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Antonio Salieri

Antonio Salieri

Fact Sheet

Musical genre:Classical  
Birthday18 August 1750
SignLeo
Date of deathMay 7, 1825 (age 74)
Antonio Salieri (August 18, 1750 - May 7, 1825), born in Legnago, Italy, near the Austrian dukedom of Mantua, was a composer and conductor who received considerable public acclaim in his day. He studied violin and harpsichord with his brother Francesco, who was a student of Giuseppe Tartini. After the death of his parents, he moved to Padua, then to Venice, where he studied thoroughbass with Giovanni Pescetti. In 1766 Salieri met Florian Leopold Gassmann, who invited him to attend the court of Vienna and there trained him in composition based on Fux's Gradus ad Parnassus. He remained in Vienna for the remainder of his life, and in 1774, when Gassmann died, Salieri was appointed the court composer by Emperor Joseph II, and Imperial Royal Kapellmeister in 1788.

During his time in Vienna he acquired great prestige as a composer and conductor, particularly of opera, and also of chamber and sacred music. The most successful of his 39 operas were Armida (1771), La scuola de' gelosi (1778), Der Rauchfangkehrer (1781), Les Danaïdes (1784), which was first presented as a work of Gluck's, Tarare (1787), Axur, re d'Ormus (1788), Palmira, regina di Persia (1795), Falstaff o sia Le tre burle (1799). He wrote comparatively little instrumental music, including two piano concertos and a concerto for organ written in 1773, a concerto for flute, oboe and orchestra (1774), a set of 26 variations on "La Follia di Spagna" (1815) and several serenades for winds.

He attained an elevated social standing, and frequently associated with other celebrated composers such as Joseph Haydn. As children, Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt all benefitted from his tutelage. He also taught Czerny, Hummel, and a son of Mozart's, Franz Xaver.

Antonio Salieri is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, Austria.

Allegations by Mozart

In Vienna in the 1790s, Mozart accused Salieri of plagiarism and of attempting to murder him with poison. As Mozart's music became more popular over the decades and Salieri's music was forgotten, Mozart's unsubstantiated allegations gained credence and tarnished Salieri's reputation.

The biographer Alexander Wheelock Thayer believes that Mozart's suspicions of Salieri could have originated with an incident in 1781 when Mozart applied to be the music teacher of the Princess of Württemberg, and Salieri was selected instead. In the following year Mozart once again failed to be selected as the Princess's piano teacher.

Later on, when Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro was not liked by either the Emperor Joseph II nor by the public, Mozart blamed Salieri for the failure. "Salieri and his tribe will move heaven and earth to put it down," wrote Leopold Mozart. But at the time of the premiere of Figaro, Salieri was busy in France with his own opera Les Horaces. Thayer believes that the intrigues surrounding the failure of Figaro were instigated by the poet Giovanni Battista Casti against the Court Poet, Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the Figaro libretto.

Later on, when da Ponte was in Prague preparing the production of Mozart's setting of his Don Giovanni, the poet was ordered back to Vienna for a royal wedding for which Salieri's Axur, re d'Ormus would be performed. Obviously, Mozart was not pleased by this.

And yet Salieri did not intend to hinder Mozart's career. When Salieri was appointed Kapellmeister in 1788, instead of bringing out an opera of his own, he revived Figaro.

When in his later years, Salieri's health declined and he was hospitalized, there were rumors that Salieri confessed to Mozart's murder. Salieri's two nurses attested that Salieri said no such thing and that at least one of the two of them was with Salieri throughout his hospital stay.

After Salieri's death, the opera by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart et Salieri (1898) started a tradition of dramatic license crossing into slander based on Mozart's allegations, continued by the play by Peter Shaffer, Amadeus (1979; and the Oscar-winning original film based on the play, released in 1984, and "Director's Cut" was released on 2001 with an additional 20 minutes of footage).

In addition to the false allegations of murder, the movie also hurts Salieri's reputation by falsely portraying him as a mediocre composer and as a blasphemer burning a crucifix. His talent is patent throughout his works, and his religious devotion is undisputed by his biographers. Some are even daring to suggest Mozart was the plagiarist.