Wednesday, October 17, 2007



COMPOSER: Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)

I am grasping this opportunity to include the much-maligned Salieri in this gallery. Salieri is the composer of the week on Radio NZ (14-19 October). He is remembered (or famously forgotten) as a composer of some 40 operas, so we might have expected one of them to appear on the Sunday afternoon at 3 pm. When it was Mendelssohn's week (23rd of September), they broadcast his opera Camacho's Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho), and, strange to tell, Salieri has an opera on the same story from Don Quixote, namely Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamace (Don Quixote at Camacho's wedding); and at least its overture was played on Monday morning. But no, to add more insult to the infamous injury that Salieri has suffered through the ages, on Sunday they played Mozart's Don Giovanni. It could have been worse. They could have aired Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri (I have a recording of it), which revives the slander that Salieri poisoned Mozart. This short piece is based (like most Russian operas!) on lines by Pushkin.

No doubt Mozart and Salieri were rivals for the Emperor's attention in Vienna, and maybe Antonio hindered Wolfgang's advancement at court, as shown in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. That movie certainly aroused public enthusiasm for Mozart's music, and it also resurrected Salieri from oblivion; and we can be thankful it did not portray Salieri as having poisoned Mozart (he just worked the poor sick composer to death, writing a requiem mass!).

Salieri was a good man (he helped Mozart's son) and a skilful musician (but as he himself confesses, in the play: he is not as original as Mozart) and his operas were popular; and yet we only get one Salieri opera snippet in the film.

Schubert, Liszt, Hummel, Meyerbeer, and even Beethoven studied composition with him. Did Mozart really ridicule Salieri, as we see happening on the big screen? Did Mozart's wife Constanze actually go begging for charity from Maestro Salieri? Should we accept that Wolfi was a vulgar boor? He certainly wrote a lot of begging letters to help pay the rent and to keep up appearances (he became a model for Wagner in the art of sophisticated bludging). We know that WAM loved billiards, and we saw Amadeus playing with a billiard ball as he composed music on a billiard table. But have you heard the rumour that he was always short of cash because he lost lots of money on his billiard gambling?

I have been recording the Salieri broadcasts, for scholarly purposes. And we have been vouchsafed an entire opera (1799): Falstaff osia le Tre Burle (the subtitle says, "or the three pranks"), on Wednsday and Thursday mornings.

Falstaff operas are based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor; Nicolai retained that title for his (1838); Balfe (he of the Bohemian girl who dwelt in marble halls) and Verdi (1893) settled for Falstaff; and let's not forget Sir John in Love (1929), by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

On Friday morning we are offered Prima la Musica, Poi le Parole (First the music, then the words). Is that the one that has been staged by Massey University students, in which the composer works on a computer ("Sibelius")?

That title is used for an opera blog, with NZ connections.

Finally, for the facts and theories about the murder allegation against Salieri, go here. He did attempt to commit suicide, but did he confess to murder at that time? Poor Wolfi Gottlieb Mozart died of kidney failure: that seems the best cause to believe in.

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