Requiem in d-minor – Mozart

KV 626

This Requiem was written from 1756 to 1791, unfortunately, Mozart didn’t manage to finish writing it, therefore his student Franz Xaver Süßmayr completed it. It is not completely clear whether a few parts were written by him or Mozart himself. Apparently, Mozart wrote until the first 8 bars of the “Lacrimosa” movement and the Offertory. In terms of structural design, Mozart arranged every of the following separate part as a closed composition. The piece is divided into the following described sequences 1:

  • Introitus: Requiem

The first part starts slowly, very dramatic sounding, whereas only the orchestra is playing. After a long intro, a sudden loud sound is played, and then the first few notes sung by the choir can be heard. One motive, which was started by the orchestra, seems to be played throughout the part and therefore creates a memorable theme on which this part focuses on. Mozart creates a contrast between the dramatic minor theme and a few “heroic” sounding major bars. This part also already involves the first solo, sung by an alto voice. The piece is mainly in forte, except for a quieter start and ending phrase, which also includes a ritardando.

  • Kyrie

At the beginning the choir starts witch the same pace and melody as the string instruments. Through the faster becoming tempo, and several entrances after one another in polyphonic rhythms, the piece has characteristics of a fugue. One can furthermore hear the same theme being repeated in varied ways, which also indicates to a fugue. Towards the end an open chord is left before a dramatic rest, before the piece is closed.

  • Sequientia: This part is divided into the following 6 sections:

Dies irae; Tuba mirum;  Rex tremenade; Recordare; Confutatis, Lacrimosa

A strong lout and fast beginning marks the start of this part. At the beginning the whole choir sings in the same rhythm, only divides later into repetitive sequences. The second section (Tuba mirum) starts with only the tuba, followed by a bass solo. After the entrance of the rest of the orchestra it seems like the bass and tuba were “singing” a duet. The other solo voices (Tenor, alto, soprano) have an entrance on after another as well, all accompanied by the orchestra, this section is generally rather calm. The third section (“Rex tremenade”) is again contrasting to the previous one; After a short instrumental intro, the choir sings a loud high pitched, quite shrill sound. The theme that follows is somehow calming, but has dramatic aspects to it as well. It seems to have a typical baroque character, which especially can be noticed through used jumps from one dominant to another, as well as question-answer-motifs.

The fourth section is calm again, often using contrasting pitch movements. The orchestra and  upcoming solo-voices create warm balanced harmonies. At certain times it seems, as if the voices would mix in with the orchestra. Mozart also creates great contrasts in dynamics, by letting the piece become louder and quieter gradually. The section after that starts loud, using timpani and really fast and hectically playing violins. After the loud and dramatic entrance of the lower voices (Bass and Tenor) the higher voices (Alto and Soprano) create a contrast with a slow, calm high pitched tune. This alternating continues until the end of the part, where every voice sings together, even though the piece was in a minor key signature, the end chord s major. The last section “Lacrimosa” is one of the most well-known parts of this mass, especially due to it being the last part, which was still written by Mozart himself, as already mentioned above. The piece starts very quiet, only with a few simple string notes at the beginning. After the entrance of the choir a lot of tension is build up, and the piece quickly comes to its first climax, after which either Mozart or his student continued with calm dissonances for the choir, which fit in well with the rest of the piece and are already working towards the next climax. Overall one may be able to describe that this is the highest, most dramatic section of part 3, or even the whole mass.

  • Offertorium; this part hast wo sections: Domine Jesu; Hostias

The first part starts with a mixture of the choir and the solo voices singing, one can also notice constant, sudden changes in dynamics and harmonies. This is presumably the first part, where all the solo voices sing together in polyphonic harmonies. Towards the end of the part, when the choir makes another entrances, Mozart, again, works with question-answer motifs, whereas the lower voices (Bass, Tenor) always start. Similar to the part, the last choir is in major despite the rest of the piece being in a minor key signature.

The second section “Hostias” starts with a gentle quiet melody played by the violins. This is the second part where dissonances are noticeably involved in the piece, here again, they seem to fit very well to the rest of the piece. After a short intro, the piece is in its texture similar to the previous one, having sudden changes in dynamics. This section too, ends with a major chord.

  • Sanctus

The Sanctus part is usually, here too, very solenmyMozart creates a strong entrance by letting the choir voices enter at once, with an incredibly loud chord. This is so far the only piece having started in a major key signature. Nevertheless, after a while a few minor notes and chords, seem to be coming in. A constant change between minor and major follows, but the end of the piece is still similar to its beginning.

  • Benedictus

In comparison to the other parts, this one seems to have the longest orchestral intro, before the solo voices start. One of the most recognisable things of this part is the oboe, which has a solo at the very beginning and can also be clearly heard at several other phrases of the piece. Most of the piece consists of always a different amount of solo voices singing together, and the orchestra (with the oboe standing out) answering. Only at the very end, there’s a short choir part, which fulfills.

  • Agnus Dei

This part of the mass starts with a loud timpani beat followed by a short orchestral theme, which can be heart throughout the whole part. The entrance of the choir is loud and slightly dissonant, which again is used as a contrast to a following quitter part. The chord at the end is surprisingly left open.

  • Communio: Lux aeterna

The motif of the beginning of the last part of the requiem seems to be a varied form of the very first part “Requiem”. After the end of the first theme the choir makes an entrances and sings together with a few string instruments.  At the end, the melody from the second part “Kyrie” is used again, probably due to it being one of the more memorable ones.  The only difference is the text. The Requiem ends in a long loud major chord.

Generally, I myself am not a fan of Mozart, due to the simplicity of structure in most of his pieces. Nevertheless, the requiem is one of a few exceptions, written by him, which I find breath taking. One of the main points why I chose to listen to this mass is such a detailed form is also, that I already had the opportunity to sing through the piece as part of a choir. Despite its length, I never had the feeling to get bored by any of the movements. I found it particularly interesting to see from which point on the piece was finished by Mozart’s student.  Not only therefore, but also due to the following harmonics after the first climax, I would declare “Lacrimosa” to my personal favourite of the whole requiem.

¹Heukäufer, N. (2014) Musik Abi – Kompaktwissen Oberstufe. 5th edition. Berlin: Cornelsen Scriptor, pp. 199-200