Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Antonio Salieri

Portrait of Antonio Salieri by Joseph Willibrord Mähler

They say he poisoned
Amadeus Mozart; but
That is not the truth.

And then they called him
A second-rate composer;
If he was so bad,

Why then did Schubert,
Liszt, Beethoven, and Czerny
Call him their teacher?

He’s been much maligned,
Old Antonio Salieri.
Here’s the real story.

If you ask people who Antonio Salieri was, the two most likely answers might be

“Who?”

or

“Isn’t he the guy who poisoned Mozart?”

Since I’ve been pointing you in the direction of a series of free Mozart concerts in the last few weeks (more to come—stay tuned!), I thought it only fair that I clear up some of the misunderstandings about Salieri.

First, Salieri didn’t poison Mozart.  Though the two had their differences, they respected each other.  Salieri produced a revival of Mozart’s Figaro in Vienna (when he had the opportunity to produce an opera of his own), and Mozart himself wrote of Salieri’s enthusiastic reactions during a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute that the two attended together.1 A collaboration between Salieri and Mozart, once considered lost, was found in 2016.  After Mozart’s death, Salieri taught his son, Franz Xaver Mozart.

Salieri’s students included the composers mentioned above, and more.2 Students were keen to learn about vocal writing from him, as Salieri was a highly-regarded figure and a very successful opera composer.  But Salieri didn’t always get it right: fortunately, Schubert ignored Salieri’s disdain for the German Lied,3 and went on to write over 600 of them.  Salieri taught most of his students for free, remembering how one of his mentors had once taught him for free.  I think it’s fun to note that, “from time to time Salieri treated his pupils, Schubert among them, to ice cream, which was obtainable from a lemonade kiosk….”4  Picture Salieri, Schubert, and other students standing on a Vienna street corner eating ice cream!

As for the second-rate composer jibe … well, when you’re constantly being compared to Mozart, that’s a no-win situation, isn’t it?  The criticism is typically leveled at his non-operatic works.  You can judge for yourself:  more of his secular and religious orchestral and chamber works may be found here.  Here is Salieri’s lively Sinfonia Veneziana.

When it came to opera, however, Salieri was an innovator.  He would mix aspects of serious and comic opera, use established singing styles in unexpected ways, and he even incorporated ballet.  Many of his operas were very successful, in particular, Armida and Les DanaïdesYou can see the entire opera Les Danaïdes at this link.  Some of his other operas, including Tarare, Axur, re d’Ormus, L’Europa Riconosciuta, and La grotto di Trofonio are also available online.

Here is the overture to Les Danaïdes.

If you find yourself becoming a Salieri fan, you might want to check out some of these recent recordings.

Salieri—he’s making a comeback.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Salieri
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_music_students_by_teacher:_R_to_S#Antonio_Salieri
  3. Gibbs, Christopher H., “Writing Under the Influence?: Salieri and Schubert’s Early Opinion of Beethoven” Current Musicology No 75, Spring 2003, p 125 (quoting Deutsch, Otto Erich, Schubert: Memoirs by his Friends, trans. Rosamond Ley and John Nowell. London: A &C Block, 1958 pp 20 and 130). https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/27300266.pdf
  4. Reference 3, quoting Deutsch, p 66.

_____

Image attribution: Portrait of Antonio Salieri by Joseph Willibrord Mähler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAntonio_Salieri_painted_by_Joseph_Willibrord_M%C3%A4hler.jpg.

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Hear the Mozart-Salieri Cantata!

Recently I told you about the discovery of a cantata co-written by Mozart and Salieri.

The piece was performed on a harpsichord at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague.  The video was released yesterday.  The author of each section of the piece is displayed before it is played.


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Lost Cantata Co-Written by Mozart and Salieri Found!

MozartSalieriCantata

Photo of the Czech Museum of Music Library, Prague, published in the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung.  The original caption indicates that Salieri’s portion ends at the top of the page and is followed by Mozart’s contribution to the piece.

Timo Jouko Herrmann, music researcher and expert on the works of Antonio Salieri, has made a startling discovery:  he has found the text and music for a lost solo cantata Mozart and Salieri wrote together in 1785.

So much for the Amadeus movie and any conspiracy theories that may have been floating around.

Herrmann was doing research on the holdings of the Czech Museum of Music Library in Prague when he found the text, and then the music, for a solo cantata written for soprano Nancy Storace.  The piece was called Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia [On the Recovery of the Health of Ofelia].

Salieri wrote the role of Ofelia in his opera La Grotta di Trofonio [Trofonio’s Cave] specifically for Storace.  However, she had to miss the opening because she lost her voice.  Her recovery took four months.  Mozart wrote the role of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro [The Marriage of Figaro] for her after she regained her voice.

In 1785 many newspapers contained stories about the piece, which was given the Köchel number KV477a (each of Mozart’s compositions has its own number).  But it was considered lost.  It was known that Mozart and Salieri had collaborated on the piece.

The text is drawn from a 30-stanza poem written by Lorenzo da Ponte.  Only four stanzas were set in the solo cantata.  Mozart wrote the middle of the piece.  The beginning was written by Salieri, the final portion by someone named Cornetti, whose identity remains unclear.

The title of the work was recorded accurately in the library’s online catalog.  Amazingly, no one realized that it referred to the lost work.

In an interview, Hermann noted that he had planned to go through the library’s online libretto catalog in search of a title by one of Salieri’s students, Antonio Cartellieri.  He was surprised and delighted to come upon the text.  But when he found not only the text but the notes that went with it, Hermann said, “I could hardly believe my luck.”

Herrmann has submitted an early publication to the Leipziger Hofmeister Verlag to inform musicians where the composition can be found.

Plans are being made by the Mozarteum in Salzburg to stage a public performance of the piece in late February.

References

Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung 19 January 2016  http://www.rnz.de/kultur-tipps/kultur-regional_artikel,-Walldorfer-Musikforscher-weist-Teamwork-von –Mozart-und-Salieri-nach-_arid,162807.htmlhttp://www.rnz.de/kultur-tipps/kultur-regional_artikel,-Walldorfer-Musikforscher-weist-Teamwork-von%20–Mozart-und-Salieri-nach-_arid,162807.html

Mozarteum, 19 January http://www.mozarteum.at/start/meldung/276

Schwäbische.de, 10 January 2016 http://www.schwaebische.de/panorama/kultur_artikel,-Sensation-Gemeinschaftswerk-von-Mozart-und-Salieri-in-Prag-entdeckt-_arid,10372846.html