Sunday, December 05, 2010

Requiem for Mozart

In keeping with the times in which he lived, Mozart was no stranger to illness; during his short life he'd been afflicted with smallpox, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, rheumatism and gum disease. Yet he was resilient, having beaten them all back in their turn. His final illness, though, proved a little stronger...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMozart left Vienna for Prague in August 1791 to supervise progress on his latest opera La clemenza di Tito; while there he began to feel ill, although he was well enough upon his return to conduct what would be his final opera, The Magic Flute, at the Theater auf der Wieden on the occasion of its debut performance in September.

By November he was bedridden; although able to complete his Clarinet Concerto, while he continued to work on his Requiem (a commission from Count Walsegg) Mozart was gradually coming to terms with the fact that he was writing it for himself. Whenever his illness manifested itself, though, it did so in horrible ways, leaving him unable to do anything (let alone work) but only suffer: swelling in the hands and feet, immobilization, then sudden vomiting...

Mozart became certain he was being poisoned - but with what and by whom? His one-time teacher, the hapless Antonio Salieri, generally gets the blame - at least as far as Peter Shaffer's 1979 play Amadeus is concerned. Shaffer's slander, though, is far from new; Alexander Pushkin's own play Mozart and Salieri (1830) and the 1897 opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov based on it are the originators of that particular rumour.

The truth is, we may never know what caused the death of Mozart; if it was poison it had an effect unlike any other poison of its day, if it was illness, it's equally unique. Whatever it was that killed him, Mozart finally succumbed to it on this day in 1791, attended by his wife Constanze, her mother and sister; he was 35. Although his Requiem is generally cited as his last completed work, there remains a debate over how much of it was composed by Mozart, and how much, if any, had to be completed by his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
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