Classical Score: Antonio Salieri

The myth of the man

I’m going to start this week’s column by having you do a small
free-association exercise. I’ll present you with a name; please observe
the first word, image or impression that enters your mind. You don’t
have to share, so no self-censoring. OK?

OK. Here goes:

Antonio Salieri.

Did “the man who killed Mozart,” or some variation of the theme,
come to mind? 

Come on. I know you thought it, even for a bit. And if you did, I can’t
really blame you. I mean, Salieri hasn’t exactly received the most
flattering treatment in popular culture—the film Amadeus, for example,
begins by depicting Salieri as an old, asylum-dwelling raving lunatic who
confesses to having murdered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart out of seething jealousy
of the latter’s talent. Not a highly positive image of the man. Add to
the storyline F. Murray Abraham’s fantastic portrayal of the
composer—he won a Best Actor Oscar, along with a bunch of other awards
for his role—and Salieri’s hope of being remembered as someone
who didn’t kill Mozart is pretty slim. 

And so, because I can, I want to give some positive press to Antonio

First of all, no matter how good Amadeus is, and no matter how many other
representations out there have presented Salieri in a similarly negative way,
one point remains: that stuff is fiction. While the exact cause of
Mozart’s death has not been conclusively determined (at least not to my
knowledge), evidence is suggesting that it was likely an illness, not
Salieri-administered poison, that caused the young composer’s demise.
In short: Salieri did not kill Mozart. 

If you’ve seen Amadeus, you’ll probably remember the scene where
Salieri performs a march that he composed, and then Mozart takes the music
and “improves” it. Again, such a representation is supposed to
make us think that Salieri wasn’t really a great composer, another
point with which I disagree. And so does the historical record. Emperor
Joseph II appointed Salieri as the court composer in 1774, at which time the
composer also conducted the Italian opera. Then, starting in 1788, he became
court Kapellmeister, a role in which he stayed for over 35 years. Not exactly
the type of job that would be offered to someone of mediocre talent,
certainly not by the music-loving Viennese. I’m not trying to disparage
Mozart, or even compare the two men, for that matter; I simply want to
re-emphasize that Amadeus is fiction, fiction and more fiction. 
I’ve also recently explored a few of Salieri’s works that I
haven’t heard before. His Requiem was the first one that caught my
attention. As someone who enjoys a good Requiem, I was pleased to learn that
Salieri had written one; I listened to the work with much rapture. No lack of
talent in that writing, that’s for sure. From there, I moved to his
overture to La Passione di Gesù Cristo, another non-mediocre piece.
While Salieri focused more on vocal music, he did write instrumental music,
too, and that’s the style of the last piece to which I turned. Did his
Piano Concerto in C Major disappoint me? Nope.

Thanks to Antonio Salieri, I now have even more music to enjoy. It’s
just too bad that toxic rumours regarding Mozart’s death have detracted
from what should be Salieri’s true legacy: his music. V


Fri, Jan 29 (8 pm) and Sat, Jan 30 (8 pm)
Edmonton Symphony
Orchestra with guest choirs and soloists
Broadway Rocks

Winspear Centre, $24 – $79

They’re presenting music from a number of musicals, including Wicked,
Rent and Hairspray. Speaking of musicals, I must say something on a personal
note here. Having the first name that I do, I encounter songs from musicals
very regularly, but in the form of people singing at me from The Sound of
Music or West Side Story and then thinking that they’re so hilarious
and original and that they’re the only one who has ever thought to sing
“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” to me. Maria-folk
everywhere know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, this concert
repertoire seems Maria-friendly. 

Mon, Feb 1 (12 pm)
University of Alberta music

Convocation Hall, University of Alberta, free

Tue, Feb 2 (8 pm)
Kreisler-Heifetz Birthday

Convocation Hall, University of Alberta, $10 – $20

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