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Antonio Salieri

Antonio Salieri


Salieri Antonio, *18 VIII 1750 Legnago (near Venice), †7 V 1825 Vienna, Italian composer. His brother Francesco Salieri taught him to play the violin, and G. Simoni taught him the harpsichord and organ. After the death of his parents, circa 1765, Salieri moved to Venice where he continued his studies with F. Pacini (singing) and G.B. Pescetti (composition). In 1766 he was taken to Vienna by the Imperial court composer who had been in Venice, F.L. Gassmann, who also ensured his further musical education. Salieri wrote his first opera, Le Donne Letterate in 1769. In a short time he received the support of the then influential P. Metastasio, and his opera Armida brought him acclaim in June 1771 when it was produced in Vienna; it referred to Gluck's dramatic reform principles. Salieri succeeded Gassmann as Kammerkomponist in1774, as well as kapellmeister of the Italian opera. Emperor Joseph II’s support was also helpful to him in Italy and France. He wrote the opera seria L’Europa Riconosciuta for the opening ceremony at La Scala in Milan (then under the dominion of Austria) in 1778, and in 1781 the singspiel Der Rauchfangkehrer for the Burgtheater in Vienna on the orders of Emperor. In 1782, Gluck commissioned Salieri to write a lyrical tragedy for the Opera in Paris; Salieri wrote Les Danaides, staged with success in 1784, and received commissions for two more French operas, the second of which, Tarare to a libretto by P.A. de Beaumarchais, brought him great triumph. An Italian opera troupe was employed at the Viennese court in 1783, which raised the status of opera buffo. Salieri presented his own opera La Scuola De’ Gelosi with them in the Burgtheater, and then as a conductor took part in premieres of operas by G. Paisiello, V. Martín y Soler and W.A. Mozart among others. He collaborated with L. Da Ponte and with G.B. Casti; in 1788 Joseph II commissioned him to write an Italian version of Tarare to a libretto by L. Da Ponte, and the opera presented in 1788 under the title Axur, re d’Ormus was used as a celebration for the marriage of Archduke Francis with Princess Elisabeth of Württemberg. In the same year Salieri took the function of Kapellmeister at the imperial court, a position he held until his retirement (1824). After the death of Joseph II (1790) he was dismissed from his position in the court theatre, but supervised the recruitment of instrumentalists, singers and even organ builders. He was occupied with collecting musical instruments and court musical archives, and above all he was responsible for planning the musical accompaniment for events, including, among others, for the Congress of Vienna (he favoured religious works by J.G. Albrechtsberger, J. and M. Haydn, G. Reutter the Younger, J. Eybler, L. Hofmann and W.A. Mozart). As president of the Tonkünstler-Sozietät he organized and conducted concerts for charity. Of all of his late operas (three to libretti by G. De Gamerra and three to libretti by C.P. Defranceschi) Palmira, Regina Di Persia brought him the greatest success, and also (now reprinted), Falstaff. His last completed work for the stage – the singspiel Die Neger, performed in 1804 – failed to arouse much interest. Salieri devoted much time to teaching, especially after 1804. He specialized in teaching coloratura sopranos, and his pupils include Catharine Cavalieri and Gassmann’s daughters: Theresa Rosenbaum and Maria Anna Fux. His composition students included L. van Beethoven, F. Schubert, J.N. Hummel, I. Moscheles, G. Meyerbeer, C. Czerny and F. Liszt. He was one of the founders of the Musikakademie (1817) and the Gesellschaft für Musikfreunde in Vienna. In recognition of his services he was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour in 1815 and in 1816 the Gold Medal, awarded on the 50th anniversary of his arrival in Vienna. During his life Salieri enjoyed consistent recognition and respect from the authorities and the audience and students, and his operas were presented on many European stages. After the composer’s death, however, they almost completely disappeared from the repertoire, regarded as stylistically outdated. A rumour, spread in the nineteenth century, that jealousy caused Salieri to contribute to Mozart’s premature death has never been proven (despite the fact that Salieri, having suffered a nervous breakdown in the last years of his life, was himself the source of this rumour, as witnessed by A. Schindler). However, it has obscured the undoubted services of the composer to Austrian, Italian and French musical culture, and has established the theme of revenge in romantic literature (A. Pushkin's Mozart and Salieri), taken later in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera. P. Shaffer returned to the problem in the play Amadeus (1979), filmed in 1984 by M. Forman. The authors of both works, questioning the nature of the musical genius, penetrate the psychological realm of Mozart-Salieri relations to a greater depth than Pushkin, but in many moments, fiction replaces historical fact.