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Mozart’s Requiem, Musical Biography, and the Great Last Work

Wiley, C (2007) Mozart’s Requiem, Musical Biography, and the Great Last Work In: ‘Words and Notes in the Nineteenth Century’, 2007-07-02 - 2007-07-03, Institute of Musical Research and Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

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In Foundations of Music History, Carl Dahlhaus drew attention to the uneasy relationship between historical and aesthetic elements in writings on music. This tension is particularly pronounced in biography, in which certain works are privileged for their significance to subjects’ lives rather than to the development of their art. Emblematic of this phenomenon is the emphasis placed on specific last works, held to represent the apotheosis of the composer’s genius purely on the basis of their being the final creation prior to death. The commission and composition of Mozart’s Requiem, possibly the single most famous story in musical biography, has been recounted extensively by authors from Schlichtegroll (1798) to Solomon (1995). As historical anecdote, it accords ideally with the notion of the great last work, given the composer’s untimely death while the piece was under completion and even his reported conviction that he was writing it for himself. From the musical standpoint, however, the work was representative neither of Mozart’s overall compositional output (he had written little church music for twelve years) nor his mature style (given its indebtedness to Baroque models). While the legend has elicited much critical attention within Mozart studies from scholars such as Landon (1988) and Stafford (1991), I instead adopt a comparative approach, considering analogous instances of great last works in the biographies of composers including Haydn, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky. Coinciding with the advent of musical biography that flourished in the myth-loving, hero-worshipping nineteenth century, Mozart’s Requiem provided a prototype for subsequent examples more appropriately viewed as the epitome of their originators’ output. Ultimately I evaluate the relationship between music and myth: whether the latter’s importance lies in the Requiem’s representing its composer’s crowning achievement (issues of authorship aside), or whether the work’s supposed significance as Mozart’s chef d’œuvre itself derives from the story’s biographical value.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Conference Paper)
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Department of Music and Media
Authors :
Wiley, C
Date : 2007
Uncontrolled Keywords : music, musical biography, Mozart
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 11 Dec 2013 12:11
Last Modified : 05 Mar 2019 10:14

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