Mozart : Requiem
Unfinished masterpiece, musical testament, timeless sacred composition going beyond the boundaries of liturgy, Mozart’s Requiem is always described in superlatives.
Mozart is supposed to have composed it as he sensed his own death. In fact, Count Walsegg commissioned it for his wife’s funeral. There could be no better choice than Mozart; he had just been appointed vice-master of chapel at St Stefan’s cathedral and was working on renewing the form of masses in music. As the most gifted opera composer in Vienna, he was the guarantee of a certain aura, even if the Count claimed to be the author of other commissions before revealing their origin. The D minor key is very significant: Mozart only used it in works about redemption through suffering, in Don Giovanni for example. At his death on 5 December 1791, the composer had entirely finished the Requiem and the Kyrie, and defined most of the five following numbers, from Dies Irae to Confutatis. His student Franz-Xaver Sussmayr had the daunting task of completing this music without betraying it. The work has since given birth to thousands of theories, numerous interpretations of the unfinished pages but foremost to magnificent interpretations: it fascinates the listener and the interpreter, and finally imposes itself almost entirely as Mozart left it, as if these last notes, written by a dying composer, were all the more precious…
François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was born in Belgium, which he left to pursue a career at the French Court; he was a composer at the junction between the old and the new style: he knew Rameau well, was Mozart's friend, created the "symphonie française", directed the Concert Spirituel, then the Opera and finally the Conservatoire. He joined the ranks of the Revolution and became its official musician, before being honoured by Napoleon.
When Mozart came to Paris, his master was Gossec. Mozart knew his truly splendid Grande Messe des Morts (Grand Mass for the Dead); composed around 1760, it was published in 1780 and adopted by the Revolution, who played it for those who died at Bastille! Its "stunning" parts made a lasting impression. There is no doubt that Mozart took inspiration from it; echoes from it can be also heard later in Cherubini and mostly in Berlioz.
Extract from 4ème Cantique sur le bonheur des Justes of Lalande - Les Nouveaux Caractères - Sébastien d'Hérin
François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)
Grande Messe des Morts (extracts)
(Requiem, Exaudi, Dies Irae, Tuba mirum, Mors stupebit)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)