Exploding the Salieri myth | Music | The Guardian
Tradition and the love of a good yarn have long cast Antonio Salieri as the murderer of Mozart and a musical hack. reported was true, there was one incident that might conceivably have sparked a rivalry. Pushkin, who wrote his Little Tragedy on the subject just five years after Salieri's death, made him. 'Mozart and Salieri' from Alexander Pushkin to Peter Shaffer the very idea of poison, and Salieri's relationship with God, that gripped him at a. Shaffer's play was in turn inspired by the great Russian poet and author Alexander Pushkin, who wrote a short drama called Mozart and Salieri in , only five.
They play almost a cat-and-mouse game until Salieri finally gets a chance to pour poison into Mozart's drink. Salieri's celebratory song hints at a descent into insanity. Unfortunately, there will be no unmasking of the true perpetrator today. The cause of Mozart's death in is as much debated today as it was then; and if poison was indeed the instrument, there is anything but a consensus on who might have been the assassin. History makes no secret of the fact that Mozart and Salieri were professional rivals.
During their years together in Vienna, Salieri was greatly respected professionally. Emperor Joseph II liked him a lot, and Salieri held successive roles as court composer, director of Italian opera, and court conductor.
Mozart and their mutual friends often spoke openly of Salieri's efforts to influence the availability of theaters and performers to favor his own shows at the expense of Mozart's. Salieri owned Italian opera in Vienna, and Mozart's forays into the genre were a clear step on Salieri's toes. Other composers in other genres had no such problems with Salieri, and neither did Mozart when he avoided Italian opera.
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There was no need for Salieri to kill Mozart to get him out of the way; Salieri's position in the industry gave him all the power he needed. At the core of the question of Salieri's guilt is an enduring legend that he gave a deathbed confession.
Insome 32 years after Mozart's death, Salieri did indeed make a failed suicide attempt by cutting his own throat. Rumors quickly spread that he had confessed to killing Mozart, and these rumors became so widespread and persistent that a leaflet was distributed at a Vienna performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony depicting Salieri standing over Mozart with a cup of poison.
Mozart's music was widely loved by this time, and with his alleged killer still alive, public fever over the murder ran high.
Mozart and Salieri - Wikisource, the free online library
But the hatred of Salieri was not unanimous. Those who knew Salieri and defended him against the rumors, and the much larger Court of Public Opinion composed largely of people who had not known either man and had little firsthand knowledge. No reliable evidence exists that Salieri ever made such a confession.
The best anyone's come up with is described in a pamphlet published in Moscow inwherein author Igor Boelza claims he was told by another man who had since died that he'd once seen a report of the confession written by Salieri's priest. He also alleged that the deceased man showed the report to a number of academics, whom he fails to name.
No such report is known to exist — which would be a huge discovery to any academic who had actually seen it — so judge the reliability of Boelza's pamphlet for yourself.
What does exist is a written statement from two men who were Salieri's hour caregivers during the last two years of his life, stating that they never heard him make any such confession. There is also an anecdote that Salieri once took the very young composer Rossini to meet Beethoven at his home in Vienna.
Beethoven allegedly turned Rossini away and shouted "How dare you come to my house with Mozart's poisoner? Salieri had tutored Beethoven, and the two had always been friends. Beethoven held his tutor in such high esteem that, even after Mozart's death, he dedicated his violin sonatas Opus 12 to Salieri, and wrote a series of variations on a theme from Salieri's opera Falstaff.
So even this anecdote seems unreliable.Mozart Vs Salieri
It's also noteworthy that Salieri was never under any kind of official suspicion of criminal activity. Salieri was already working on Tarare, to a libretto by Beaumarchais himself, a work that would be a hit in Paris. And if Mozart's collaborations with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte bore greater fruit than Salieri's? Well, no matter - it was Salieri, after all, who could claim credit for bringing Da Ponte to Vienna.
True, after their first opera together flopped the composer swore he would rather have his fingers chopped off than work with him again, but he relented in time to write several that were far more successful.
However, if what Mozart's wife Constanze reported was true, there was one incident that might conceivably have sparked a rivalry.
She claimed that Salieri had been offered Da Ponte's libretto for Cosi Fan Tutte - and had rejected it as being not worth setting. When Mozart got his hands on it, a humiliated Salieri had to eat his words. Otherwise, though, any tensions between the two seem more like office politics. Salieri had to turn down the prestigious commission for La Clemenza di Tito, but had no real reason to resent Mozart for being the second choice.
For his part, Mozart complains in letters to his father of being thwarted by Italian "cabals", but it often seems that he felt he had to make excuses to his grumpy, overambitious parent for any small failure. Far from blocking its performance, Salieri frequently conducted Mozart's work. And Mozart's death, as one respected musical journal wrote, was almost certainly caused not by poison but by "arduous work and fast living among ill-chosen company".
It was only after Mozart's demise that Salieri began to have any real reason to hate him.
Unlike that of any before him, Mozart's music kept on being performed. Cut down at the peak of his powers - and with the added frisson of whispered rumours that he might have been murdered - he became the first composer whose cult of celebrity actually flourished after his death. Salieri, however, had outlived his talent.
He wrote almost no music for the last two decades of his life. Instead he spent time revising his previous works. He did have an impressive roster of pupils: But the composer who had once been at the vanguard of new operatic ideas was not necessarily teaching his students to be similarly innovative; we can only be grateful that Schubert ignored his diatribes against the "intolerable" genre of Germanic lieder.
So how did this respected musician become the rumoured murderer of the great Mozart? Nobody knows for certain. But in his final weeks Mozart is reported to have believed he had been poisoned, and had gone so far as to blame hostile Italian factions at the Viennese court.
Mozart and Salieri
It raises the question how a human being can want to foul life itself. Tsar Nicholas I, who followed the weakly liberal Alexander I, and began his reign by executing the Decembrists, seemed to Pushkin like the bringer of plague, and like the plague Salieri had wished on the life of Mozart. It takes meanness and mediocrity to want to stifle genius, and to suppress art. The suppression of his art was how Pushkin most acutely felt the poison of Imperial Russia.
Did he identify himself with Mozart? The deadness of tsarist Russia included the miserable, backward, artistically cramped state of Russian theatre, also oppressed by censorship. It was as if he could hardly bring himself to make the effort, despite the brilliance of his ideas. Still the work was astonishingly rich in dramatic potential. For a comparison helps to tease out the meaning of the drama, its glory and its potential weaknesses.
The problem, already in the Pushkin script, is that the story has two conflicts at its heart: Both need dramatic resolution. God has tricked him into leading a pious life. But otherwise he hated him, as the ultimate threat to his own existence.
No, Salieri, God is not just. But how can you incarnate that injustice yourself, as a destroyer of Art?