If you’ve ever heard the Mozart requiem, chances are, you’ve heard the Süssmayr completion. What many people don’t know is that there are also other completions, the most famous ones being the versions by Franz Beyer, Robert Levin, Richard Maunder, Duncan Druce, and HC Robbins Landon. Today we are going to take a closer look at one section, the Lacrimosa.
As many people already know, Mozart only wrote eight bars of the Lacrimosa before his death on December 5, 1791. When Joseph Eybler tried his hand at completion, he only wrote two bars in the soprano line before giving up. Finally, the requiem fragment was handed over to Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who, ignoring Eybler’s two bars, composed the most famous version of the Lacrimosa.
After the discovery of the Amen fugue sketch (which most likely was for the end of the Lacrimosa) in the twentieth century, many musicologists, composers, and scholars have reconstructed the Lacrimosa to add the fugue in. Although it isn’t definite that Mozart actually wanted the fugue to be there (Simon Keefe pointed out that Mozart may have sketched the fugue and then changed his mind). Süssmayr may have known that Mozart had changed his mind about adding this fugue, and he cannot be blamed for not writing a fugue; it is possible that he never saw the sketch in the first place. Whatever the reason for Süssmayr’s replacing of the fugue with a plagal cadence, the efforts of modern musicians (most notably Maunder, Druce, and Levin), however flawed, to complete the Amen fugue are still interesting to listen to.
Robert Levin – this is the complete Levin version, the fugue starts at 22:10
This article about the different completions of the Lacrimosa is based on my own thoughts after listening to this video, which contains the Süssmayr, Maunder, Druce, Robbins Landon, Levin and Beyer completions (note: none of the Amen fugues are here). All of the modern completers have reconstructed the Lacrimosa for a variety of reasons. Levin wanted to create a new version that would retain enough original Süssmayr material in order to avoid startling the audiences too much. Druce’s version is radical because he does not feel constrained to preserve original material, as is Maunder’s. Robbins Landon’s completion of the entire requiem was written as an interesting combination of Eybler’s and Süssmayr’s completions. Franz Beyer did not change the vocal parts in the Lacrimosa, but changed some of the orchestration.
What I found interesting was that although some of these completions were written to “correct” Süssmayr’s “un-Mozartian” music in the requiem and are worthy attempts, no one has produced a version of the Lacrimosa clearly superior to Süssmayr’s.
Süssmayr’s Lacrimosa holds together well, continuing from Mozart’s eight bars, and continues the ascending choral phrase Mozart introduced at “qua resurget ex favilla, judicandus homo reus”. At “Huic ergo parce Deus, pie Jesu Domine,” Süssmayr writes a modulation to F major which is very smooth and expressive (in my opinion). At “dona eis requiem” he recapitulates Mozart’s opening theme, and then the music is descending in direct opposition to the ascending “qua resurget ex favilla” in the beginning before Mozart’s beginning breaks off. The “Amen”, as we already know, is a plagal cadence, which, in my opinion, gives the end of the Lacrimosa (and therefore, the end of Sequence), a sense of finality.
Franz Beyer’s version of the Lacrimosa is the least radical, retaining all of Süssmayr’s vocal parts. He does, however, change the orchestration and uses bolder, and in my opinion, harsher orchestration.
Robert Levin’s purpose of reconstructing the requiem was to create an edition that would sound more “Mozartian” but not create any major discrepancies with Süssmayr’s completion. He retains most of Süssmayr’s music, changing a few things here and there. He enters with the “dona eis requiem” by recapitulating Mozart’s beginning and does not include part of the orchestral link Süssmayr wrote. At the descending part at the end, he enters with the sopranos first, while in Süssmayr’s version, the basses enter first. The only major change Levin made was to alter the ending to create a smooth connection for the Amen fugue to enter, although it appears that he merely kept alternating between 5/3 and 6/4 chords on the dominant. Levin was the first modern-day completer to finish the Amen fugue.
I had mixed reactions after listening to Richard Maunder’s completion. After Mozart’s original eight bars break off, Maunder writes a connecting link to “Huic ergo parce Deus” which is not very convincing. It’s quite obvious, unlike in Süssmayr’s version, that one composer stopped and another continued. And although Maunder’s completion is beautiful in its own way, he strays so far from Mozart’s original theme that the entire structure is built on sand rather than stone. He remains in D minor almost throughout the entire Lacrimosa and totally eliminates the beautiful F major “Pie Jesu” of Süssmayr’s completion. Maunder explained that he had based his completion off of thematic ideas present elsewhere in the requiem; although this unifies the Lacrimosa with the entire requiem as a whole, the section itself doesn’t hold together as well as Süssmayr’s. His Amen fugue turned out much better than his Lacrimosa. Although he probably was familiar with Levin’s completion, his fugue, in general, is still less satisfactory than Levin’s more scholarly edition.
Like Maunder, Duncan Druce clearly had issues with the structure of the Lacrimosa, but in my opinion, his version still holds together slightly better than Maunder’s. However, Druce’s version sounds more like several different thematic ideas and melodies that are poorly connected with each other. He borrows Eybler’s two bars for “Huic ergo parce Deus” to continue Mozart’s fragment, which actually sounds quite good (hat tip to Eybler), but then he launches into something that is completely unrelated to the original Lacrimosa theme. These extended passages are clearly un-Mozartian, and it’s very obvious. However, unlike Levin and Maunder, Druce’s Amen fugue seems to be less out of place and less overwhelming, with a four-minute long Lacrimosa and a two-and-a-half minute long Amen fugue.
Although these modern completions of the Lacrimosa are worthy attempts, none of the completers have produced a version better than Süssmayr’s. It appears that Süssmayr’s version is still the most famous for a reason, the reason being that this is an important historical and cultural work. His completion of the Lacrimosa, in my opinion, has a more clearly defined structure than any of the other completions, and holds together well. The plagal cadence gives a sense of finality, as if Süssmayr is telling the world that death is inevitable. It’s too soon for Mozart’s life to end, but there’s nothing that we, as modern-day musicians, can do to bring back lost music that was never written down.