Süssmayr and Salieri

We know for a fact that in Vienna, Süssmayr was a student of Salieri. But he was also an assistant (and possible student) of Mozart. For musicologists, Süssmayr is in an awkward position due to the supposed rivalry between Salieri and Mozart.

There were rumors during both Salieri’s and Mozart’s lifetimes that they were professional rivals. When Mozart died, people thought that it was likely that Salieri could have killed him out of jealousy. However, this is highly unlikely for many reasons, which will not be discussed here.

How does this relate to Süssmayr? Because he was well acquainted with both composers, this influenced Constanze’s decisions concerning the Requiem. Since Süssmayr and Salieri were friends and were unlikely to hide things from each other, Constanze was worried that this would upset her plan of claiming the entire requiem as authentic Mozart. If Süssmayr told Salieri, who told the court… Then Count Walsegg, the commissioner of the Requiem who had received the requiem believing it to have been written completely by Mozart, would realize that he had been duped and perhaps would try to sue Constanze.

But the Süssmayr-Salieri team made it easy for Constanze to say that Süssmayr had nothing to do with the Requiem. She could say that Süssmayr didn’t know Mozart as well as the public believed, and that he was better acquainted with Salieri, Mozart’s alleged enemy. Later, when Constanze’s deceit was found out, she claimed Süssmayr was Mozart’s student, which may or may not be true. This will be discussed later.

What interests us here is the association between Süssmayr and Salieri. In his first years in Vienna before he became second director at the Kärntnertortheater and Kapellmeister at the National Theater, Süssmayr was a substitute violinist in Salieri’s Hofkapelle. But this friendship went a lot further than that. Sometime around 1791, Süssmayr wrote a Symphony in E-flat. The manuscript shows corrections and additions by Salieri, including a replacement of four bars in the trio.

On November 1, 1802, Süssmayr made a will, leaving all his household belongings to his younger sister Maria Anna (1770-1851). This document was witnessed by Salieri. After Süssmayr’s death, Maria Anna sold a copy of the Missa Solemnis in D to the Hofkapelle. This transaction, in which she received one hundred florins, was authorized by Salieri in November 1803. Salieri later referred to Süssmayr as his “favorite student who had died all too early.”

Süssmayr and Mozart

Was Süssmayr a student of Mozart’s? This question will remain unanswered. Constanze Mozart first tried to put emphasis on the Süssmayr-Salieri team to show that Süssmayr had little to do with the requiem. When she got found out, she claimed that Süssmayr was Mozart’s student. Why would she do this? She was probably trying to make the requiem seem as “Mozartian” as possible. Such a naïve way of thinking, that Süssmayr would write exactly what Mozart had intended, shows that Constanze only had an amateur’s knowledge of the technical issues involved with composing.

Two fifty-year-old studies on this topic – whether Süssmayr was a student or not – came up with different answers that are both inconclusive.

The first study makes a list of all of Mozart’s students, and it lists sixteen composition students and twenty-two piano students, and it concludes, without any extra evidence, that Süssmayr studied composition with Mozart. The second one has three categories of Mozart’s pupil candidates: those who were sure to have studied with him, those who might have studied with him, and those who were not his students. Süssmayr is on none of the lists. From these scanty bits of information, we can draw no conclusions.

Süssmayr later wrote about Mozart’s “unforgettable teaching,” but this in no way proves that he was a student. It is probable that he had a few lessons from Mozart, but this cannot be verified. However, Süssmayr obviously benefitted the close association the two composers had. He could not possibly collaborate with Mozart and learn nothing from the experience!

Letters from Mozart to his other students do not show whether or not Süssmayr was a student. What they do show, however, is that Mozart and Süssmayr often poked fun at each other. Mozart continuously refers to Süssmayr as an ox, court jester, ass, or lamp cleaner. He also had several nicknames for him: Snai, Sauermaier, or Sauerbier. Once, Mozart wrote a letter to his friend Anton Stoll, the choirmaster at Baden, pretending to be Süssmayr. He mentioned a certain “Therese” – perhaps Süssmayr’s sister Therese (1769-1803) and spelled words incorrectly on purpose to make fun of Süssmayr. He signed himself:

I remain your true friend,

Franz Süssmayr


From the Outhouse, July 12, 1791

Süssmayr was also a copyist and assistant to Mozart. He probably wrote the secco recitatives in La clemenza di Tito and copied parts of the score for the singers and orchestra members for Die Zauberflöte. Legend has it that he turned pages for Mozart, who was conducting, at the premiere.

After Mozart’s death, Süssmayr, as is well-known, completed the Requiem.


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