Mozart and Salieri - Friends or Foes?
February 17, 2006 - Town Hall Seattle
February 18, 2006 - Rialto Theater Tacoma
Salieri: Sinfonia in D, "Il giorno onomastico"
Vivaldi: Flute Concerto in G minor "La notte"
Salieri: Sinfonia in D "Veneziana"
Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 2 in D, K.314
Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C, K.425 "Linz"
Program notes by C. Chagnard
Mozart and Salieri - Friends or Foes?
The rivalry between Mozart and Salieri has become the stuff of
legends. Milos Foreman's cinematic masterpiece "Amadeus",
based on Peter Shaffer's play, contributed a great deal in fostering
the speculation: Had Salieri sabotaged Mozart's career, had he used
his great influence to deny Mozart his due professional standing,
had he in fact murdered the world's greatest musical genius?
The actual facts are far more civilized: Mozart and Salieri had
great professional respect for one another and often crossed paths
in Viennese music circles. It is true that Salieri bowed to Mozart's
undisputed genius with great reverence and admiration and he certainly
must have felt jealousy for his stunning creative ease. Salieri
however, held throughout his illustrious career the most prestigious
musical posts in the Austrian capital, culminating as Court Kapellmeister
in 1788, working for the Emperor Joseph II. Following the emperor's
death in 1790, Salieri left his post in 1824 after 36 years at the
peak of his profession. He was also the president of the Viennese
Musician's Benevolent Society and the first Director of Vienna's
first music conservatory, founded in 1817. Ironically, Mozart's
best efforts to acquire such a position never materialized and became
a source of great bitterness and tension. Not to mention constant
financial stress. In a twist of cruel fate, history had chosen the
lesser composer for the better position. One lived wealthy to be
75 while the other departed at the young age of 36, penniless.
Considering Salieri's humble origins and difficult upbringing,
his rise to the apex of his professional status is absolutely remarkable.
He was born in 1750 (6 years earlier than Mozart) in the small town
of Legnago, then part of the Republic of Venice. He was the eighth
child of a merchant and his second wife. Tragedy was to strike when
in 1763; Salieri's mother died followed two years later by the passing
of his father. Left an orphan, he lived with his brother, a monk
in Padua. Young Salieri's fate brightened in 1763 when Giuseppe
Mocenigo, a wealthy friend of his late father and the member of
one of the most distinguished Venetian families, took him under
his wing. Salieri's musical education had begun with the help of
his brother Francesco, thirteen years his senior, who taught him
violin and harpsichord. The arrival in Venice provided Salieri with
a formidable immersion into the finest musical education available.
He studied with Giovanni Pescetti, the Assistant Director of Music
at San Marco and in 1766 met the most influential force of his career,
Leopold Gassmann. During that decisive year the Viennese theaters
were closed and Gassman, the successor to Gluck at the ballet, came
to Venice where he was impressed by the young Salieri's abilities
and took him back with him to Vienna. The rest as they say is history.
Salieri's meteoric rise was most notable through the creation of
over forty operas which became the rage in Vienna, Milan, Venice,
Rome, Munich, Paris and Trieste. His distinguished legacy lived
on through his star pupils including Beethoven, Hummel, Schubert
So, how good is Salieri's music? Did he deserve such fame or was
he simply an exceptionally shrewd socialite? Judging from the two
symphonies we have chosen to perform for you, Salieri's muse deserves
our sincere admiration; it is inspired, well-crafted, witty and
inventive. The first symphony we are presenting, "Il Giorno
Onomastico", bore the following inscription: "Symphony
entitled "Name Day", composed in a garden in the month
of August of the year 1775." (We do not know whose name he
is making reference to, and can speculate that it is probably for
one his patrons.) Throughout its four movements, Salieri shows a
wealth of brilliant ideas, expressive melodies and poetic sensibility.
The second symphony "Veneziana" owes its nickname
to its first modern editor Pietro Spada. As a common practice in
the 18th century, this symphony is made of various opera overtures.
The first movement was originally conceived as the prelude to "La
scuola de gelosi" (The School for Jealousy), a drama giocoso
in two acts composed in 1779 for the Venetian Carnival. The second
and third movements form the overture to "La pertenza inaspettata"
(The unexpected departure), another opera produced at the Teatro
Valle in Rome.
This music "recycling" method was also a favored tool
with the greatest early 18th Century Italian composer: Antonio Vivaldi.
His flute concerto "La Notte" (The night) is based on
a chamber concerto for flute, two violins and bassoon (catalog number
RV 104). Published in 1728, "La notte" is a vividly
striking description of what 18th century Venetian nights must have
felt like to a most creative artist. This unique concerto contains
six brief movements of highly contrasting nature depicting different
nocturnal tableaux. The first Presto for instance bears Fantasmi
as its heading, making allusion to ghosts who roam the dormant city.
The Largo entitled Il Sonno (The Sleep) brings ephemeral
peace though slow moving and surprisingly modern harmonies. The
final Allegro however, brings back the ghosts in a frenzy
of animated rhythms of relentless energy.
Mozart's opinion of the 18th Century flute was not particularly
glowing. He found it to be unstable and often hard to tune. Some
of his correspondence makes it clear that he did not favor this
particular instrument and avoided giving it prominence. This reservation
might explain his procrastination in conceiving his only two flute
concertos. In 1777, Ferdinand De Jean, a surgeon and amateur flute
player commissioned Mozart to compose two flute concertos and three
flute quartets. The proposed fee of 200 florins was generous and
a golden opportunity for the chronically financially strapped Mozart
family. Wolfgang was 22 and very much a free spirit trying to escape
the dictatorial grip of his towering father. Rather than dedicating
his extraordinary energies to this project, he procrastinated. As
a result, the fee was reduced to 96 florins which infuriated Leopold
Mozart. In an attempt to sooth his father's disappointment, Mozart
(very much like Vivaldi as described above) borrowed from his own
music to complete his Second Flute Concerto in D. The source
was his C major Oboe Concerto in C, which he transposed in the new
key and thus created a concerto which has since become a staple
of the flute repertoire.
On October 30, 1783, while traveling from Salzburg to Vienna on
a belated honeymoon, Mozart and his young wife Constanze arrived
in the town of Linz. Count Thun, a local aristocrat who became aware
of this momentous visit, insisted on offering them hospitality and
invited Mozart to perform some of his music. Although he had no
orchestral works handy for performance, he obliged, stating in a
letter to his father dated October 31 "On November 4, I am
giving a concert in the theater here, and since I don't have a single
symphony with me, I am writing one at breakneck speed." This
was not an overstatement - the symphony was indeed completed in
three days, copied and rehearsed on November 4. Its performance
that evening was met with great success and revealed a Mozart of
a new creative maturity. One could have presumed that such haste
would have resulted in a work of compromises, and yet, not only
does the C Major Symphony, K.425 reject any notion of routine,
it reveals a wealth of innovations. It was described by Paumgartner
as "A masterpiece that is unwilling to decide between euphoric
high spirits and cantabile rapture." It begins with a very
rare slow introduction, which later became standard practice in
the 19th Century. The mood is at once grand and ominous. The complexity
and sophistication of the ensuing Allegro first and second motives
are simply astonishing! The following Andante in 6/8 also innovates
with the presence of trumpets and timpani usually absent in this
type of movement. (Since these instruments were unable to retune
to the key of F, they are kept in C, creating a most striking harmonic
tension.) The Minuet and Presto are equally fresh and inventive
and a reflection of Mozart's years of international travels and
his ability to absorb a wealth of styles and transform them into
a craft of incomparable subtlety and depth.
The Mozart-Salieri rivalry is, in the end, all fair games. In an
ironic twist of fate, nature bestowed Salieri with status, fame
and fortune, and for Mozart? It gave him infinite genius.