While Gottfried Christoph Härtel (the publisher in Leipzig) and Constanze Mozart were trying to figure out who had the most correct copy of the requiem, Constanze wrote to Härtel:
“I hasten to write to you what just occurred to me: It would be good for you to correspond with Süssmayr, the Kapellmeister here in Vienna, to settle this matter, for without doubt, his is the most authentic copy.”
For the first time, Constanze admitted Süssmayr’s involvement because she couldn’t hide the fact anymore. Süssmayr had remained silent and in the background during most of the requiem drama, never having made any public statements. He was aware of the scandal and did not want to get involved, knowing that it was all based on deceit.
Härtel it put off two months, but later decided he couldn’t afford to ignore Süssmayr and his contributions. He wrote to Süssmayr, who replied to the letter.
I was indeed pleased to receive your kind communication of January 24; it showed me that the respect of the German public is important to you, since you do not wish to mislead them by [publishing] compositions that cannot be attributed in their entirety to my late friend [Mozart]. I owe a great deal to the instruction of this great man; therefore I cannot allow, by remaining silent, a work to be attributed to him the major portion of which was contributed by me. I am firmly convinced that my own work is unworthy of his great name. Mozart’s compositions are inimitable, far beyond the reach of most composers living today, which mean that any forger would fare worse than the raven who adorned himself with peacock feathers.
Let me explain how the completion of the Requiem (the subject of our correspondence) was entrusted to me. Mozart’s widow could easily see that her husband’s works would be much in demand. Death claimed him while he was working on this Requiem, and so the task of completing it was offered to several masters. Some declined because of the pressure of other commitments, but others did not want to compromise their own talent by having it measured against that of Mozart. The offer 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. We also had discussed details of its composition, and he had often told me how he planned to orchestrate the individual parts, and why. My only wish is for my own writing to be such that connoisseurs may find, here and there, some reflection of his unforgettable teaching.
Mozart completely wrote out the four vocal parts and the figured bass for the Requiem [meaning the Introit], the Dies Irae [meaning the Sequence], and the Domine Jesu Christe [Offertory], but he only gave a few indications about the instrumentation. He set the Dies Irae [Sequenz] to the last verse, Qua resurget ex favilla, in the same manner as the earlier parts. Beginning with Judicandus homo reus I completed the Dies Irae all by myself. 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.
I would be happy if this information is of some use to you. And it would be a pleasure to comply with your other request, manely to compile a catalog of the greatest living composers and their works. Unfortunately, my day-to-day responsibilities at the theater, with all the work they entail, prevent me from doing so.
You flatter me by wanting to know which of my own compositions have become known to the public. [They are:]
Moses, oder Der Auszug aus Ägypten (Moses, or the exodus from Egypt), a dramatic oratorio in two act
L’incanto superato (Magic overcome) and
Il Muselmano in Napoli (The Muslim in Naples), two Italian operas in two acts;
Der Spiegel von Arkadien, oder Die neuen Arkadier (The mirror of Arcadia, or The new Arcadians), a German opera in two acts;
Die edle Rache (The Nobel Revenge), opera in two acts;
Der Retter in Gefahr (The kinsman in danger), a cantata;
Die Freiwilligen (The volunteers), an occasional piece in one act;
Der Wildfang (The madcap), opera in one act;
Die 3 Sultaninnen, oder Soliman der Zweite (The three wives of the sultan, or Soliman the Second), opera in two acts.
This is a complete list of works. I hope you will continue to be favorably inclined to their author, who assures you of his highest esteem.
Your obedient servant
Franz Xaver Süssmayr
Imperial and Royal Court Kapellmeister
Vienna, February 8, 1800
Reactions to the Letter
For starters, Härtel lied to Süssmayr; he never did create a “catalog of the greatest living composers and their works”. He was just trying to win Süssmayr over on his side to go against Constanze. Now let’s examine the letter in greater depth.
The first part of the letter was dealing with the Requiem. Süssmayr could easily have tried to please both Constanze and Härtel. Constanze, up to this point, had always insisted that Mozart practically completed the requiem. Süssmayr’s letter clearly showed Constanze was lying.
The second part of the letter shows Härtel’s eagerness to please Süssmayr and to flatter him – to win him over on his side. Süssmayr could have pleased both parties; all he had to do was make his share of the requiem writing smaller. He didn’t; he was trying to be honest. The intention of the letter was to make sure that his mistakes (of a twenty-five-year-old) would not be blamed on Mozart.
The letter was written eight years after the requiem had been completed, and there was a small mistake; Mozart did not end at “Qua resurget ex favilla” but at “Judicandus homo reus”, but this is a minor oversight.
Süssmayr’s account is not accurate in every regard, but his writing points away from an attempt to deceive the publisher. This, paired with what we know about his character, gives his letter greater credibility than Constanze’s account.
It is very well possible that no one in Härtel’s company believed anything Süssmayr said, even though he was telling the truth. Constanze had lied so much, taking advantage of her position as Mozart’s widow (it was because she was Mozart’s widow that people trusted her until she was found out). She herself, and people she had given information to, had been confused. Süssmayr’s letter brought surprising, even unbelievable, information.
On October 1, 1801, an anonymous review appeared in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, which was owned by Härtel.
“The reviewer is convinced that a work such as Mozart’s Requiem would be beyond the reach of most, if not all, composers today. That not every detail found in the score came from Mozart’s pen is proved by the instrumental accompaniment, parts of which are quite faulty. [A series of examples follows.] Herr Süssmayr had been asked, and agreed, to complete the composition. He was well acquainted with Mozart’s ideas, frequently discussed them with Mozart, and probably wrote down much of what he remembered. To be sure, this was a better solution than to have the music fall into the hands of another composer who, even if good, might have been less familiar with Mozart’s ideas.”
But the anonymous reviewer, who turned out to be Friedrich Rochlitz, wanted to have things both ways:
“…the claim that a more substantial portion of the work is his must be treated with considerable skepticism. But that as it may, we would owe thanks to Herr Süssmayr for any, even the smallest, least significant role he may have had in the completion of this masterpiece.”
Of course, it was such a two-faced account. Constanze, all along, had said the requiem had been nearly completed by Mozart before his death. Now Härtel, though maybe unknowingly, also participated in the deception, since he had fallen for Constanze’s lies.
Süssmayr’s intent all along with his letter was to prevent his own mistakes (because he had only been twenty-five when he completed the work) from being attributed to Mozart. But the reviewer omitted that part when he quoted Süssmayr. His two-faced account lined up Härtel with Constanze, who had reached a mutual agreement at Süssmayr’s expense.
Constanze had read the review and had realized what she had done. On June 2, 1802, she wrote to Härtel:
“Having read the review…I see that there are still doubts about which sections were written by Mozart and which by Süssmayr. I am the only one in a position to clear up this matter.
“Let me begin by saying that everything up to the Dies Irae is entirely by Mozart. This manuscript is in the possession of the anonymous patron where I was it a year ago. Whatever else was composed and written down by Mozart is kept by me….This manuscript continues to the end of the Confutatis. Quite a few of the inner voices, and occasionally, possibly, some other parts, are circled in pencil. All this would be clear to a handwriting expert….If, as I said, you have some use for this manuscript, I would be glad to loan it to you.”
Constanze was still half-lying. Mozart did not write “everything up to the Dies Irae.” There was handwriting on the Kyrie that may or may have not been written by Mozart. Either way, with the trumpet, timpani, and basset horn parts, it is most likely all by Süssmayr. Constanze also made a mistake in saying that she saw that manuscript “a year ago”. It was, in reality, actually two years.
Ends and Means Concerning the Letter
Süssmayr’s intention all along had been to ensure that his mistakes would not be blamed on Mozart. He was obviously upset that Constanze had not mentioned him on her concert in 1793 because he felt Constanze was actually harming her late husband’s reputation.
Süssmayr had every right to resent not receiving credit for his work, but that was not what he thought. He just didn’t want his own mistakes to be attributed to Mozart. Others had overlooked this possibility entirely.
One may think Süssmayr was trying to claim as much of the work as possible, but keeping in the back of our minds about what we know about his character, that he was “modest, friendly, and willing to help,” this is highly unlikely, especially when one considers how much he admired and respected Mozart.
It is far more likely that he was telling the truth—although he had written more of the requiem than others were willing to admit—regardless of the consequences. He was trying to make sure that his mistakes wouldn’t be blamed on Mozart, whom he admired so much.
Because of all this confusion, Süssmayr’s letter is a controversial topic, and the entire requiem itself is shrouded in mystery. However, truth always stands firm to the end, because one truth is stronger than a thousand lies.