A Study of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
His Requiem, and Its Influence on Conducting.
By: Christina Stango



            Musicologists and musicians alike have considered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart one of the most talented composers of all time.  The Requiem he composed in 1791 was the last composition Mozart worked on before his death.  This “death mass cut short by death” (Bauman, 1991, p.158) is one of the most performed and studied pieces of music in history and the story of the mysterious commission of Mozart’s Requiem is a well known one.

            After choosing to conduct Mozart’s Requiem, a conductor should study Mozart’s life, specifically the events of 1791, and the commission of the mass as well as a history of the Catholic requiem mass, translation, and usage, to correctly express the composer’s desires and plans for that music.  This semester I learned the basics of conducting from Dr. John Curtis, and conducted two emotional and challenging movements, the Confutatis and Lacrymosa, from the Requiem with the Misericordia University Choral Society.  I will discuss how my research of the piece, specifically these two movements, affects my conducting of them. 

            When conducting this piece, I will try to paint a picture of a musical genius sharing his last words with the world.  I will add dynamic markings and instruct the choir in ways to express the emotions that are connected with this piece.  The Confutatis and Lacrymosa represent the climax of the piece.  The audience should feel intense emotion while experiencing the music’s strong contrasting sounds which are both powerful and serene.  The piece was intended for liturgical use, and I will conduct it as such. 



            Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg to Leopold and Maria Anna Mozart (Sadie, 1982).  He was the seventh and last child to be born and only the second to survive, along with his older sister Nannerl (Maria Anna).  At an early age, Mozart had a gift with music.  He began to compose at age five and in 1761 made his first public appearance with his father.  Leopold was proud of his son’s many gifts and paraded Mozart around Europe to perform at concert halls and courts (Sadie, 1982).  Even though throughout his childhood Mozart was often bed ridden with illness, he would compose and return to touring once his illnesses let up.   In fact, Mozart was always composing, no matter where he went.  One account from Mozart’s hairdresser states that Mozart carried a small notebook with him to jot down ideas and notes as they came and went (Robbins Landon, 1988). 

            To better understand the events of 1791 it is important to understand other critical events in Mozart’s life.  On August 4, 1782, at the age of 26, Mozart married Constanze Weber at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna (Boerner, 1997).  Nine years later, Mozart died in 1791 at the age of 35.  Before his death, Constanze gave birth to their sixth child Franz Xavier Wolfgang.  Franz, however, was only the second child, along with Karl, to survive; four died in infancy.  After Mozart’s death, Constanze married George Nissen (Robertson, 1976).  Constanze died in 1842.  Unfortunately, Karl and Franz both died before having legitimate children to carry on the Mozart family name (Cormican, 1991).

            Various sources recall the events in 1791 leading up to Mozart’s death.  The story begins with Count Franz von Walsegg, who commissioned a requiem mass for his wife Anna who died at age 20 at StuppachCastle in Austria on February 14, 1791 (Selby, 1996).  Walsegg often composed his own work, and he and his wife performed concerts for the people of his manor (Selby, 1996).  Walsegg was known for using “ghost writers.”  He would commission works from famous composers and pay a good sum for them.  He then would take the complete work back to Stuppach, recopy all the parts by hand and pass them off as his own compositions (Robbins Landon, 1988).  In various accounts the people of Walsegg’s house claimed that they were always aware that Walsegg was deceiving them, but played along for enjoyment (Maunder, 1988).  Anna’s death would require a large scale, glorious requiem mass.  Naturally, Mozart’s help would be needed; he would be the ghost writer. 

            In the early summer of 1791 a “gray messenger” appeared at the Mozart apartment in Vienna with an unsigned letter (Robbins Landon, 1988 & Wolff, 1994).  The author of the letter stated that a requiem mass was to be composed for a man who would remain anonymous, but who would like a loved one to be remembered.  The letter asked Mozart to respond and state a desired sum in writing; the messenger would respond shortly.  After discussing the matter with his wife Constanze (as Mozart was known for doing) he decided to accept the offer.  The messenger returned with the amount Mozart requested, a sum of around 30 ducats, and promised more money when the requiem was completed (as Mozart asked for such a small amount) (Robbins Landon, 1988 & Selby, 1996).  The commissioner did not request any specific form the mass should take, and this became Mozart’s decision while composing (Wolff, 1994).  He chose the traditional form with the Dies Irae as the Sequence. 

            The writing of the Requiem was interrupted when Mozart traveled to Prague after the birth of his second son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (Gärtner, 1986).  In Prague he performed his latest Opera La Clemenza di Tito (written for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II) (Selby, 1996).  After returning in late September, Mozart continued writing.  He had laid out ideas in a form called “particella” which are his brief sketches of music (refered to by Constanze as “little scraps of paper”) (Selby, 1996 & Gärtner, 1986).  In late September Mozart’s famous opera Die Zaubeflöte was completed and a success. Its completion gave Mozart the opportunity to work solely on the Requiem.  

            Mozart worked night and day, focusing all of his energy on the Requiem.  As the composing continued, Mozart grew more and more emotionally attached to the piece. Soon he became delusional and started to believe that he was writing this death mass for himself (Selby, 1996).  In 1829, Constanze recalled her husband’s words. “[Mozart said] ‘I know I must die,’ he exclaimed six months before he actually did.  ‘Someone has given me accqua toffana [poison] and has calculated the precise time of my death, for which they have ordered a Requiem, it is for myself I am writing this.” (Robertson, 1976). On January 7, 1792 the Salzburger Intelligenzblatt first mentioned the requiem and Mozart’s mental state: “Now Mozart had to write, which he did, often with tears in his eyes, always saying ‘I am writing a Requiem for myself.’” (Wolff, 1994 p.123).  Other accounts based on Constanze’s statements from Schilchlegroll’s biography in 1793 state that “the requiem was getting on his over-sensitive nerves” (Wolff, 1994, p.124). 

            On November 20, Mozart was forced to retire to his bed following the early symptoms of his fatal illness (Gärtner, 1986).  Though he dwindled physically, Mozart’s work ethic did not; there was still an incomplete requiem to be finished.  Mozart worked on the piece until his final hours.  At 2pm on December 4 surrounded by Constanze, her sister, and two friends (singers from his opera), Mozart sang the alto parts of the requiem with his friends and family singing the other voice parts (Gärtner, 1986).  They sang through to the Lacrymosa, where Mozart had stopped composing.  According to Robertson (1976), “The last thing [Mozart] did was to imitate the kettledrums in his Requiem.”  Due to illness, Mozart’s body had become completely swollen.  After the doctor performed a regular bleeding in hopes of lessening the swelling, he provided a cold compress for Mozart (Robertson, 1976).  Shortly after, Mozart lost consciousness and died at one in the morning December 5, 1791 at the young age of 35 (Gärtner, 1986).  Mozart was buried at St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna and placed in an unmarked grave.  Constanze never attended the funeral nor visited the grave site (Gärtner, 1986).

            There have been many theories on the cause of Mozart’s death.  The most probable and studied explanation by doctors is that Mozart died of rheumatic fever or chronic subdural hematoma (Wright, 2000 & Bioscience, 1994).  One doctor has concluded that he died of congestive heart failure caused by rheumatic fever, which was spreading in Vienna at the time (Maunder, 1988).  Congestive heart failure caused anasarca, a swelling of the body especially the hands and feet accompanied by sweating and rashes (Wright, 2000).  Other causes of death which have been considered are: liver disease, kidney disease, Trichinosis (due to a bad pork chop), renal failure (due to Henoch-Schönlein Syndrome), chronic quicksilver poisoning, poisoning used to cure Mozart of syphilis from an actress, and even murder by a jealous husband of one of Mozart pupils!  (Cormican, 1991, Robbins Landon, 1988, Robertson, 1976, Selby, 1996, Wright, 2000, & History in the Media, 2001 ).  Research into the myth that Antonio Salieri had poisoned Mozart and had confessed to the murder on his deathbed has shown this myth to be false (Selby, 1996 & Robbins Landon, 1988).  There was no such confession, and though Salieri was often jealous of Mozart’s greatness, he did not have anything to do with his death.   

            Shortly after Mozart’s death, the people of Vienna began circulating rumors that Walsegg was the mysterious person who commissioned the piece.  After studying letters and records from 1791, Musicologists believe that Mozart and Constanze were aware who their commissioner was and “played along” for the money (Selby, 1996).  Mozart was in debt and tried to accept as many offers as he could (Robbins Landon, 2000).  In fact, evidence indicates that Michael Puchberg (Mozart’s dear friend) might have helped Mozart get the job.  Puchberg lived in one of Walsegg’s buildings and worked in the building where Franz Anton Leitgeb (the gray messenger and another friend of Mozart) worked as administrator and marketing manager of Walsegg’s factory (Selby, 1996 & Gärtner, 1986). 

            After Mozart’s death, there was still a requiem to be finished.  Constanze did not want to abandon the piece, as she needed the money to repay debts (Selby, 1996).  She turned to Joseph Eybler to help.  Eybler, after being sent the piece, added some orchestration in the Sequence (up to the Confutatis) and vocal parts in the Lacrymosa.  He returned the still unfinished score to Constanze after being appointed choirmaster at the Carmelite (Maunder, 1988).  It was then Franz Xaver Süssmayer’s turn.  Some accounts say that Süssmayer was called first but was out of town, other accounts say that Constanze refused to call him because the two may have had an affair and a fight after Mozart’s death (Selby, 1996 & Gärtner, 1986).  Whatever the reason she turned to Eybler, critics agree Süssmayer was a better choice.  Süssmayer completed the Requiem based on specific directions from Mozart, his notes on “little scraps of paper,” and the parts he had already completed (Maunder, 1988).  F.J. Freystadtler may have also filled in parts of the Kyrie (Selby, 1996).  Wolff (1994) (as cited by Jones, 1995) believes that the vocal additions of Süssmayer are “based on authentic material but they are imperfectly realized.”  While some praise Süssmayer’s completion, other critics feel the same way, .  The biggest area of controversy over the completion of the mass is that Süssmayer did not include the Amen fugue that Mozart sketched out at the end of the Lacrymosa (Bauman, 1991).  

            Once the piece was completed, ownership became the new debate.  (Selby, 1996).  Constanze gave the Requiem to the messenger who brought it to Walsegg and gave Constanze the rest of the fee.  Constanze made preparations for her own performance to honor and benefit Mozart and his children, given by the Baron von Swieten which took place on January 2, 1793 (Selby, 1996).  Around the same time, Walsegg’s orchestra performed the piece twice, on December 14, 1793 and February 14, 1794 (Selby, 1996).  In the terms of agreement, through which he commissioned the mass, Walsegg promised never to perform the piece outside of his castle.  After a performance where he broke this promise, Constanze vowed to get ownership back.  After many arguments and letters between publishers Breitkopf and Hartel, Constanze finally obtained consent from “anonymous” (Walsegg) and sold the work for 50 ducats and 50 copies of the piece.  Though Walsegg admitted he was not the composer, he requested 50 ducats for publishing it; he never received any money (Selby, 1996 & Wolff, 1994).  The first publication was printed in 1800, Süssmayer’s name was not included in the score until 1827 (Gärtner, 1986 & Bauman, 1991). 

            In 1826, a “friend” gave Abbe Stadler the original autographed score of Mozart’s (through to the Confutatis).  Stadler then donated it to the Court Library in Vienna around 1830.  In 1833 Eybler gave the court library the originals of the Lacrymosa through to the Offertory, which he had obtained.  The court library then purchased the rest of the originals from Walsegg’s estate in 1838 (Wolff, 1994). 


The Requiem Mass

               The requiem mass dates as far back in time as ancient Jews and early Christians (Jeffers, 1988).  The mass was created and used for one purpose:  “In commemoratione omnium fidelium defunct rum” (in memory of all the faithfully departed) (Jeffers, 1988, p.62).  Catholics believed that death was not the end but instead an entrance to the “true life;” life continued in heaven after the body had died (Robertson, 1976, p.6).  To commemorate the dead, early Catholics would paint pictures and write prayers to the departed.  Yet these paintings and writings were not enough, people felt that there was a need for the Catholic mass to address those who had passed.  To address the issue, the church added references to the departed to the ordinary mass around the seventh century (Robertson, 1976).  Eventually, through additions and deletions, the church adopted the ordinary mass and created a separate mass to commemorate the dead:  a requiem mass. 

            The actual requiem mass, as a musical form, began in the eight century and was developed and modified through to the tenth century (Jeffers, 1988, & Robertson, 1976).  St. Odo of Cluny wrote the first mass with the sole purpose to commemorate the dead in 998.  That celebration took place on November 2 and was named All Soul’s Day.  (However, this celebration was not accepted until the thirteenth century).  By tradition, in addition to November 2, a requiem mass was to be said on the day or anniversary of a death, and the third, seventh, and thirteenth day after burial (Jeffers, 1988). 

            Composers generally write requiem masses in Latin. (Robertson, 1976).  The Latin word ‘requiem’ means “rest.”  The requiem mass is similar to an ordinary mass, with the addition and deletion of some parts.  Parts deleted from the ordinary mass focus on the attendees at the mass allowing the requiem mass to focus more on remembrance of those departed (Jeffers, 1988 & Robertson, 1976).   

            Composers created the traditional requiem mass based on the Plainsong mass, which consists of twelve parts (Robertson, 1976).  The parts are:  Introit (Requiem aeternam), Kyrie (Kyrie Eleson), Gradual (Requiem aeternam), Tract (Absolve, Domine), Sequence (Dies Irae), Offertory (Domine Jesu Christe), Sanctus (Sanctus), Benedictus (Benedictus), Agnus Dei (Agnus Dei), Communion (Lux aeterna), Responsory (Libera me, Domine), and Antiphon (In paradisum) (Jeffers, 1988, p.63).  Composers may choose which of these parts they wish to include and the length of each.  Many composers divide the Sequence into multiple movements.  The two movements I will be conducting (Confutatis and Lacrymosa) are the final two movements in the Sequence.

            The Introit is chanted as the procession moves toward the front of the church (Robertson, 1976).  The Kyrie is one of the most familiar parts of the mass as it makes up the words “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” (Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison) (Jeffers, 1988).  The next part, the Gradual, repeats the music from the Introit and adds one additional verse. This portion of the mass is sung between the first and second readings (Robertson, 1976).  The Tract occurs after the second reading to replace the Alleluia in the ordinary mass (Robertson, 1976). 

            The next part of the mass is the Sequence. A Franciscan in the 13th century, possibly Thomas of Celano created the Dies Irae Sequence (Jeffers, 1988, Robertson, 1976).  The Dies Irae is the Sequence Mozart chose to include in his requiem.  Mozart uses the Sequence which is divided into five movements: the Tuba mirum, Rex Tremendae, Recordare, Confutatis, and Lacrymosa. 

            The Dies Irae Sequence is a poem with 17 three-line stanzas (Jeffers, 1988).  There are two-syllable rhymes throughout the entire poem, with the exception of the last six lines (the Lacrymosa) which were added at a later date (Jeffers, 1988).  The Dies Irae in general gets its familiar, famous beat, from the poem’s triple rhythm .  Critics have described the rhythm as the “blow following blow of a hammer on an anvil” (Jeffers, 1988, p.73), and having the “technique of the hell-fire sermon” (Robertson, 1976).  Mozart brings out this beat through the fury of the male voice parts in the Confutatis.    

            After the Sequence the last parts of the mass are the Offertory, which occurs during the presentation of gifts, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, and the Communion, which is sung during the distribution of candles (not the Eucharist) (Robertson, 1976).  The text at these sections mentions eternal light, which along with rest are the twin themes of the whole mass (Robertson, 1976).

            Mozart had very clear intentions for this mass.  The mass was developed specifically for a church ceremony (Maunder, 1988).  Later in his career Mozart became more interested in the “higher forms of church music” and even felt that completing a religious requiem would raise his chances for being appointed Kapellmeister (Cathedral Chapel Master) at St. Stephen’s Cathedral or Hofmusikkapelle (Court Music Composer) in the upcoming year (a position that would pay well) (Selby, 1996 & Robbins Landon, 2000).  Mozart did, however, intend his mass to be shorter than usual masses, in order for it to be heard on more occasions than usual.  Some critics feel Mozart’s mass is still too long and elaborate for liturgical use (Robertson, 1976). 

            Recently, Mozart’s mass has been used and performed at concerts around the world to highlight Mozart’s musical genius.  Critics feel that this switch to a secular usage is beneficial to the music, however others feel that the mass should always remain in the home of its original intention (as honored church music).  One patron commented after a performance in a Prague theater in 1801 that the piece was made for church and should never be sung in theater “amid colorful scenery” (Bauman, 1991).  E.T.A. Hoffman also exclaimed in a newspaper in 1814 that “The Requiem performed in the concert hall is not the same music; it is the appearance of a saint at a ball” (Bauman, 1991, p.157).  The switch to a more secular use, however, was a natural one during the early 19th century.  Orchestras and choirs performed the music more in concert halls with more instruments and the music became valued for its “aesthetic value” over “liturgical beauty” (Bauman, 1991). 

            Before conducting the piece, the conductor must consider the usage of the Requiem in each particular performance.  For the first of Misericordia’s performances the piece took place as part of a concert in a concert hall.  The second performance took place at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre.  Though this second performance was in the home of the original context for the piece, the circumstances surrounding the performance were not specifically to honor a certain person, but rather to share the beauty of Mozart through two of his movements of the Requiem.  While conducting, I expressed Mozart’s intentions to the choir and made sure they understood his original intention of the piece.  The Requiem is traditional church music, and it should performed as such, even in a secular setting. 


Mozart’s Notes

            Mozart is the primary composer of his Requiem (Robertson, 1976).  Of the finished score, Mozart completed the Introit and Kyrie as well as the Offertory.  The two fugues Mozart developed in the Kyrie are original and Mozart expressed his intentions to Süssmayer to repeat this section at the close of the mass (Robertson, 1976).  Mozart also composed a majority of the first five movements of the sequence up to the eighth measure of the Lacrymosa (Selby, 1996, Robertson, 1976).  In the Confutatis, the majority of the vocal parts are pure Mozart, as is the orchestration at the beginning of the piece.  At measure 26 the top notes of each chord in the orchestra are his, and the rest have been added (Nowak, 1965).  In the Lacrymosa the orchestration in the first measures are his and the top note in the chord from measures 3 through 8 are his.  The voice parts are also authentic through to measure eight, where Mozart stopped abruptly and moved into the Offertory (Nowak, 1965).  Mozart also composed most of the Domine Jesu and Hostias

            After his death, Mozart left notes and sketches with his ideas for other parts of the Requiem.  He also left directions for exactly which instruments were to be included, but did not explain the notes each instrument would play, with the exception of the strings which were somewhat developed (Robertson, 1976).  Musicologists have studied the differences between Mozart and Süssmayer’s techniques.  Maunder explains that one can tell exactly which notes and phrases are Mozart’s and which are Süssmayer’s by examining the grammatical mistakes Süssmayer constantly makes (Maunder, 1988). 

            Nevertheless, Mozart is the primary composer, therefore a conductor should express the emotion Mozart was feeling while composing this piece.  This feeling is gathered by examining what notes Mozart actually composed himself.  While conducting this piece I will emphasize the vocal parts of the Confutatis and the delicateness of the Lacrymosa following Mozart’s directions, and taking into account Süssmayer’s completion. 


The Music

            Mozart’s Requiem, specifically the Confutatis and Lacrymosa, influence an audience in a profound manner.  As a conductor, I must instruct the choir in ways to create this feeling within audience members.  There are various hints from the research and Mozart in his writing that tell exactly how the piece should be conducted.  Clues such as text, dynamics, rhythm, and tempo will all help me make decisions.  The text of the Latin requiem mass provides the most clues to reasons for Mozart and Süssmayer’s choices while composing as well as clues to how I should conduct the piece.  Close examinations of copies of Mozart’s original scores show that the most of the Confutatis contains Mozart’s own ideas, especially the voice parts (Nowak, 1965).  Wolff’s examination of the piece also shows that “the orchestra element is patently less significant in the Requiem” (Wolff, 1994, p.86).  This gives more reason to focus on the vocal parts of these movements.

            The first piece the choir will be performing is the Confutatis.  The Confutatis is the fifth movement in the Dies Irae Sequence, which takes place near the end of the entire poem.  It is in 4/4 time and andante, lasting 40 measures and tutti (with the whole choir) (Wolff, 1994).  The text is:

Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis. 
Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.


            My translation of this section based on Simpson (1959) and Traupman (1966) is “When the abusive are put down, assigned to fiery doom, my cry is among the blessed, I plead kneeling and yet leaning, heart worn out as though it were ashes, bring me healing at the end.”  This translation is very similar to professional translations, specifically the one collected by Jeffers in the Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire (1988). 

            The Confutatis combines the fierceness of hell with the beauty of heaven.  Mozart illustrates this combination through his contrasting male and female vocal lines, as well as the orchestration that accompanies them.  Mozart begins the movement forcefully, using male voices to represent flames, fire, and evil.  Throughout the Requiem, as in the Confutatis, Mozart has extremely brief introductions for the vocal parts or none at all (Wolff, 1994).  The piece starts quickly and does not have a dynamic marking.  I decided upon a dynamic marking of fortissimo and made this clear to the choir.  I based this decision on my knowledge of Mozart’s intentions and text at this section.  Fires start quickly and abruptly with power, as the male voices (specifically basses) will do here.  The male section continues for six measures alternating lines between the basses and the tenors.  The tenors come in at in a higher key than the basses and join to form a harmony.  Because the music jumps from section to section, a conductor needs to produce large clear breaths that will cue each of the sections. 

            Once breaths and notes are rehearsed, the choir can focus on meaning of text.  Generally the text states that evil people are sent to Hell.  The intensity should be represented in the sound the choir makes.  The audience should feel their power, which can be created through strong conducting in four, with the beats grounded in the ictus (the point in space at which all of the strokes of my hand will lie).  The Confutatis is like “blow following blow of a hammer on an anvil” (Jeffers, 1988, p.73).  While conducting, the heel of the hand should be like that hammer, and the ictus as the anvil. 

            While the choir sings powerfully, the orchestra must stay grounded underneath to keep the triple pulse.  The orchestra parts continue to “forcibly rise in pitch” (Robertson, 1976).  This familiar line provides a foundation for the male voices to build upon.  Wolff describes this opening section with beauty.  “Mozart paints the flickering flames in the intense interplay of the four-part choral writing and the unison instrumental counterpoint” (Wolff, 1994, p.108).

            From measures 7 to 10 there is a dramatic switch.  Robertson (1976) considers it a change in climate.  Mozart creates this switch at the lines “voca me cum benedictus” (call me among the blessed).  To represent the change and innocence of the plea, Mozart chose the female voices to sing this line.  They are the angels of heaven calling.  The sopranos and altos sing together while a beautiful violin line continuous underneath them.  To contrast the previous measures, this section is to be conducted in a legato fashion, representing moving phrases, no breaths, and a light feeling.  For dramatic effect, coinciding with the text and notes, I have added crescendos and decrescendos to increase the emotion in the phrase.  To demonstrate Mozart’s desired legato effect, a conductor must use long flowing strokes, pulling across the entire body with small controlled breaths. 

            The contrast then repeats itself, returning to the male voices on “Confutatis.”  On the third beat of measure 10, the tenors receive a large breath and come in on the downbeat of measure 11.  This measure is the first time that Mozart has both parts enter together on a downbeat.  There is a harsh sound on this note with a clashing of an E and F natural.  Mozart produces a sound like flames springing up.  Female voices then  return with the words “voca me” and return to pianissimo, and the conducting style returns to legato. 

            Before the movement ends, it takes a different turn at the lines “Oro supplex et acclinis, cor contritum quasi cinis: gere curam, mei finis.”  The lines are “I pray, suppliant and kneeling, my heart contrite as if it were ashes:  protect me in my final hour.”  This tone change creates a humble feeling from the vocal and orchestra parts.  The mood darkens as the basses enter on an E flat and sustain that note while the tenor, alto and soprano enter in a unified rhythm above them.  This is the first time in the movement that all the voice parts are singing together (Robertson, 1976).  The orchestra parts also shift creating a change in “musical expression” to a more agitated state (Robertson, 1976, Wolff 1994).  The dead do not wish to go to the “fiery doom” described throughout the earlier parts of the requiem mass.  The text and rhythm make this section similar to a chant.  Though there are commas (which would ordinarily indicate that the singers should breathe) the emotional intensity is sustained by singing the line with no breaths in between.  There are also no dynamic changes marked, but I have added crescendos and decrescendos following the natural rhythm and climactic point of each phrase.  The text and rhythm naturally leads to these dynamic marks.  The choir becomes more conscious of these natural patterns by writing in the marks.  The end of the Confutatis is marked with two chords played by orchestra, and a key change from F major to D minor (Robertson, 1967). 

            The next movement is the Lacrymosa.  Mozart has it flow naturally from the key change in the previous movement.  The Lacrymosa is the sixth and final movement of the Dies Irae Sequence, lacking the traditional two-syllable lines in three line stanzas as the rest of the poem in the Sequence does.  Musicologists have determined that the Lacrymosa was added at a later date, perhaps to change the ending of the sequence from one addressing one deceased person (singular) to many of the departed (plural) (Jeffers, 1988).  The Lacrymosa is in 12/8, 28 measures with a two measure Amen (the first 8 being composed by Mozart), the key is D and it is tutti (Wolff, 1994).  The Latin text and my translation are: 

Lacrymosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus. 
Huic ergo parce, Deus.
Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem.

             “That day of tears, where out of the ashes rises again, human beings to be accused and judged.  Spare them then, O God, dutiful Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest. Amen.” 

            The movement is in a minor key with flats as if the movement itself is weeping for the departed.  The piece starts with a quarter note followed by a higher pair of eighth notes repeated.  The result is a magnificent example of word painting.  Mozart uses the words in the poem as a guide for the way he composed the opening measures of the movement.  Each quarter note represents a tear falling, on this “day of tears” which paints a mental picture in the mind of the listener.  Wolff describes “sighing and sobbing [as] traditional subject[s] for word painting” (Wolff, 1994, p.108).  To reflect Mozart’s change, conducting here must shift to a much more light and slow 4, with more of a bounce on the ictus rather than a pounding as in the Confutatis.  The choir should be transformed into a different mood in the opening measures (which are conducted to the orchestra, or pianist).  These notes and text are the dying words and last phrases of Mozart’s life.  It was at this section in the Lacrymosa that Mozart stopped composing (up to measure 8). 

            Maunder (1988, p.13) shows the emotional intensity of the Lacrymosa in an account from July 25, 1827:  “‘Even on the afternoon before he died he had the score of the Requiem brought to his bed and himself sang the alto part….when they got to the first bars of the Lacrymosa, Mozart began to weep violently, and laid the score aside.  Eleven hours later, at one in the morning, he passed on.’” (Maunder, 1988, p.13). 

            The image of tears continues through to measures 5 through 8 with the words “qua resurget ex favilla, judicandus homo reus.”  The phrase starts soft and low and builds in intensity as the words increase.  The dynamics and notes increase with the image of the guilty being risen.  This rising chromatic scale climaxes with “homo reus” at a forte with the sopranos on a high A (Robertson, 1976).  This section is the climax of the entire requiem mass.  Here Mozart stopped composing; the rest was left to Süssmayer.  To show the climax in my conducting, I will start with short small beats and grow to larger, fuller lines indicating that the notes are held longer. 

            At measure 9, the piece has a dynamic shift again and the repeats the text.  The piece then has a three measure interlude and the vocal parts come in with “Dona eis requiem.” 

            This movement marks the end of the entire sequence and is concluded with an “Amen.”  The “amen,” though short, should encompass both the wrath of the beginning of the sequence and the beauty and humility of the last two movements.  To show these emotions the “amen” will be held with a fermata and a slight ritard.  There will also be no breath between measures.  This section, if done correctly, should give the choir, audience, and conductor chills.     



            Mozart’s Requiem was composed in the final months of Mozart’s young life.  A conductor should keep in mind the facts and intentions of Mozart when conducting this piece.  By knowing the research behind the Requiem, a conductor may make decisions based upon knowledge learned, as I did while conducting the piece with Misericordia University’s Choral Society, under the direction and guidance of Dr. John Curtis. 

            To conduct the piece appropriately, the conductor must understand the events of 1791.  In 1791 Mozart received a letter from a messenger asking him to write a requiem mass, an offer which he accepted.  The letter was sent from Count Walsegg who intended to honor his dead wife by passing off a requiem mass as his own.  Mozart’s composing was interrupted by his sudden death and Constanze was forced to turn to Mozart’s pupils, Süssmayer and Eybler, to finish the piece.  Constanze eventually gained the rights to the piece back from Walsegg and published the work as well as performed it in Mozart’s honor. 

            The performance honoring Mozart represented the true purpose of the requiem mass: to honor the dead.  The Catholic church created the requiem mass from a need to honor the departed in a separate ceremony.  The mass is comprised of twelve parts, each serving a purpose, and can be set to music.  The Confutatis and Lacrymosa are the final two movements in the Sequence which takes place in the middle of the mass.  Mozart intended the mass to be used liturgically and I will conduct it as such.  Mozart completed the majority of the mass himself, especially the voice parts, and left sketches on “little scraps of paper” as guidance for his pupils who would complete the mass.

            The Confutatis was one of the movements Mozart almost completely composed the vocal lines for.  However, the Lacrymosa was different; Mozart stopped composing this movement abruptly at measure 8.  The Confutatis and Lacrymosa are two contrasting and important pieces of music.  In the Confutatis, Mozart uses the text, dynamics, orchestration, and vocal lines to create a feeling of the dead sentenced to a fiery hell and the angels lifting them out.  Mozart displays this picture through the contrasting male and female vocal parts.  The mood shifts as the Lacrymosa begins by painting a mental picture of tears falling for the dead.  This movement explains the departed begging to be spared by the mercy of the Lord.  The Lacrymosa is a beautiful piece and should be conducted carefully using the rising scales and text as a guideline.

            Conductors and choirs should work extremely hard to express the true intentions of Mozart through the Requiem.  If done correctly, the audience will experience the strong emotion of the piece as the choir honors Mozart by bringing alive his music through expression in Latin text, rich harmonies, contrasting dynamics, and an understanding of music. 


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Cormican, B. (1991).  Mozart’s death- Mozart’s requiem.  Amadeus Press, Belfast    Northern Ireland.                        

Gartner, H. & Pauly, R.G.  (1999).  Constanze Mozart:  after the requiem.  Timber Press.

Jeffers, R.  (1988).  Translations and annotations of choral repertoire, Volume 1: sacred Latin texts.  Cascade Printing Co., Corvallis, OR. 

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Maunder, R. & Maunder, C.R.F.  (1988).  Mozart’s requiem: on preparing a new edition. Clarendon Press.

Noack, L. (ed). (1965).  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart- Neue ausgabe sämtlicher werke, Requiem Fragment, serie I. Bärenreiter Kassel, Germany. 

Robbins Landon, H.C. (1988).  Mozart’s last year/1791.  Schirmer Books.

Robbins Landon, H.C. (2000).  Mozart and Vienna.  Museum of Our Natural Heritage.

Robertson, A.  (1976).  Requiem. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT.

Sadie, S.  (1982).  The new grove Mozart.  W.W. Norton & Company.  New York, London.

Selby, A. (1996).  Mozart’s requiem: rescuing the truth.  Quadrant, 40(½).  P.31.

Simpson, D.P. (1959).  Cassell’s new Latin Dictionary.  Funk and Wagnalls Company.  NY.

Traupman, J.C. (1966).  The new college Latin and English dictionary.  Grosset and Dunlap. NY.

Wolff, C. (1994).  Mozart’s requiem: historical and analytical studies, documents, score.  University of California Press, Berkeley CA. 

Wright, K. (2000). Postmortem with strings.  Discover, 21(6).  P.39.

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(1994).  Rewriting Mozart’s death certificate?  Bioscience, 44(3).  P.207.

(1991).  Requiem but no piece.  Nineteenthcentury Music, XV.  P.151-61. 

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