Thomas Bauman

Despite What's Passed Between Us: Alternate Histories of Mozart's Requiem

For over 180 years no recorded attempts were made to produce a version of Mozart’s Requiem other than Süssmayr’s completion. Since 1971, in contrast, a veritable cottage industry in new versions and supporting literature has sprung up. Their justification is not that Mozart did not finish the work, but that Süssmayr did, and that he failed to live up to Mozart’s intentions. I will take a hard look not at Süssmayr’s completion but at the concept of intentionality. The literature on this subject assumes that, in works of art at least, intentions outlive those who have them. I will make the case that they do not. One’s wishes may outlive one, but only among those one can charge with the task of carrying them out. By this reckoning, the history of the Mozart’s Requiem ended with the death of his wife Constanze in 1842.
This interpretation opens the door to an interesting reassessment of both the 180 years following Süssmayr’s completion, which did a brisk business in the Requiem as a subject for imaginative speculation, and our own era’s scientistic obsession with recovering the unrecoverable. I find the signature of our era not in modern-day completions but in the novel and film Jurassic Park, which would have us believe what is lost in principle is only lost for the time being – which is to say, to the extent that we lack the means and ingenuity to resurrect from history exactly that which history tells us we cannot resurrect.

Thomas Bauman is Professor of Musicology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and a specialist in opera. In his article Requiem, but no Peace (19th-Century Music, 1991) he furnished a thoughtful critique of the completion of Mozart’s Requiem by Richard Maunder.