenary” mass, one for a specific event that uses polyphony for both Ordinary and Proper parts of the service.

Requiem II

People have been writing about Mozart’s Requiem for more than 200 years, and show no signs of stopping (this essay, for example).  If you would like to go further than the bare bones laid out here, an excellent study is Christoph Wolff’s Mozart’s Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies / Documents / Score (1994), which emphasizes the source material for the work and what we can determine from it.  Another good recent book is Simon P. Keefe’s Mozart’s Requiem: Reception, Work, Completion (2012); here the focus is on the reception history of the work.

Back to the work at hand!  In the summer of 1791 a mysterious stranger approached Mozart with a commission for a Requiem mass.  The commissioner, working anonymously through an intermediary, was Franz, Count von Walsegg.  The Requiem was to be for his wife, who had died the previous February, and the Count intended to pass it off as his own (which he eventually did, at two performances in 1793 and 1794).  Mozart worked on the score during the fall of 1791; on the afternoon of December 4 (according to one of those present), the gravely ill composer, his wife, Süssmayr, the original Tamino, and several others sang through parts of the incomplete Requiem.  Eleven hours later Mozart was dead.

Baron van Swieten paid for Mozart’s funeral at St. Stephen’s cathedral, attended by the Baron, the widow and other relatives, several of Mozart’s students including Franz Jakob Freystädtler and Süssmayr, and some friends and colleagues including the composer Antonio Salieri.  Over the next few days, someone added string and wind parts to the Kyrie fugue (mostly doubling the voice parts), and on December 10 part of the Requiem was performed at a mass for Mozart given at St. Michael’s Church, a service that Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart’s librettist for Die Zauberflöte (and the first Papageno) helped to organize.  Joseph Eybler (1765–1846) received the score on December 21, and worked on it, writing directly on the autograph score, until some unknown date when he returned it to Mozart’s widow.  She then enlisted Süssmayr to complete the commission, which he did in February 1792, though perhaps only after Abbé Maximilian Stadler, a longtime associate of Mozart’s, worked on the Requiem as well.

How much Süssmayr was following Mozart’s instructions or now-lost material remains controversial and ultimately unknowable.  The work he finished premiered in a concert in January 1793 (note—not a liturgical service!) arranged by Baron van Swieten to benefit Mozart’s widow and children, and was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1800.

The documentation of all of this—Mozart’s score, some sketches, and some “scraps of paper,” along with various conflicting statements about the completion by interested parties—is confused and problematic, and during one lengthy period in the nineteenth century Mozart’s authorship of any of this was seriously questioned.  In the twentieth century others have ventured completions: Franz Beyer, Hans-Josef Irmen, Richard Maunder, H.C. Robbins Landon, Duncan Druce, and Robert Levin.  None has provided serious competition to the “Süssmayr” version for performer attention or audience love, and none is likely to.  For better or worse, Süssmayr’s completion is the one that, for most music-lovers, is what is meant by the Mozart Requiem.

Performing forces for the work are two basset horns, two bassoons, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings, organ, SATB soloists, and SATB chorus.  Note the overall dark orchestration—no flutes, oboes, clarinets—appropriate, of course, for a work of mourning.  The use of trombones is appropriate as well.  Quick quiz: when do trombones first appear in a symphony?  Correct!  Beethoven’s Fifth!  But trombones do have a long history in sacred and theatrical music, plus a strong connection with the underworld: the instrument shows up, for example, in the underworld act of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607).

Mozart fully orchestrated the Introit for the mass, and some orchestration notes are scattered throughout the rest of the score, but most decisions on instrumentation were made by Süssmayr et al.  In general it is the chorus that drives the work; we are far more important than the soloists (who most often sing as a quartet), and the piece includes little purely orchestral writing.  The biggest exception is the beginning of the Recordare, and of course the whole piece opens with orchestra alone.  Much instrumental writing is colla parte, doubling the voices, or, as Wolff points out, to provide rhythmic contrast and interest.  Obbligato parts were typically added by the completion team.

Mozart wrote a ton of sacred music when he was in the employ of the Archbishop of Salzburg (no surprise there), though he had not composed it regularly since the move to Vienna.  But he was slated to take over as Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral on the death of the incumbent, so he had a renewed interest in the area by the time of the Requiem.  He follows various mass norms of the later eighteenth century (as noted in Dennis Shrock’s Choral Repertoire):  four soloists whose music is interwoven with that of the chorus; no long solo sections or arias; three trombones playing colla parte with the ATB parts; the Sanctus split into Sanctus and Benedictus; the repeat of the Kyrie music for the final section of the Agnus.  The overall layout of the mass follows that of Michael Haydn’s Requiem, which Mozart had performed while in Salzburg, and there are other Michael Haydn influences as well.  Keefe spells out still more influences and similarities with Mozart’s contemporaries.

Mass Layout

Between brackets: Parts that are in Mozart’s hand in the original manuscript

Introit (Requiem) and Kyrie
[Mozart: full Introit; vocal parts and figured bass for Kyrie]
Chorus and S soloist
[Mozart: vocal parts and figured bass through m. 8 of Lacrymosa]
Dies irae Chorus
Tuba mirum SATB soloists
Rex tremendae Chorus
Recordare SATB soloists
Confutatis Chorus
Lacrymosa Chorus
[Mozart: vocal parts and figured bass]
Domine Jesu Chorus and SATB soloists
Hostias Chorus
Sanctus Chorus
Benedictus SATB soloists and Chorus
Agnus Dei and Communion (Lux aeterna) Chorus and S soloist

The work begins and ends in D Minor; Wolff points out that this is as close as Mozart could get to the Dorian mode of the plainchant version of the sequence.  The sequence likewise opens and closes in D Minor.  The Offertory is in G Minor (the subdominant).  The Sanctus opens in D Major (the parallel major) but closes in Bb rather than returning to D, for which Süssmayr has been roundly criticized.  All movements, of course, explore other tonal areas, but a big difference between the Mozart movements and the Süssmayr movements are the quality and invention of harmonic interest therein (with the prize going to Mozart, of course). 

Introit and Kyrie

One of the all-time great openings here, with the subdued, plodding orchestral motion of grief portrayed, bursting into trombone fortes right before our imitative entrance.  If you’ve ever thought this movement sounded Baroque, you were right; much of the material comes from Handel’s funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, “The Ways of Zion Do Mourn,” an appropriate choice for the Requiem (the main theme was also used by Florian Leopold Gassmann [1729–1774] in his Requiem, a work Mozart could easily have encountered). Once we’ve all had our say imitatively we move towards the other choral texture that will characterize our singing throughout: the homorhythmic motion for “et lux perpetua.”

Mozart switches to the soprano soloist for the cantabile beginning of the Introit’s psalm verse, “Te decet hymnus” (based on a plainchant melody), but he dispenses with her almost immediately and we are back to finish the psalm verse and the return of the antiphon text with the same opening subject (Introit texts follow the structure antiphon / psalm verse / antiphon).  This time the imitation is heightened by the use of a more rapidly movement countersubject for “dona eis requiem,” culminating in a great sequential build in the top three voices over the bass’s turn with the countersubject.  Then he flips it so the bottom three voices are together against the sopranos, with our climax followed by the hushed homophony for “et lux perpetua luceat eis.”  Here the Introit finishes, but we are holding an unresolved dominant triad, so we and the audience know that we’re not done yet.

The resolution comes as we dive into the Kyrie, a strict fugue.  Here again Mozart turned to Handel; the fugue subject comes from the closing chorus of the Dettingen Te Deum. The imitative subject was a popular one; if you don’t know the Te Deum, you surely know “And with his stripes” from Messiah.  The fugue subject is always presented with a counter-subject (also from the Te Deum), first sung by the altos; with it Mozart juxtaposes the Kyrie and Christe texts rather than using them successively.  The fugue also uses stretto right from the start.  Stretto is Italian for “tight,” and it means that the fugal answer (the next appearance of the fugue subject) appears before the preceding presentation is finished (thus, sopranos enter before the bass is done).  Fugues are always great fun to sing, and this one is no exception.  I’m especially fond of the dissonant alto entrance on C against the Bb of the sopranos one measure after K.

The end of the movement is also Handelian: the breaking off of the imitative allegro music, now on an unstable diminished seventh chord, followed by an adagio homophonic close.  The final sonority is an open fifth, a sound that hurls us far back in the past.  From the birth of polyphony that was the sound used at the end of compostions or movements therein; only around 1500 did thirds begin to appear regularly in final sonorities.


Mozart divides the long text of the sequence into six sections.  The “Dies irae” gets us off to a dramatic start, with its forte dynamic, homorhythmic choral writing, rapid-fire syllabic text setting, and pulsing orchestral accompaniment of non-stop motion and insistent syncopations.  We contribute to the general mood with specific text painting on “quantus tremor est futurus,” with our trembling vocal lines; most performances heighten the effect with dynamic contrasts there as well.  Immediately afterwards we maintain the tempo but cut the rhythmic motion in half (with altos singing surprisingly effective repeated notes, a very powerful affect), and conclude after numeous sycopated motives.  There’s always a sense of “whew!” when this movement is done.

We get a brief rest during the soloists’ “Tuba mirum,” with its text-painting solo trombone, and then we’re back in for our “Rex tremendae,” one of my favorite movements.  This is usually done with double-dotting and that’s certainly how I prefer it.  Mozart’s writing calls to mind the style of the French Overture, begun at the court of Louis XIV to honor that king and spread across Europe; Bach wrote a number of French overtures himself.  Performances of the first sections of those overtures (with their slow homorhythmic motion) routinely double-dotted all the dotted rhythms, even though the double-dotting was not indicated (we know it was intended from performance practice treatises).  Although the king in “Rex tremendae” is not an earthly one, he is considered by many to be rather more important than any of those.  In any event, double-dotting adds a powerful snap to the effect.  And of course the piano “salva me”—our whispered prayer after we’ve finally gotten the king’s attention—is equally effective.  I especially like Mozart’s handling of the rhythm for our pleading “salve me’s”:  save me, save me, saaaave me!

Contrast forms an important part of the “Confutatis” as well.  The men get to rage loudly in crisp dotted rhythms (love the tenor F against the bass E on “flammis”); the women sing softly with more delicate, cloud-like vocal lines.  The men join us to wind the movement down, but the calming cadential chord of F major is immediately followed by a second-inversion seventh chord built on A—as it turns out, the dominant of D minor, the key for “Lacrymosa,” which follows immediately.

The tears of “Lacrymosa” are nicely evoked by the restless alternating orchestral accompaniment and our own breathless bursts in mm. 5 and 6.  I’m a big fan of the alto G against the soprano A at letter G; we’re the seventh in this first inversion seventh chord and should make the most of it (we’re in Süssmayr territory now).  This section—and thus entire sequence—ends with a simple plagal cadence, but that’s not what Mozart wanted.  His sketches tell us that the plan was for a rather fancy Amen fugue here, with inversion (upside-down treatment of the subject), diminution (shortening the rhythmic values of the subject) and possibly retrograde (presenting the subject backwards).  The subject itself was an inversion of the Introit subject.  A fugue makes sense here; the mass’s first section (Introit/Kyrie) ends with one, the Offertory ends with one, and the final movement would be expected to end with one as well, given the normal practice of bringing back material from the beginning at the end.  And Süssmayr ends the Sanctus/Benedictus with fugal material as well.  As Wolff points out, this gives a coherent plan to the whole, with each of the five sections ending fugally.  But he also opines that Süssmayr was probably simply not up to producing Mozart’s intended fugue and thus reverted to the two-chord cadence.  A shame!


With the Offertory we are back in Mozart territory.  It’s in four sections in two movements:  “Domine Jesu Christe” and “Quam olim Abrahae” in the first movement, and “Hostias” and a repeat of “Quam olim Abrahae” in the second movement.  “Domine Jesu Christe” and “Hostias” have rather different characters, with a restless duple meter G minor for the former, and a lyrical triple meter Eb major for the latter.  “Quam olim Abrahae” is a free fugue that uses stretto; it also uses syncopation to excellent effect (“promisisti”).


With the Sanctus we return to Süssmayr; whether Mozart’s ideas, plans, or now-lost material influenced its composition we will never know.  It’s certainly true that for many people this is their least favorite part of the Requiem, and when the Osanna text returns, as it must, Süssmayr is unable to repeat the earlier Osanna exactly as he evidently couldn’t figure out how to get us back to D major easily.  So the second Osanna has the same imitative material as the first, but it’s rearranged and in a different key now, with entrances in TASB order rather than BTAS.

Agnus and Communion

In this last section we begin with Süssmayr and end with Mozart.  As with the Introit/Kyrie, the short melody of the soprano soloist marks a new section, in this case the move to the Communion.  We move as well to Mozart; from “Lux aeterna” on it’s basically the same music we had in the Introit and Kyrie from “Te decet” forwards.  Süssmayr was probably VERY happy when he got to this point.  It is, however, slightly trickier to sing, as there’s more text and it’s less familiar (while we all know “Kyrie eleison” and “Christe eleison,” “cum sanctis tuis in aeternum” is more of a mouthful).  But it’s the same strict fugue, and ends with the same powerful open fifth.  But that final sonority is a sadder one; we’re done singing, and we know that Mozart must have known he was writing his own Requiem—one he would not live to complete.

So that’s it.  When the piece begins, stand up straight, breathe deeply, and hear that incredible orchestral introduction unfold.  We’re in for a great sing.

A Personal Note

Mozart’s Requiem is a work of mourning and sadness.  There is no happy conclusion; the piece ends in minor, on a bare open fifth.  The musical consolation that some Requiems offer at the end is missing here.  And yet for me the Requiem conjures up different feelings entirely.  I don’t think of the numerous times I’ve performed it, or even the first time I stood on stage to begin this work.  Instead, I think of a warm day late in June many years ago and a seven-hour train trip from Wilmington to Boston.  It was my first summer in the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which I had only just joined.  The Requiem was slated for performance at the end of July; a latecomer to the group, I had never rehearsed the work and in fact had been out of town for several weeks.  On that June day, with performance not that far away, I figured I needed to get cracking on this work.  Although I had never performed the piece (or even heard it live), and never studied it in class, I knew more or less what it sounded like, and I figured I could learn my part by perusing the score.  After all, it’s not exactly serialism.  So I opened it up and spent the trip trying to hear it in my head and picking out my part, a strategy that turned out well.  And because I had just come from visiting my family in beautiful Delaware, the first time I’d been home in the summer in two years, and had spent those days with lots of laughter and family activity and letting my mom buy me new clothes (being an impecunious graduate student, after all), I think of that train ride, sunshine, and being infused with the love of my family, with a glorious summer of Tanglewood performances ahead of me, when I think of the Mozart Requiem.


Usually when a piece of Mozart’s is referred to, there’s “K” number attached to it.  The Requiem, for example, is K. 626.  The K refers to a catalogue first published by Mozart fan Ludwig Köchel in 1862, which listed every piece Mozart was known to have composed, in chronological order.  This is a lot of works, since Mozart wrote his first piece at age 5 (first publication at age 8, first opera at age 12, etc.)  Köchel did not get everything right in terms of chronology, so later scholars have done some revisions in the numbers.  But most people (including many scholars) continue to use the original numbers, and those are what are used in the works list below.

Köchel had two lists to help him generate the chronology.  One was made by Leopold Mozart, who, when accused of writing his son’s compositions, came up with a tally of all of young Mozart’s works to 1767.  Then, in February 1784, Mozart began keeping a list of his new works as he wrote them, with musical incipits and dates.  Mozart, we musicologists salute you!

Works (highly selected!)

Mozart’s many travels exposed him to music and musicians he would not have encountered in Salzburg, and his music displays the highest synthesis of all the late eighteenth century had to offer.  Unlike Haydn or Beethoven, he wrote masterpieces in every genre of his day.  And unlike Beethoven, music just poured out of him.  He normally composed in his head, and wrote down works that were complete in every detail.  Sketches were used sometimes, but rarely, and typically for complicated counterpoint (e.g., fugues). 

Naturally, not every one of his more than 600 compositions is a masterpiece of the highest order.  But in general the higher the Köchel number, the likelier the piece will be a good one, and the ones after he arrives in Vienna (around K. 372, part of a violin sonata) are far more often hits than misses.  And there are plenty of good ones before he gets there as well.


  • Adagio in bm, K. 540
  • Adagio & Allegro in fm, K. 594
  • Fantasia in cm, K.475 
  • Fantasia in dm, K. 397
  • Fantasia in fm, K. 608 (for mechanical organ)
  • Minuet in D, K. 355
  • Rondo in am, K. 511
  • Sonata for 2 pianos in D, K. 448
  • Sonata for 4 hands, in F, K. 497
  • Sonata in A, K. 331 (Turkish)
  • Sonata in am, K. 310
  • Sonata in Bb, K. 333
  • Sonata in cm, K. 457
  • Sonata in F, K. 332
  • Sonata in F K. 533
  • Sonata in C, K. 545
  • Sonata in D, K. 311
  • Sonata in D, K. 576
  • Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman”, K. 265 (= Twinkle, twinkle, little star)


  • Violin Sonatas
    • C, K. 296
    • G, K. 301
    • em, K. 304
    • D, K. 306
    • F K. 377
    • Bb K. 378
    • G, K. 379
    • Bb, K. 454
    • Eb, K. 481
  • Trios
    • Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano in Eb, K. 498
    • String Trio/Divertimento in Eb, K. 563
    • Piano Trio in G, K. 564
  • String Quartets
    • Haydn Quartets: K. 387, 421, 428, 458 (Hunt), 464, 465 (Dissonant)
    • Hoffmeister Quartet in D, K. 499
    • Prussian Quartets: K. 575 (Cello), 589, 590
    • Adagio and Fugue in cm, K. 546
  • Other Quartets
    • 4 Flute Quartets: K. 285, 285a, 285b, 298
    • Oboe Quartet in F, K. 370
    • Piano Quartet in gm, K. 478
    • Piano Quartet in Eb, K. 493
  • Quintets
    • Quintet for Horn, Violin, Violas, Cello in Eb,  K. 407
    • Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581
    • String Quintet in C, K. 515
    • String Quintet in gm, K. 516
    • String Quintet in D, K. 593
    • String Quintet in Eb, K. 614
  • Adagio for Basset Horns and Bassoon, K. 410
  • Adagio for Clarinets and Basset Horns, K. 411
  • Serenade for Winds in Bb, K. 361
  • Serenade for Winds in Eb, K. 375
  • Serenade for Winds in cm, K. 388

Choral and Sacred Vocal

Mozart wrote lots of music for chorus, but most of it was early stuff for Salzburg.  These are the better known choral and sacred vocal works

  • Exsultate, jubilate (for soprano and orchestra), K. 165
  • Coronation mass in C, K. 317
  • Vesperae solemnes de confessore, K. 339 (Laudate dominum is especially famous)
  • Mass in cm, K. 427
  • Ave verum corpus, K. 618
  • Requiem, K. 626


  • 41 numbered symphonies, of which the best known are—
    • #25 in gm, K. 183  (the Little g minor)
    • #29 in A, K. 201
    • #31 in D, K. 297 (Paris)
    • #35 in D, K. 385  (Haffner)
    • #36 in C, K. 425 (Linz)
    • #38 in D, K. 504  (Prague)
    • #39 in Eb, K. 543
    • #40 in gm, K. 550
    • #41 in C, K. 551 (Jupiter)
  • 27 Piano Concertos, including 7 arrangements.  These are all pretty great.  My graduation present from college was a complete recording, which brought many, many hours of pleasure.  Well worth listening to are:
    • #7 for three pianos, K. 242
    • #9 in Eb, K. 271 (Jeunehomme)
    • #10 in Eb for two pianos, K. 365
    • #11 in F, K. 413
    • #12 in A, K. 414
    • #13 in C, K. 415
    • #14 in Eb, K. 449
    • #15 in Bb, K. 450
    • #16 in D, K. 451
    • #17 in G, K. 453
    • #18 in Bb, K. 456 (Paradies)
    • #19 in F, K. 459
    • #20 in dm, K. 466
    • #21 in C, K. 467
    • #22 in Eb, K. 482
    • #23 in A, K. 488
    • #24 in cm, K. 491
    • #25 in C, K. 503
    • #26 in D, K. 537 (Coronation)
    • #27 in Bb, K. 595
  • Bassoon Concerto in Bb, K. 191
  • Violin Concerto #4 in D, K. 218
  • Violin Concerto #5 in A, K. 219
  • Concerto for Flute and Harp in C, K. 299
  • Flute Concerto in G, K. 313
  • Flute Concerto in D, K. 314
  • 4 Horn Concertos in D, Eb, Eb, Eb, K. 412, 417, 447, 495
  • Clarinet Concerto in A, K. 622
  • Serenade in D, K. 203
  • Serenade in D, K. 204
  • Haffner Serenade in D, K. 250
  • Posthorn Serenade in D, K. 320
  • Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola in Eb, K. 364
  • Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477
  • Ein musikalischer Spass (A Musical Joke) in F, K. 522
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525
  • German Dances
    • The Canary (in K. 571)
    • Sleigh Ride (Schlittenfahrt),  K. 605 #3
    • The Hurdy-Gurdy (Die Leyerer) K. 611 / K. 602 #3
  • Contredanses
    • The Thunderstorm (Das Donnerwetter), K. 534
    • The Battle (La Bataille), K. 535


Mozart is one of the Big Five opera composers (the others being Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, and Strauss), and all of the works listed here are simply gorgeous.  But the librettos can present problems; Don Giovanni is a rapist, after all, Così is more than a little misogynistic, etc.  Not an easy problem to untangle. 

  • Idomeneo, K. 366
  • Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), K. 384
  • Der Schauspieldirector (The Impresario), K. 486
  • Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), K. 492 (da Ponte libretto)
  • Don Giovanni, K. 527 (da Ponte libretto)
  • Così fan tutte (Thus Do They [feminine] All), K. 588 (da Ponte libretto)
  • Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), K. 620
  • La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus), K. 621

Songs & Concert Arias

  • Songs
    • Das Veilchen, K. 476
    • Das Lied der Trennung, K. 519
    • Als Luise, K. 520
    • Abendempfindung, K. 523
    • An Chlöe, K. 524
  • Concert Arias
    • Ah, lo previdi, K. 272
    • Ch’io mi scordi di te, K. 505


This began as a successful play and turned into a successful movie.  It engendered a lot of teeth-gnashing among musicologists, since it takes lots—lots—of liberties with the historical record.  But it wasn’t meant to be a documentary; it’s a drama, after all, and the idea of a Mozart/Salieri rivalry, if not accurate, goes back a very long way.  Mozart was so young at the time of his death that rumors of poisoning began not long thereafter, and by the time of Pushkin’s play Mozart and Salieri, written in 1830, Salieri was the poisoner, motivated by jealousy (sixty-seven years later Rimsky-Korsakov based his opera of the same name on the play).  Amadeus still makes Salieri the “villain,” but he doesn’t poison Mozart; he wants him alive, since (in the play/movie) Salieri is the commissioner of the Requiem.  He is, indeed, tormented by jealousy, but Amadeus rather cleverly puts the focus on what happens when “mediocrity” (Salieri) confronts “genius” (Mozart).  It’s one thing for two closely matched individuals to be rivals; it’s another entirely for an individual to recognize that his talent, as it were, will never even begin to compare with another’s.  Mozart doesn’t just create outside of the box; he doesn’t even know what a box is.  He functions on a completely different plane.  For many viewers, then, Amadeus rings true psychologically.  So if you don’t already know it, rent the movie and watch it (but not the Director’s Cut—like most of those, it’s self-indulgent).  Amadeus is visually gorgeous and emotionally powerful—and the music is stunning.

January 2017, revised April 2022