|August 18, 1750
|May 7, 1825
Antonio Salieri (August 18, 1750 – May 7, 1825), born in Legnago, Italy, was a composer and conductor. As the Austrian imperial kapellmeister from 1788 to 1824, he was one of the most important and famous musicians of his time. Unfortunately, he is mostly remembered today for the renowned composers with whom he was associated rather than for his own masterful works.
Salieri considered the Parisian opera his greatest achievements in the late 1780s. He also wrote significant instrumental, sacred, and vocal compositions in Vienna. His music influenced some of the most talented composers of all time. Salieri's illustrious students included Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Hummel, and Czerny.
Raised in a prosperous family of merchants, Salieri studied violin and harpsichord with his brother Francesco, who was a student of Giuseppe Tartini. After the early death of his parents, he moved to Padua, then to Venice, where he studied thoroughbass with Giovanni Battista Pescetti. There, he met Florian Leopold Gassmann, in 1766, who invited him to attend the court of Vienna, and there trained him in composition based on Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum. Salieri remained in Vienna for the remainder of his life. In 1774, after Gassmann's death, Salieri was appointed court composer by Emperor Joseph II. He met his wife, Therese von Helferstorfer, in 1774. (The couple went on to have eight children.) Salieri became Royal and Imperial Kapellmeister in 1788, a post which he held until 1824. He was president of the "Tonkünstler-Societät" (society of musical artists) from 1788 to 1795, vice-president after 1795, and in charge of its concerts until 1818.
Salieri attained an elevated social standing, and was frequently associated with other celebrated composers, such as Joseph Haydn and Louis Spohr. He played an important role in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century classical music. He was a teacher to many famous composers, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Franz Liszt, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Ignaz Moscheles, Franz Schubert, and Franz Xaver Süssmayr. He also taught Mozart's younger son, Franz Xaver.
Salieri was buried in the Matzleinsdorfer Friedhof (his remains were later transferred to the Zentralfriedhof) in Vienna, Austria. At his funeral service his own Requiem in C minor—composed in 1804—was performed for the first time. His monument is adorned by a poem written by Joseph Weigl, one of his pupils:
Rest in peace! Uncovered by dust
eternity shall bloom for you.
Rest in peace! In eternal harmonies
your spirit now is dissolved.
He expressed himself in enchanting notes,
now he is floating to everlasting beauty.
During his time in Vienna, Salieri acquired great prestige as a composer and conductor, particularly of opera, but also of chamber and sacred music. The most successful of his more than 40 operas included Armida (1771), La scuola de' gelosi (1778), Der Rauchfangkehrer (1781), Les Danaïdes (1784), which was first presented as a work of Gluck's, Tarare (1787), Axur, Re d'Ormus (1788), Palmira, Regina di Persia (1795), and Falstaff o sia Le tre burle (1799). He wrote comparatively little instrumental music; however, his limited output includes two piano concertos and a concerto for organ written in 1773, a concerto for flute, oboe and orchestra (1774), and a set of 26 variations on La Follia di Spagna (1815).
Salieri and Mozart
In Vienna in the late 1780s, Mozart mentioned several "cabals" of Salieri concerning his new opera, Così fan tutte. As Mozart's music became more popular over the decades, Salieri's music was largely forgotten. Later allegations gained credence and tarnished Salieri's reputation, although Salieri (close to death) denied killing Mozart. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, increasing nationalism led to a tendency to transfigure the Austrian Mozart's genius, while the Italian Salieri was given the role of his evil antagonist. Albert Lortzing's Singspiel Szenen aus Mozarts Leben LoWV28 (1832) uses the cliché of the jealous Salieri trying to hinder Mozart's career. In 1772, Empress Maria Theresa made a comment on her preference of Italian composers over Germans like Gassmann, Salieri, or Gluck. While Italian by birth, Salieri had lived in imperial Vienna since he was 16 years old and was regarded as a German composer. Salieri saw himself as a German composer, which some of his German letters, operas, cantatas, and songs seem to prove.
The biographer Alexander Wheelock Thayer believes that Mozart's suspicions of Salieri could have originated with an incident in 1781, when Mozart applied to be the music teacher of the Princess of Württemberg, and Salieri was selected instead because of his good reputation as a singing teacher. In the following year, Mozart once again failed to be selected as the Princess's piano teacher.
Later, when Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro was not well received by either the Emperor Joseph II or by the public, Mozart blamed Salieri for the failure. "Salieri and his tribe will move heaven and earth to put it down," Leopold Mozart wrote to his daughter Nannerl. But at the time of the premiere of Figaro, Salieri was busy with his new French opera, Les Horaces. Thayer believes that the intrigues surrounding the failure of Figaro were instigated by the poet Giovanni Battista Casti against the Court Poet, Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the Figaro libretto.
In addition, when da Ponte was in Prague preparing the production of Mozart's setting of his Don Giovanni, the poet was ordered back to Vienna for a royal wedding for which Salieri's Axur, Re d'Ormus would be performed. Obviously, Mozart was not pleased by this.
There is, however, far more evidence of a cooperative relationship between the two composers than one of real enmity. For example, Mozart appointed Salieri to teach his son Franz Xaver, and when Salieri was appointed Kapellmeister in 1788, he revived Figaro instead of bringing out a new opera of his own, and when he went to the coronation festivities for Leopold II in 1790, he had no fewer than three Mozart masses in his luggage. Salieri and Mozart even composed a song for voice and piano together, called Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia, which was celebrating the happy return to stage of the famous singer Nancy Storace. This song has been lost, although it had been printed by Artaria in 1785. Mozart's Davidde penitente K.469 (1785), his piano concerto in E flat major K.482 (1785), the clarinet quintet K.581 (1789), and the great symphony in G minor K.550 had been premiered on the suggestion of Salieri, who even conducted a performance of it in 1791. In his last surviving letter from October 14th 1791, Mozart tells his wife that he collected Salieri and his [Salieri's] mistress in his carriage and drove them both to the opera, and about Salieri's attendance at his opera Die Zauberflöte K 620, speaking enthusiastically: "He heard and saw with all his attention, and from the overture to the last choir there was no piece that didn't elicit a bravo or bello out of him […]"
Salieri's health declined in his later years, and he was hospitalized shortly before his death, attempting suicide on one occasion. It was shortly after he died that rumors first spread that he had confessed to Mozart's murder on his deathbed. Salieri's two nurses, Gottlieb Parsko and Georg Rosenberg, as well as his family doctor Joseph Röhrig, attested that he never said any such thing. At least one of these three people was with him throughout his hospitalization.
Within a few years after Salieri's death in 1825, Aleksandr Pushkin wrote his "little tragedy," Mozart and Salieri (1831) as a dramatic study of the sin of envy, thus beginning an artistic tradition of poetic license based on Mozart's allegation. Although Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov adapted Pushkin's play as an opera of the same name in 1898 (as an homage to his predecessor Alexander Dargomyzhsky), the most significant perpetuation of the story is credited to Peter Shaffer's heavily fictionalized play Amadeus (1979) and the Oscar-winning 1984 film directed by Miloš Forman based upon it; both Shaffer and Forman expressly maintained the fictional nature of their respective works. Salieri is presented as both in awe and spite for Mozart and his talents, going so far as to renounce God for blessing Mozart, whilst also weeping in disbelief at the sound of the composer's music.
Due largely to Shaffer's play and its movie adaptation, the word "Salieri" has entered colloquialization to mean a merely competent artist standing in the shadow of a genius, or worse, an incompetent musician.
In 2003, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli released The Salieri Album, a CD with 13 arias from Salieri's operas, most of which had never been recorded before. Since 2000, there have also been complete recordings issued of the operas Falstaff, Les Danaides, and La Grotta di Trofonio. Although he has yet to fully re-enter the standard repertory, performances of Salieri's works are progressively becoming more regular occurrences.
His operas Falstaff (1995 production) and Tarare (1987 production) have been released on DVD.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Braunbehrens, Volkmar. Maligned Master: The Real Story of Antonio Salieri. New York: Fromm International, 1992. ISBN 9780880641401
- Forman, Miloš, Saul Zaentz, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Peter Shaffer, Neville Marriner, and Twyla Tharp. Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2002. ISBN 9780790765150
- Rice, John A. Antonio Salieri and Viennese Opera. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN 9780226711256
- Salieri, Antonio, and Jane Schatkin Hettrick. Mass in D Major. Madison: A-R Editions, 1994. ISBN 9780895792884
- Shaffer, Peter. Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. ISBN 9780060140328
- Thayer, Alexander Wheelock and Theodore Albrecht. Salieri: Rival of Mozart. Kansas City, Missouri: Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City, 1989. ISBN 9780932845375
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