The Composer Who is Remembered for What He Did Not Write

The Podcasting Store
3 min readMar 22, 2024


A Musical Mystery by Drew Holmes

Some people are born to greatness and others have it thrust upon them. A third, less common group are those who are greatness-adjacent and are remembered not for who they were but who they were not.

Franz falls solidly into this category.

Scant details of his life exist apart from his association with a legendary composer, but we do know his mother died when he was just six years old. His father was a teacher and choirmaster and the lessons he received in singing, violin, and organ laid the foundation for the remainder of Franz’s short life.

At age thirteen he left home to enroll as a student in a monastery where, once his voice changed, he abandoned singing and continued playing violin in the orchestra. He furthered his studies in the areas of philosophy and law while also receiving instruction in composition. Finding some success writing music, he created works for the stage and for the abbey.

Now twenty-two years old Franz moved again, this time to be with the musical movers and shakers of the day. He studied the works of his contemporaries, sometimes from the composers themselves, and became friends with one of the most notable of the time. This friendship would define his place in history.

Over the next few years, Franz worked closely with this friend who hired him on as an assistant. This involved some collaboration as well as lessons in composition, but he served mostly as a copyist. Some accounts indicate the two men had a close and playful relationship, but it proved short-lived as his friend died just three years later.

Undeterred, Franz continued studying with his contemporaries. He worked as a keyboardist in the national theatre and composed many works for the church, a few of which were still performed as late as the nineteenth century. Both Beethoven and Paganini borrowed some of his themes in their compositions, though nothing particularly historic came about from them.

When he died at age 37, Franz had a successful if unremarkable career. Unremarkable but for the association with his famous friend, without which his life may have been omitted from the pages of history altogether.

His friend was a voracious composer and at the time of his death was working on a commission which sadly was incomplete. Franz accepted the responsibility of finishing this work so that his friend’s widow might reap the financial benefit of this last composition. A thankless task, to be sure, for if done right the masterpiece is finished; done wrong and it is ruined.

In the ensuing years, others took up the task of completing this work, but Franz’s was first and despite some dispute is considered reasonably authentic to his friend’s intent. Orchestras around the world regularly perform this version of the work, not knowing precisely where the original ends and Franz’s ideas begin. Thus, he became inexorably associated with this composition and secured his important but odd place in history.

No, Franz is not remembered for who he was but for who he was not and, more important, for what he did not write. But he was able to do something his famous friend could not — complete the work. A final commission by a grieving Count Walsegg to remember the young bride he lost. A Requiem Mass, finished by Franz Xaver Suessmayr, when death stayed the hand of his genius friend — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.



The Podcasting Store

Music retail can be a fascinating business, with lessons learned not just about performing but also about business, mindset, and sales.