The Real Story of the Composer Antonio Salieri

The Real Story of the Composer Antonio Salieri

By Barry Lenson

Few composers have gotten such a bad reputation as Antonio Salieri – you know, the composer who, according to popular scuttlebutt, poisoned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This rumor started, or at least it spread, thanks to Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus and the subsequent film adaptation.

It was an exceptionally good play and an excellent movie. But here is the truth . . .

Salieri did not murder Mozart.

While Salieri and Mozart were indeed contemporaries who were probably in competition for various commissions, the extent of their rivalry has been greatly exaggerated. 

Who Was Salieri?

Antonio Salieri was a prominent and very capable Italian composer of the Classical era, known for his operas, symphonies, and chamber music. Born on August 18, 1750, in Legnago, a town in the Republic of Venice (present-day Italy), Salieri showed an early aptitude for music. Recognizing his talent, his parents enrolled him in music lessons with local musicians.

Then at the age of 16, Salieri moved to Venice, where he studied with the eminent Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini. During his time in Venice, Salieri honed his skills as a violinist and composer, catching the attention of Vienna’s musical elite.

In 1766, Salieri traveled to Vienna, where he continued his musical education under the tutelage of Christoph Willibald Gluck. Vienna proved to be fertile ground for Salieri’s burgeoning career, and he quickly established himself as a prominent figure in the city’s musical scene.

Salieri’s talent and dedication earned him the patronage of Emperor Joseph II, who appointed him court composer in 1788. This prestigious position provided Salieri with the resources and support to compose operas, including Axur, Re d’Ormus (1788), Les Danaïdes (1784), and his own version of Falstaff (1799), among others. His operas were well-received and performed in theaters across Europe, solidifying Salieri’s reputation as one of the leading composers of his time.

In addition to his operatic works, Salieri also composed a substantial number of instrumental pieces, including symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. While you generally cannot sense Mozart-level genius in his compositions, they are characterized by their melodic elegance, harmonic richness, and masterful orchestration, reflecting the style of the Classical period.

In his later years, Salieri continued to compose prolifically and remained an influential figure in the Viennese musical community. He mentored a new generation of composers, including Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, leaving a lasting legacy on the development of Classical music.

Antonio Salieri passed away on May 7, 1825, in Vienna, leaving behind a rich and diverse body of work that continues to be appreciated and performed to this day. Despite later controversies surrounding his relationship with Mozart, Salieri’s contributions to the world of music endure as a testament to his talent and dedication. 

Salieri Compositions You Can Listen to on Classical Archives

Click on the titles below to listen now if you are a member of Classical Archives. *

Operas

Armida – An excellent complete performance featuring Christophe Rousset and Les Talons Lyriques and soloists.

Falstaff – This performance is from the Salieri Chamber Orchestra and soloists conducted by Tamas Pal.

La Scuola de’ Gelosi – The complete comic opera featuring L’Arte del Mondo and soloists conducted by Werner Ehrhardt.

Choral Works

The Passion of Jesus Christ – Oratorio for chorus, orchestra, and soloists. Christoph Spering leads the Neue Orchester and soloists. 

Requiem in C Minor – Lawrence Foster conducts the Gulbenkian Foundation Choir and Orchestra and soloists. 

Orchestral Works and Concertos

Symphony in D Major (“la Veneziana”) – Matthias Bamert conducts the London Mozart Players.

Piano Concerto in B-Flat Major – Antonio Sinagra conducts pianist Costantino Catena and the orchestra of the Domenico Cimarosa Conservatory.

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