“Mozart’s quarters in Vienna. . . MOZART is seated at a table in a mean room orchestrating “The Magic Flute”. . .
A mysterious visitor wearing a mask and representing a prince offers Mozart the fabulous sum of 400 crowns to write a Requiem Mass. The offer is tied to an understanding that the composer will never,”by any sign, by so much as a nod of your head, acknowledge that the work is yours.” Mozart agrees to the bargain, Later, while Mozart is sleeping, the masked visitor returns to him in a dream, this time representing a different patron–Death.
PROGRAM NOTE: This piece, first published in 1928 in The Angel That Troubled the Waters, was one of Wilder’s last four playlets. Together with The Angel on the Ship, it was also published in Harper’s Magazine, in 1928, his first appearance as a dramatist in a major national magazine. Wilder conceived it as part a series of “Footnotes to Biographies” suggested by the miniature portraits in Herbert Eulenberg’s Schattenbilder.
Myth and mystery have long surrounded the circumstances of the composition of Mozart’s Requiem, which was incomplete at his death in 1791. As in popular versions of the story, this playlet brings an enigmatic stranger to Mozart’s shabby quarters in Vienna to commission a requiem. Who is the patron who challenges Mozart to compose the requiem-and for what purpose? Why does Mozart agree? Wilder refers in the play to Antonio Salieri and Count Franz George von Wallsett-Stupach and his wife Anna, all historical figures, and the count did requisition the Requiem in memory of his deceased wife. Historical accounts differ, however, as to whether the count intended to claim authorship of the requiem himself, just as historical accounts differ about the alleged rivalry between Mozart and Salieri as depicted in Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus (1979).