All great composers have died in despair, whether they saw fame in their lives or not. They have died deaf, they have died blind, they have died young and old, rich and poor. In times past their music lay forgotten, and they themselves were left behind, pop artists of the past, ever replaceable.
This man died some long time ago, and his was a tragedy beyond most. He passed, throughout his life, from jubilant exaltedness to raging despair, writing a phenomenal number of works, doubting himself at every one. As he grew older he grew beyond his time and his world, and the music that he wrote for himself – for he rarely had the grace to write other than at others’ commissions – was unpleasing to his listeners. His most successful works during his life were stupefying inanity, poor jokes written for great men of little intellect.
Paraded as a child, he spent little time at any one home, and the racing of his travels fostered a miserable wanderlust in him, an inability to settle for the rest of his life. Drawn away from his mother for great periods, he became hypochondriacal, eventually taking to self-medicating with antimony. He was only twenty-two when his mother died, and was thrown into grief from which he never recovered; he was by now so poor that they didn’t even have the money to call a doctor, something that would haunt him for the rest of his short life.
For nearly a decade, he moved from job to job, never able to settle or to find an income that would support he and his family, which now included his wife and their children. Even in his familial life he was not free from grief and despair; the couple watched in hopeless horror as their first child lived for only two months. They produced a healthy boy not long after, but his future siblings lived, all but one, not more than six months. While it is one type of horror for a child to die after birth, as did their daughter, Anna, it is of a deeper grief entirely to raise a child for six months, watch them grow, sit, smile and laugh – and then have that child taken from you just as you thought the worst was past. Their final child together, Franz, lived to adulthood, but he would never know – he would only know this boy for four months.
His father died when he was thirty-one, and he was suddenly the head of his family and of his home, and was without a job, without money and without hope. Sometimes he would produce a work that was taken with success; this would be followed by great periods of utter poverty. Near the end of his life he grew increasingly ill, suffering from malnutrition, poisonous medication and anxiety, and he grew paranoid of all those around him. When he was asked to write a piece commemorating the death of a wife of a person he had never met, he labored over the score in his illness and grew ever worse.
His wife, seeing his despair, begged him to cease writing such dreadful music, and for a time he ceased, and as his despair lifted, so did his health. It was not to last, however – whether from over-enthusiasm at the prospect of regaining a little of his health, or a fractured mind bent on his destruction, we shall never know, but in his final months he turned back to the writing of this requiem – and died before he could complete it.
It was eventually completed by one of his students, and performed at a benefit concert for his widow. He would never know, buried in a common grave, but he was to rise in renown within a very short period, and even those works of his that were spurned became famous. His wife would remarry, though he heart remained always with him; she and her second husband, whom she would also outlive, worked together to write his biography. It would have been of comfort to him, certainly, to know that his wife and children were not to die in the terrible circumstances he had left them in, and that both of his sons would receive one of the best musical educations of the time.
He would have been equally proud, no doubt, could he have known that the unthanked labour of his short life would one day rank among the most celebrated music in the world, performed, heard and loved to this day. It is unquestioned, still, that his Requiem remained his crowning achievement.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)