On this day in 1750, the great Classical composer Antonio Salieri was born. Although he was born in Italy, he spent almost his entire life in Vienna. He was a protege of Gluck and is generally considered Germanic in his compositional style. Historically, he is important for two things. First, he was a primary figure in turning opera into a major classical music form. Second, he was one of the most important teachers of the time, whose pupils included Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt.
Sadly, his work still isn’t performed very much (but this is slowly changing). It is all Mozart’s fault. When he was young, Mozart wrote a number of things in letters claiming that Salieri was sabotaging his career. Many academics have taken this at face value. But I think they are confused about how Mozart thought of himself. He wasn’t the great composer from history, but a young man trying to establish his career. And he was struggling. After being a child prodigy, most people weren’t that interested in the 20-something composer.
Not long afer Salieri’s death, Alexander Pushkin wrote the short play Mozart and Salieri. It was meant to be, as Wikipedia says “a dramatic study of the sin of envy.” And others followed along with that narrative, leading eventually to Peter Shaffer’s play and movie, Amadeus. I love the film, as I discussed in, A Tale of Two Constanzes. But there is no relation between Salieri the dramatic character and Salieri the man.
In fact, these representations have the history flipped. There was jealousy early on, but it was Mozart’s jealousy of the Salieri’s success. And after Mozart became successful, he and Salieri were at worst amiable colleagues. The last reference that Mozart made to Salieri was in a letter to his wife about taking the older composer to see The Magic Flute, “He heard and saw with all his attention, and from the overture to the last choir there was not a piece that didn’t elicit a ‘Bravo!’ or ‘Bello!’ out of him.”
Because Salieri is still not widely performed, there isn’t a lot of his work available online. But here is the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra performing Piano Concerto C Major. Heeguin Kim is on piano and she is relishing the performance:
Happy birthday Antonio Salieri!