The last year of Mozart’s life was one of feverish activity. Among other compositions, he completed two operas and started a requiem, which was left incomplete at the time of this death.
The Roman Catholic Requiem Mass is intended to commemorate the head. Mozart’s setting, for orchestra, chorus and soloists, is the most famous, though only a small part of the score was actually written down by him before he himself died in December 1791. The work was then completed by his pupil Franz Sussmayr, using references to Mozart’s surviving notes and instructions. Mozart received the original commission for a requiem from an anonymous patron, who wished to commemorate the death of his wife. This turned out to be one Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach, who subsequently tried to pass the Requiem off as his own work.
Mozart while writing it fell seriously ill and was haunted by the idea that he was writing his own Requiem. The opening section Requiem aeternam relates to the procession or approach to the altar, and the music assumes a suitably solemn pace on the orchestra, with wind instruments punctuated by the strings. The chorus enters with the Latin words “Requiem aeternam dona eia, Domine” (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord). There is a brief soprano solo on the words “Te decet hymnus” (To Thee is due a song of praise), before the chorus returns. The gentle melody of the Hostias – meaning sacrifice – is the last music Mozart composed. Accompanied by an arching orchestral line, the chorus offers praise to God in the hope that the souls of the dead will pass from death into eternal life. The music for the chorus becomes more agitated before ending on a more resigned cadence.