The Fictional Life of Antonio Salieri

Salieri was born to a swine of a father, and though he longed to study music in Vienna, the center of culture in 1750, his father would not allow him to do so. When his father unexpectedly passed away, Salieri's prayers were answered, and he eventually rose to the position of court composer for King Joseph II of Austria.

Successful, charming, and talented, Salieri's stage was upset by a young prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who stole Salieri's women, his respect, and his dignity. In revenge, Salieri took advantage of Mozart's father's death by disguising himself as the deceased dad and forcing Mozart to write a requiem, which proved to be his own. Or, in the simpler version, he poisoned him.

Racked with guilt over killing the greatest musical mind in modern history, Salieri attempted suicide but failed, leaving him an ill, tired old man who lived out the rest of his days cursing God for slighting him in his moment of glory.

What Really Happened

Antonio Salieri was born August 18, 1750, in Legnano, Italy. His parents were both wealthy patrons of the arts, and contributed heavily to Antonio's musical education. When they unexpectedly died in 1765, Antonio was passed around, first to Giovanni Mocenigo, and then Leopold Gaßman, Kapellmeister (choir director) of the imperial court, who taught him over the next 10 years.

Salieri had published pieces by the age of 17, and at 20 was named head composer and Kapellmeister of the Italian opera in Vienna. At 21, his work Armida, dramma per musica earned him renown throughout Europe, and the following year his piece Europa riconosciuta inaugurated the Teatro alla Scala in Milano in 1778. (Side note: if you have never seen pictures of this theater, go Google it now. You will be awestruck.) He followed these up with his greatest opera works, Les Danaïdes (1784 - a collaboration with Christoph Willibald Gluck, longtime friend and patron), Axur, re d'Ormus (1786), and Tarare, in 1787. In his lifetime, Salieri produced over 40 operas and hundreds of oratorios, cantatas, and chorales, most notably La passione di Cristo (The Passion of Jesus Christ).

Salieri's works are mostly governed by the early Italian choral pieces of his era, although he added many contemporary French, Austrian, and even Spanish conventions to his pieces. His noted religiosity gave extra credence to his sacred works, and he arguably worked with the best librettists of his time (among them Peter Metastasio.)

In 1788, Salieri met and married Teresa Helferstorfer, and together they had 7 children.

That same year, Salieri began a free conservatory in Vienna. "The Great Benefactor," as he was nicknamed by some of his students, taught Beethoven, Liszt and Schubert, among others. He was awarded the Austrian golden medal for Civil Valour, named a knight of the French Legion, and was vice-president of the Paris Conservatory for many years.

Antonio Salieri, court composer to King Joseph II, passed away May 7, 1825. And what of Mozart? They met on numerous occasions professionally, never collaborated on a single work, and there is no evidence they had any particular like or dislike for one another.

The Rest Of The Story

Facts notwithstanding, in 1830, Alexander Pushkin printed Mozart and Salieri, a lengthy poem in which he accused Salieri of poisoning Mozart (although majority opinion suggests it was rheumatic fever that killed him), jealous of the latter's seemingly effortless musicality. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov converted this into an opera in 1898, and it in turn became rather famous in many circles who felt Mozart had died too soon.

In 1924, Legnano built a grand new opera house, and named it Teatro Salieri after their famous native son.

By 1979, Salieri had faded from the spotlight, a respectable but not renowned composer, appreciated by aficionados, but with little other support. Peter Schaeffer changed all that with his play Amadeus (later turned into an Oscar-winning film by Milos Forman in 1984), that again suggested Salieri had murdered Mozart out of spite. While none of this has been proven in any form, the rumors persist: did Salieri murder Mozart?

Salieri's life seems to suggest otherwise - accomplished performer, benevolent teacher, and court composer, Salieri's own life was as successful if not more so than Mozart. The fact that his works have not resonated well in modern times is hardly a slight on one of the great classical composers of his time.

Salieri's Works

Operas:

Le donne Letterate, 1770
L'amore innocente, 1770
Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamace, 1771
Armida, 1771
La Fiera di Venezia, 1772
Il barone di rocca Antica, 1772
La secchia rapita, 1772
La locandiera, 1773
La calamita de' cuori,1774
La finta scema, 1775
Delmita e Daliso, 1776
Europa riconosciuta, 1778
La scuola de' gelosi, 1778
Il talismano, 1779
La partenza inaspettata, 1779
La dama pastorella, 1780
Der Rauchfangkehrer, 1781
Semiramide, 1782
Les Danaïdes, 1784
Il ricco d'un giorno, 1784
La grotta di Trofonio, 1785
La musica e poi le parole, 1786
Les Horaces, 1786
Tarare, 1787
Axur, re d'Ormus, 1788
Il talismano, 1788
Il Pastor Fido, 1789
La Cifra, 1789
Il Mondo alla rovescia, 1795
Eraclito e democrito, 1795
Palmira, regina di Persia, 1795
Il Moro, 1796
Falstaff ossia le tre burle, 1799
Cesare in Farmacusa, 1800
Angiolina, ossia il matrimonio per sussurro, 1800
Annibale in Capua, 1801
Die Neger, 1804

Sources

  • http://www.antoniosalieri.it/
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/717970.stm

Further Reading

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