The authorship of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei in Mozart’s Requiem has been the subject of much debate over the past two hundred years. It’s ironic that the Requiem is always referred to as “Mozart’s Requiem”, since it is nearly completely certain that it was Süssmayr who composed these three movements. And even more strangely, Süssmayr himself only made one official statement about his involvement in the Requiem’s completion: his letter of February 8, 1800 to the publishing company of Breitkopf & Härtel.
In the first part of his letter, Süssmayr explained how he came to be the composer to complete the Requiem. The offer reached him because “it was well known that together with Mozart I had sung and played though the portions he already had set to music. We also had discussed details of its composition, and he had often told me how he planned to orchestrate the individual parts, and why.”
He continued by explaining what Mozart had written and what he, Süssmayr, had added. This phrase is crucial: “The Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei are entirely new; however, in order to give greater unity to the work I took the liberty of repeating the Kyrie fugue to the words Cum Sanctis, etc.”
Süssmayr’s words are ambiguous. The words he used to describe his work in the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, “ganz neu von mir verfertigt” (translated here as “entirely new”) do not give much insight into the details of the matter. It is generally understood that Süssmayr meant that he had written these sections himself, and many musicologists interpret this statement by saying that Süssmayr meant that Mozart hadn’t been involved at all.
This sounds suspicious, if one continues to read Süssmayr’s letter, in which he writes about his association with Mozart concerning the Requiem. Specifically, he had written:
“The offer [to complete the Requiem] finally reached me, for it was well known that together with Mozart I had sung and played though the portions he already had set to music [italics mine]. We also had discussed details of its composition, and he had often told me how he planned to orchestrate [italics mine] the individual parts, and why.”
If Süssmayr supposedly claimed unconditional authorship of these sections, why did he later say he had discussed them with Mozart? Those same musicologists get stuck on that question. Lots of speculations were the result. However, if one re-reads the letter carefully, one will realize that (as I emphasized above) Süssmayr explicitly stated that he and Mozart and sung and played through the sections of the Requiem that Mozart had already begun. Nowhere does Süssmayr imply that he and Mozart had ever spoken about the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.
From all this, it should become self-evident that although Süssmayr appears to have had the best intentions in mind when he tried to clarify the information about the Requiem’s authorship, his ambiguous wording, along with the mistranslations and common misinterpretations of his words, have led to a lot of confusion. A very strange contradiction that often occurs is that scholars often want to have it both ways; they want to attribute as much of the Requiem to Mozart as possible, but blame all alleged mistakes on Süssmayr.
The evidence is often misrepresented, and misinterpretation and misunderstanding were the unfortunate results of the controversy. Many assumptions that seem reasonable at first glance become questionable when one examines the evidence thoroughly. Many of these assumptions arise from misinformation about the Requiem which, though popular, are in fact unlikely.
First, many people assume that Süssmayr and Mozart had detailed discussions concerning the requiem. The idea is romantic. Mozart, knowing he was going to die soon and obviously wanting to ensure that the Requiem would be completed, spoke to Süssmayr about his intentions for the work. The idea must have been appealing to the general public, although it is only supported by scanty bits of questionable evidence. It must have seemed so appealing that Peter Schaffer’s “Amadeus” even depicts a scene in which Mozart dictates music to Salieri! Whether it be Süssmayr or Salieri, the amount of information about the Requiem transmitted from Mozart to the other composer has been overestimated.
Second, since it is unlikely a lot of information was given through verbal conversations, it has been claimed that Süssmayr may have received “scraps of paper” that Constanze had found on Mozart’s desk. This is simply an attempt for scholars to attribute as much of the Requiem as possible to Mozart. No solid, concrete evidence exists to support this statement, and the credibility of the witnesses who first mentioned this – Constanze Mozart and her friend Maximilian Stadler – is questionable.
Third, many people say that the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei are so good only Mozart could have written them. Any mistakes found in these sections are attributed to Süssmayr, so it seems that the scholars are attempting to have it both ways. This statement is merely an opinion, and opinions vary from person to person. Only careful stylistic analysis and biographical evidence about both composers can even scratch the surface of the mystery surrounding the authorship of these three sections.
Fourth, melodic material attributed to Mozart is also found in sections attributed to Süssmayr. Although the first two statements lack evidence to support them, and the third is an opinion, the fourth one requires quite some investigation.
Discussions between Süssmayr and Mozart
It is certain that some discussion about the Requiem must have taken place between the two composers. Many years after Mozart’s death, his sister-in law Sophie Weber (later Haibl) wrote to Georg Nikolaus Nissen, Constanze’s second husband:
“[Franz Xaver] Süssmayr was with Mozart. On the bedcover lay the famous requiem, and Mozart explained to him what his intentions were so that he could finish it after his death.”
Sophie’s statements do not go into greater detail, so no conclusions can be drawn about whether Mozart spoke about the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei with Süssmayr. As explained earlier, Süssmayr’s letter only mentions discussion about the sections that Mozart had already begun to compose. There is no evidence that there was any discussion between Süssmayr and Mozart about the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.
In regard to discussion about the Requiem in general, it is highly unlikely that Mozart and Süssmayr actually exchanged a substantial amount of information through verbal communication. At most, they only had one or two weeks to talk about the Requiem, since Mozart’s last illness and brief, and his death was rather sudden. It wasn’t until shortly before his death that Mozart became absolutely certain that he would never live to complete the Requiem. And since his condition was deteriorating and he was drifting in and out of consciousness, it is unlikely he could have given much information verbally anyway. In addition to this, his body gave off a foul odor, as reported by those in attendance in his final days, so it must have been difficult for Süssmayr (as well as anyone else), to stay in the same room with him, much less discuss detailed musical matters.
Therefore, although it is certain that some discussion occurred, it is likely that they had only begun. Given what is known about the circumstances surrounding Mozart’s final illness and death, it is implausible that he had given Süssmayr a substantial amount of information through verbal communication.
Scraps of Paper
Since it is unlikely that Mozart gave Süssmayr much information verbally, musicologists – always with the intention to attribute as much of the Requiem to Mozart as possible – began to look for written material. The discovery of an Amen fugue sketch in the twentieth century led people to believe that if one sketch was found, there must be more like it. This is simply flawed logic, and other possibilities must be considered as well. Given the fact that Süssmayr did not have much time to complete the Requiem and was under a lot of pressure, it is possible that he did not have the time to look through any sketches, if they existed at all! And since it is virtually certain that Mozart could not have exchanged much information with him through verbal communication, Süssmayr may not have recognized the drafts had they existed at all.
The only firsthand accounts that mention “scraps of paper” were those of Constanze Mozart and her friend Maximilian Stadler. There are many things wrong with nearly all of Constanze’s assertions, and her credibility – especially when the Requiem is concerned – is questionable. Like many scholars today, Constanze’s intention was to attribute as much of the Requiem to Mozart as possible. Anything she said could have been to maximize Mozart’s share its composition. She had to supply Count Franz von Walsegg, the commissioner, with an authentic Mozart work in order to collect the money she so desperately needed. She also felt she could earn more money by selling and publishing “Mozart’s Swan Song.” Constanze continuously told people that her late husband had “nearly completed” the Requiem before his death.
It is also possible that her friend Maximilian Stadler had lied. A list of wrong notes that Constanze later sent to Gottfried Christoph Härtel, the publisher, was probably prepared by Stadler. Stadler wrote a few articles concerning the Requiem in 1826 in response to Gottfried Weber’s attacks on the authenticity of the work. Stadler claimed that Mozart’s widow had given to Süssmayr some scraps of paper, and that “what these contained and whether Süssmayr made use of them and in what way, she did not know.”
Stadler’s wording is ambiguous. He used the word “Zettelchen,” the diminutive form of the German word “Zettel.” It means a scrap or slip of paper, or even paper itself. This kind of ambiguous language gives no information on how much material was written on those alleged sketches for the Requiem, or even if they existed at all. Stadler never said that the scraps, if they existed at all, were for the requiem.
At the time of Mozart’s death, his musical estate was in complete disarray. Constanze later wrote that “one of his weaknesses was that he was careless with his papers.” There could have been all sorts of papers on his desk that Constanze could have given to Süssmayr, and she most likely didn’t know what they contained. And if Süssmayr had found material irrelevant to the requiem, he probably would have ignored it altogether given the time limits and pressures under which he worked.
To summarize, it is highly unlikely that Süssmayr actually found and understood any drafts for the Requiem. As for the Amen fugue, whose existence is incontrovertible, it is far from obvious what the sketch was for at first glance. Constanze’s claims cannot be trusted, because her intention all along had been to maximize Mozart’s authorship in the Requiem. Stadler’s claims are not very clear, and since the word “Zettelchen” has various meanings, we cannot come to any conclusions about how much material was on those alleged scraps.
The only possible conclusion that can be drawn from all this evidence is that Mozart died before he could even begin drafting out the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. Because of this, Süssmayr had to write these sections later on, and his claim about his authorship of these sections cannot be refuted by the idea that Mozart had given him any detailed information through verbal communication or in writing.
Too Good for Süssmayr?
When all their other arguments fail, those who challenge Süssmayr’s exclusive authorship of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei decided to use an opinion to support their argument. Whenever musicologists wish that the entire requiem was by Mozart, they always say that it is only possible that Mozart could have written it. This can be phrased in many ways, but it always comes down to the same thing: the Sanctus, the Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei are too good to have been by Süssmayr. In other words, they are so good that only Mozart could have written them.
There are many things wrong with this statement. Few musicologists have heard anything of Süssmayr’s music, and it is not right to assume that if he were any good, we’d be hearing much more of his music. Everyone has a different opinion of “good” and “bad” music; also, times change and so do styles of art and music. Besides, the quality of the music really has little to do with its authenticity.
If the musicologists want to compare Süssmayr’s music to Mozart’s, they need to have an extensive knowledge of both composers’ other works. This poses a problem: not much of Süssmayr’s music is known. Little of his music is published, and performances of his works are rare. Biographical information about him is scarce as well. There are some good sources that can be found, especially the research done by the Austrian musicologist Erich Duda, but these sources (which are generally not very accessible to the English-speaking world) are not enough to know Süssmayr’s music extensively well. If scholars have not heard much of Süssmayr’s music, then they had no right to say that he wasn’t good enough to have written the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei in the requiem.
Continuing down the same path, the fact that not much of Süssmayr’s music is known doesn’t necessarily mean that he wasn’t a good composer. There were many composers that were excellent, but obscure today. The opposite is also true. For example, if Mendelssohn hadn’t devoted so much time to preserving Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical legacy, Bach could have been forgotten. The same can even be said about Mozart. Had his widow, Constanze, not taken the initiative to invite Mozart’s friends and acquaintances to put Mozart’s musical estate in order, many of his works would be unknown today. In short, there is no reason to think that if Süssmayr was any good, we’d be hearing a lot of his music.
The “too good for Süssmayr” argument also loses its credibility when we consider the fact that everyone has a different opinion of “good” and “bad” music. Something that sounds good to one person may sound terrible to someone else. Gottfried Weber, who attacked the requiem’s authenticity in 1825, didn’t enjoy the music of the requiem, so he said Mozart could not possibly have contributed a substantial amount of music to the work. His opinions clouded his perception of the facts; as a matter of fact, Weber didn’t even realize that at first, he was criticizing only the Mozart sections, and praising the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei!
Times change, and so do styles of art, music, literature, and architecture, to name a few things. For instance, one may look at pictures of famous beauties in history and think they look “ordinary.” These things simply aren’t the same in every era. The same is with music. Süssmayr, as a Kapellmeister, had to listen to popular taste and compose in that style, while Mozart may have composed in a “timeless” fashion. This doesn’t mean that one was better than the other. Incidentally, Süssmayr seemed to have gone out of favor around 1800 because people started listening to other styles of music; it was the beginning of the romantic era. This change in the public’s taste doesn’t prove that objectively, he was not a good composer!
Lastly, the quality of the music in the requiem has nothing to do with the authenticity, or “who wrote what.” Considering the emotional circumstances after Mozart’s death, Süssmayr might have written music that was more creative than what he usually composed. But since his level of inventiveness has never been fully established, we can’t make sure of that either. Ironically, Süssmayr may have composed below his normal level of creativity in order to pass the work off as Mozart’s for the anonymous patron. The musicological world cannot know for certain until biographical information on Süssmayr becomes more well-known. So instead of using the quality of the music as a basis for determining who wrote the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, scholars should instead analyze the music stylistically. However, doing this also requires knowledge of Süssmayr’s work in extenso – something that very few people have.
In conclusion, the statement “too good to Süssmayr” is full of empty evidence. Few people have heard any “pure” Süssmayr, and there is no reason to believe that if he were any good, we’d be hearing far more of his music today. Everyone has a different opinion on how good a piece of music is, and styles of art and music change throughout different eras. Finally, the quality of the music has nothing to do with authenticity.
This complicated situation reveals how difficult musicological study really is. Unlike subjects such as science, emotions and opinions cannot be absent from musical analysis. If art and music do not produce emotions in the observer or the listener, then the artist or composer has not succeeded in his purpose. Scholars cannot study music in a merely technical fashion; aesthetics must be considered as well. However, opinions should not be the only source of evidence for a particular claim; such an argument is completely empty.
Borrowing of Themes
Some scholars argue against Süssmayr’s authorship of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei because motifs from sections Mozart definitely wrote also appear in these three sections. Mozart often used the technique of “thematic linkage” in multi-movement works. For example, in the Mass in C minor, the musicologist Robert Levin noticed that the beginning of the Domine Deus presents a theme from the Kyrie in double diminution.
The combination of notes possible in music is endless, but most tonal composers only use a small percentage of these possible combinations. However, the quotations and references between the different sections of the Requiem occur so often and appear to be deliberate, so “accidental” tune duplication is a theory that can be discarded. Thematic linkage, in fact, appears quite frequently in the Requiem. For example, the five-note “Requiem theme” (example 1) is used in many other sections of the Requiem, presented subtly as inversions or in other ways.
Example 1: Mozart, “Requiem” theme found in the Introit
The soprano solo “Te decet hymnus” in the Introit presents the “Requiem theme” as an inversion:
Example 2: Mozart, Requiem, Introit: Requiem aeternam, measures 21-22
The bass line in the beginning of the Dies irae also quotes the “Requiem theme” almost exactly:
Example 3: Mozart, Requiem, Sequence: Dies irae, measures 1-5
And even though Mozart only wrote the first eight measures of the Lacrimosa, there is already a quotation of the “Requiem theme” in the soprano part from the third beat of the fourth measure through the fifth:
Example 4: Mozart, Requiem, Sequence: Lacrimosa, measures 4-5
Likewise, thematic linkage is also present in the sections that Süssmayr wrote. For example, the theme of the Sanctus is borrowed from the Dies irae:
Example 5: Mozart, Requiem, Sequence: Dies irae, measures 1-4, and
Süssmayr’s completion of Mozart’s Requiem, Sanctus, measures 1-3
Many other examples can be found. The subject in the Osanna fugue in the Sanctus and Benedictus quotes the beginning of the Recordare, and also refers back to the Quam olim Abrahae fugue in the Offertory. Measures 19-22 and 50-52 of the Benedictus quote the “Et lux perpetua” part at the end of the Introit (measures 43-44).
Most significantly, the “Requiem theme” appears in the bass line of the Agnus Dei, and the Sanctus/Dies irae theme appears in the tenor line at the same time:
Example 6: Süssmayr’s completion of Mozart’s Requiem, Agnus Dei, measures 2-6
Many scholars believe this disproves Süssmayr’s claim about his authorship of the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei because not only is thematic linkage a common characteristic in Mozart’s multi-movement works, there is no evidence that Süssmayr used this technique as well. However, the scholars – who clearly lack knowledge of Süssmayr’s music in extenso – are wrong; thematic linkage also appears in Süssmayr’s Missa Solemnis in D (SmWV 106).
The Missa Solemnis has many other similarities as well. The beginnings of both Sanctus sections (measures 1-3 in the Requiem and measures 1-6 in the Missa Solemnis) are both in D major and nearly identical in thematic content in the voices:
Example 7: Süssmayr, Missa Solemnis, Sanctus, measures 1-6
Both Agnus Dei movements start with elaborate melodies in the first violin and are in minor keys. The harmonic progression at “mortuorum” in the Credo of the Missa Solemnis is similar to the progression of “sempiternam” in the Requiem Agnus Dei. In addition, the final five bars of the Osanna fugue are matched at “Dona nobis pacem” in the Agnus Dei of the Missa Solemnis.
Süssmayr makes use of the technique of thematic linkage in the Missa Solemnis. The simple theme – in fact, the three notes of the D major tonic chord – found in the beginning of the Kyrie later shows up in other sections. And this linkage certainly appears to be deliberate when one considers the theological meaning of the text.
The translation of “Kyrie eleison” is “Lord, have mercy.” In the context of Catholic theology, how did Christ grant mercy to the world? He did so by dying on a Cross and then rising from the dead three days later (“et resurrexit tertia die”). And now heaven and earth are full of the glory of His resurrection (“pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua”).
Not surprisingly, the thematic linkage occurs in these sections, the Kyrie, Et resurrexit, and Pleni sunt coeli, as well as in the Osanna fugue subject. The Osanna subject presents the theme as an inversion, perhaps to link it with the other sections (mentioned above) theologically. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, He entered Jerusalem, where the crowds of people followed Him with palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
This subtle emphasis on certain parts of the text of the mass demonstrates that the thematic linkage used by Süssmayr was not merely a coincidence, but deliberate.
Example 8: Süssmayr, Missa Solemnis, Kyrie, measures 1-4
Example 9: Süssmayr, Missa Solemnis, Credo, measures 68-73 (Et resurrexit)
Example 10: Süssmayr, Missa Solemnis, Sanctus, measures 14-16 (Pleni sunt coeli)
Example 11: Süssmayr, Missa Solemnis, Sanctus, measures 29-34 (Osanna)
The evidence that exists to support the fact that Süssmayr wrote the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei (and lack of evidence to support the opposite) shows that Süssmayr’s claim about his authorship is on unshakable grounds. Misinterpretation of his letter to the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing company has led to a great deal of confusion, and Süssmayr himself has been unfairly maligned as well. However, when the evidence is evaluated and examined thoroughly, one can conclude that Süssmayr’s claim was indeed correct.
Many people assume that Süssmayr had detailed conversations and discussions with Mozart about the Requiem during Mozart’s last days. However, this is implausible given the facts that the accounts of the witnesses are often unclear and/or unreliable, Mozart’s last illness was quite brief, and his body gave off a foul odor that made it difficult for others to stay in the room with him for long periods of time. The idea that Mozart transmitted a lot of information about the Requiem to Süssmayr is simply a romantic myth that sounds so appealing that it appears to be ineradicable.
It is commonly believed that Mozart left sketches for the Requiem on “scraps of paper” that were later lost and/or destroyed, but there is no evidence to support this assertion. Constanze’s and Stadler’s accounts are frequently unreliable, and the use of the word “Zettlechen” is simply unclear and adds to the confusion. Besides, no evidence exists that Süssmayr actually recognized and made use of these drafts, if they existed at all. There is also no reason to assume that the Amen fugue sketch proves that there were others like it.
The “too good for Süssmayr” argument also make no sense. Most musicologists are not knowledgeable enough about Süssmayr’s music to stylistically analyze the Requiem. It is also not right to assume that if his music were any good, it would be more well-known in modern times. Most importantly, this assertion is simply an opinion that cannot be proved.
The fact that motifs in Mozart sections also appear in the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei do not challenge Süssmayr’s claim of authorship either. The fact that Mozart used thematic linkage and this technique appears in these sections, does not prove that Süssmayr’s claim is incorrect. It is also not right to assume that thematic linkage does not appear in Süssmayr’s other works; the Missa Solemnis proves that this assumption is simply wrong.
Until future evidence proves otherwise, Süssmayr’s claim is on unshakable grounds. Going forward, research on the Mozart-Süssmayr Requiem needs to take a radically different turn. In the past, many scholars have begun their research with a biased mindset, clearly intending to give Mozart the advantage from both sides. Not only do they want to maximize his contributions to the Requiem, they also want to make sure that all mistakes are blamed on Süssmayr. From now on, scholars and musicologists have to approach their research with an open, unbiased mindset and ensure that their own opinions do not cause them to misinterpret and misrepresent the facts.
It’s time to see the truth.