The Renaissance Choir presents two complementary works from the Classical period.
Michael Haydn (1737-1806) wrote his Requiem in C or Missa pro defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismondo (MH 155) in 1771 upon the death of Count Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach. At the beginning of that year his own daughter Aloisia Josefa had died, and this bereavement may have motivated the composition. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was present at the first three performances in 1772 and is believed to have been strongly influenced by it in the composition of his own Requiem in D.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) composed Vesperae solennes de Confessore (KV 339) nine years later in 1780, for liturgical use in Salzburg Cathedral. The work is structured around settings of five Psalms (110, 111, 112, 113, 117) and a Magnificat. The fifth movement, Psalm 117 – Laudate Dominum – is an exquisite and much-loved setting for soprano solo and chorus. The beautiful tranquillity of this movement contrasts with the bold exuberance of much of the rest of the work.
Who wrote Mozart’s Requiem? Rightly regarded as one of the finest choral works ever written, large chunks of it were completed by the composer’s friend, Süssmayr, following Mozart’s death. Before that, the young Mozart discovered Michael Haydn’s Requiem. The teenage Mozart played in the orchestra for the first performance and clearly admired it enormously. So much so, it is suggested that he went to hear two other performances of the work.
There is no doubt that Mozart used Haydn’s Requiem as a model, frequently re-using the other’s ideas. We tend to think of plagiarism as a heinous crime, especially in academic circles. But in 18th century Salzburg, one composer copying another was perfectly acceptable – in fact, it was standard practice.
Michael Haydn (the elder brother of the more famous Franz Joseph) dedicated this work to his employer, Archbishop Sigismund. In fact, it is much more likely that Haydn wrote the work as a requiem for his infant daughter (his only child), who died before her first birthday. Just like Mozart’s Requiem, the music sobs, it’s angry, defiant and expresses love. Is it as good as Mozart’s Requiem? Very, very nearly.