On this day back in 1657, the Italian architect Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena was born. Mathematician Brook Taylor was born in 1685. The last member of the House of Lords to be put to death, Laurence Shirley was born in 1720. No wonder England has gone to hell since then! Wildlife painter Carl Rungius was born in 1869. Film director Marcel Carne was born in 1906. The first and greatest female flying ace Lydia Litvyak was born in 1920. Writer Alain Robbe-Grillet was born in 1922. And chain-smoking heart throb Patrick Swayze was born in 1952.
Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson is 102 today. Discoverer of HIV, Luc Montagnier is 81. Seriously messed up human being but absolutely great film director Roman Polanski is 80. Here’s a great scene (admittedly, thanks mostly to Robert Towne and Faye Dunaway) from Chinatown:
The day, however, belongs to one of the great Classical period composers Antonio Salieri who was born on this day in 1750. Hugely popular in his own day, he was probably even more important as a teacher. Sadly, he is only quite recently being played with any frequency at all. As far as I know, there has never been an English language biography of him. I think this all stems from the fact that Mozart’s letters have been so picked over by historians. In those letters, the young Mozart was clearly jealous of Salieri’s greater success. But after Mozart started gaining success, he and Salieri were on very friendly terms and even worked together. But all those old letters stuck around and I’m afraid that people held it against Salieri as though he were responsible for holding Mozart in poverty and hastening his death. (Note: the last couple of years of Mozart’s life were quite successful financially and would have led to him becoming a very rich man had he lived.)
What Salieri did was live a long time—well into the Romantic period. In fact, he taught composition to Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. As a result of this, just as is indicated in Amadeus, he saw his music go out of style. Of course, the same thing happened to Mozart’s music, he just wasn’t around to see it happen. Of course, with Mozart, there is all the speculation that had he lived he would have turned into Beethoven—a patently absurd notion. But there is no doubt that Mozart was a better composer than Salieri. I can listen to straight Mozart for a lot longer than I can Salieri before each of their cliches start to drive me crazy. But Salieri is nonetheless a great composer who isn’t listened to nearly enough. Here is his Twenty-Six Variations for the Orchestra on a Theme called La Folia di Spagna, which is exquisite:
Happy birthday Antonio Salieri!