Antonio Salieri (18 August 1750 – 7 May 1825), was an Italian composer and conductor. As the Austrian imperial Kapellmeister from 1788 to 1824, he was one of the most important and famous musicians of his time.
Salieri was buried in the Matzleinsdorfer Friedhof (his remains were later transferred to the Zentralfriedhof) in Vienna, Austria. At his funeral service his own Requiem in C minor - composed in 1804 - was performed for the first time. His monument is adorned by a poem written by Joseph Weigl, one of his pupils:
Rest in peace! Uncovered by dustOriginal German poem:
Eternity shall bloom for you.
Rest in peace! In eternal harmonies
Your spirit now is dissolved.
He expressed himself in enchanting notes,
Now he is floating to everlasting beauty.
Ruh sanft! Vom Staub entblößt,
Wird Dir die Ewigkeit erblühen.
Ruh sanft! In ew’gen Harmonien
Ist nun Dein Geist gelöst.
Er sprach sich aus in zaubervollen Tönen,
Jetzt schwebt er hin zum unvergänglich Schönen.
During his time in Vienna, Salieri acquired great prestige as a composer and conductor, particularly of opera, but also of chamber and sacred music. The most successful of his more than 40 operas included Europa riconosciuta (1778), 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), and Falstaff (1799). He wrote comparatively little instrumental music, however his limited output includes two piano concertos and a concerto for organ written in 1773, a concerto for flute, oboe and orchestra (1774), and a set of 26 variations on La folia di Spagna (1815).
In the 1780s while Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived and worked in Vienna, he and his father Leopold wrote in their letters that several "cabals" of Italians led by Salieri were actively putting roadblocks in the way of Mozart obtaining certain posts or of staging his operas. There is in fact little evidence of Salieri having engaged in any such conspiratorial acts. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 19th century, increasing German nationalism led to a tendency to transfigure the Austrian Mozart's character, while the Italian Salieri was given the role of his evil antagonist. As Mozart's music became more popular over the decades, Salieri's music was largely forgotten or intentionally ignored. Carl Maria von Weber, a relative of Mozart by marriage whom Wagner has characterized as the most German of German composers, is said to have refused to join a society of which Salieri was a member and avoided having anything to do with him. These rumours then made their way into popular culture. Albert Lortzing's Singspiel Szenen aus Mozarts Leben LoWV28 (1832) uses the cliché of the jealous Salieri trying to hinder Mozart's career.
Ironically, Salieri's music was much more in the tradition of Gluck and Gassmann than of the Italians like Paisiello or Cimarosa. In 1772, Empress Maria Theresa commented on her preference of Italian composers over Germans like Gassmann, Salieri or Gluck. While Italian by birth, Salieri had lived in imperial Vienna for almost 60 years and was regarded by such people as the music critic Friedrich Rochlitz as a German composer.
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 because of his reputation as a singing teacher. In the following year Mozart once again failed to be selected as the Princess's piano teacher.
"Salieri and his tribe will move heaven and earth to put it down", Leopold Mozart wrote to his daughter Nannerl. But at the time of the premiere of Figaro, Salieri was busy with his new French opera Les Horaces.
In addition, 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.
There is however, far more evidence of a cooperative relationship between the two composers than one of real enmity. For example, when Salieri was appointed Kapellmeister in 1788 he revived Figaro instead of bringing out a new opera of his own; and when he went to the coronation festivities for Leopold II in 1790 he had no fewer than three Mozart masses in his luggage. Salieri and Mozart even composed a cantata for voice and piano together, called Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia which was celebrating the return to stage of the singer Nancy Storace. This work has been lost, although it had been printed by Artaria in 1785. Mozart's Davide penitente K.469 (1785), his piano concerto in E flat major K.482 (1785), the clarinet quintet K.581 (1789) and the great Symphony in G minor K.550 had been premiered on the suggestion of Salieri, who supposedly conducted a performance of it in 1791. In his last surviving letter from 14 October 1791, Mozart tells his wife that he collected Salieri and Catharina Cavalieri in his carriage and drove them both to the opera, and about Salieri's attendance at his opera Die Zauberflöte K 620, speaking enthusiastically: "He heard and saw with all his attention, and from the overture to the last choir there was no piece that didn't elicit a bravo or bello out of him [...]."
Salieri's health declined in his later years, and he was hospitalized shortly before his death. It was shortly after he died that gossip first spread that he had confessed to Mozart's murder on his deathbed. Salieri's two nurses, Gottlieb Parsko and Georg Rosenberg, as well as his family doctor Joseph Röhrig, attested that he never said any such thing. At least one of these three people was with him throughout his hospitalization.
His operas Falstaff (1995 production) and Tarare (1987 production) have been released on DVD. In 2004, the opera Europa Riconosciuta was staged in Milan for the reopening of La Scala in Milan, with soprano Diana Damrau in the title role. This production was also broadcast on television, with a future DVD release possible.
Salieri has even begun to attract some attention from Hollywood. In 2001, his triple concerto was used in the soundtrack of The Last Castle, featuring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini. It is a story that builds on the rivalry between a meticulous but untested officer (GaldoLfini) serving as the warden of a military prison and an imprisoned but much admired and highly decorated general (Redford). The Salieri piece is used as the warden's theme music, seemingly to invoke the image of jealousy of the inferior for his superior. In 2006 the movie Copying Beethoven referred to Salieri in a more positive light. In this movie a young female music student hired by Beethoven to copy out his Ninth Symphony is staying at a monastery. The abbess tries to discourage her from working with the irreverent Beethoven. She notes that she too once had dreams, having come to Vienna to study opera singing with Salieri. Most recently the 2008 movie Iron Man used the Larghetto movement from Salieri's Piano Concerto In C Major. The scene where Obadiah Stane, the archrival of 'Tony' Stark, the wealthy industrialist turned Ironman, tells Tony that he is being ousted from his company by the board, Obadiah plays the opening few bars of the Salieri concerto on a piano in Stark's suite. Once again it seems that Hollywood is using Salieri to epitomize jealousy of an inferior for a superior.
The Finnish progressive metal outfit Warmen, led by the classically trained pianist and keyboardist Janne Wirman of Children Of Bodom fame, have been tributing Salieri in all of their albums. Warmen's first album Unknown Soldier (2000) included the song "Warcry of Salieri", the second long-player Beyond Abilites (2002) had a song entitled "Salieri Strikes Back" and the latest work, Accept The Fact (2005) tributed Salieri with the composition titled as "Return of Salieri", all of which paying tribute to Salieri's works. "Salieri Strikes Back" and "Return of Salieri" are also both a reference to the similarly named films of the Star Wars series, although the meaning behind this is unknown.