He was kept alive for another year by three commissions coming in crowded succession. In May, 1791, Emanuel Schikaneder, who produced German operas and plays in a suburban theater, offered him the sketch of a libretto about a magic flute, and appealed to his brother Mason to provide the music. Mozart agreed. When Constanze, pregnant once more, went to Baden-bei-Wien in June, he accepted Schikaneder’s invitation to spend his days in a garden house near the theater, where he could compose Die Zauberflöteunder the manager’s prodding. In the evenings he joined Schikaneder in the night life of the town. “Folly and dissipation,” Jahn tells us, “were the inevitable accompaniments of such an existence, and these soon reached the public ear, … covering his name for several months with an amount of obloquy beyond what he deserved.”96 Amid these relaxations Mozart found time to drive to Baden (eleven miles from Vienna) to visit his wife, who on July 26 gave birth to Wolfgang Mozart II.
In that month a request came from an anonymous stranger, offering a hundred ducats for a Requiem Mass to be secretly composed and to be transmitted to him without any public acknowledgment of its authorship. Mozart turned from the merriment of The Magic Flute to the theme of death, when, in August, he received a commission from Prague for an opera, La clemenza di Tito, to be performed there at the approaching coronation of Leopold II as king of Bohemia. He had barely a month to set Metastasio’s old libretto to new music. He worked at it in shaky coaches and noisy inns while journeying to Prague with his wife. The opera was sung on September 6 to mild applause. Mozart had tears in his eyes as he left the one city that had befriended him, and as he realized that the Emperor had witnessed his failure. His only consolations were the two hundred ducats’ fee and the later news that the repetition of the opera at Prague on September 30 was a complete success.
On that day he conducted from the piano the première of Die Zauberflöte. The story was in part a fairy tale, in part an exaltation of Masonic initiation ritual. Mozart gave his best art to the composition, though he kept most of the arias to a simple melodic line congenial to his middle-class audience. He lavished coloratura pyrotechnics on the Queen of the Night, but privately he laughed at coloratura singing as “cut-up noodles.”97 The March of the Priests, opening the second act, is Masonic music; the aria of the high priest, “In diesen heiligen Hallen”—“In these holy halls we know nothing of revenge, and love for their fellow men is the guiding rule of the initiated”—is the claim of Freemasonry to have restored that brotherhood of man which Christianity had once preached. (Goethe compared The Magic Flute to Part II of Faust, which also preached brotherhood; and, himself a Mason, he spoke of the opera as having “a higher meaning which will not escape the initiated.”98 The first performance had an uncertain success, and the critics were shocked by the mixture of fugues and fun;99 soon, however, The Magic Flute became the most popular of Mozart’s operas, and of all operas before Wagner and Verdi; it was repeated a hundred times within fourteen months of its première.
This last triumph came when Mozart already felt the hand of death touching him. As if to accentuate the irony, a group of Hungarian nobles now assured him an annual subscription of a thousand florins, and an Amsterdam publisher offered him a still larger sum for the exclusive right to print some of his work. In September he received an invitation from Ponte to come to London; he replied: “I would gladly follow your advice, but how can I? … My condition tells me that my hour strikes; I am about to give up my life. The end has come before I could prove my talent. Yet life was beautiful.”100
In his final months he gave his failing strength to the Requiem. For several weeks he worked at it feverishly. When his wife sought to turn him to less gloomy concerns he told her, “I am writing this Requiem for myself; it will serve for my funeral service.”101 He composed the Kyrie and parts of the Dies Irae, the Tuba Mirum, the Rex Tremendae, the Recordare, the Confutatis, the Lacrimosa, the Domine, and the Hostias; these fragments were left unrevised, and reveal the disordered state of a mind facing collapse. Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed the Requiem remarkably well.
In November Mozart’s hands and feet began to swell painfully, and partial paralysis set in. He had to take to his bed. On those evenings when The Magic Flute was performed he laid his watch beside him and followed each act in imagination, sometimes humming the arias. On his last day he asked for the score of the Requiem; he sang the alto part, Mme. Schack sang the soprano, Franz Hofer the tenor, Herr Gerl the bass; when they came to the Lacrimosa, Mozart wept. He predicted that he would die that night. A priest administered the last sacrament. Toward evening Mozart lost consciousness, but shortly after midnight he opened his eyes; then he turned his face to the wall, and soon suffered no more (December 5, 1791).
Neither his wife nor his friends could give him a fitting funeral. The body was blessed in St. Stephen’s Church on December 6, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Mark’s. No grave had been bought; the corpse was lowered into a common vault made to receive fifteen or twenty paupers. No cross or stone marked the place, and when, a few days later, the widow came there to pray, no one could tell her the spot that covered Mozart’s remains.