The feud that never was

NewMexiKen shouldn’t I suppose attempt to ressurect Antonio Salieri on this, Mozart’s birthday, but it seems he—Salieri—is making a bit of a comeback. According to a December article at Guardian Unlimited, “Next year the renovated La Scala in Milan is to reopen its doors with the work Salieri wrote for its very first performance back in 1778. And now Cecilia Bartoli has recorded an album devoted to his music.”

This article and other sources seem persuasive in saying that while there was competition between the upstart Mozart and the established artist Salieri in Vienna, there was cooperation, too; that is, what transpired between them was typical office politics.

As the Guardian Unlimited article notes:

…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: Beethoven, Schubert, Meyerbeer and Liszt – not to mention Franz Xaver Mozart, his supposed adversary’s young son. But the composer who had once been at the vanguard of new operatic ideas was not necessarily teaching his students to be similarly innovative…

Of Mozart’s death, the story is more complicated:

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. People put two and two together and pointed the finger at Salieri. And who could resist a story this good? Certainly not his fellow composers. There are mentions of it in Beethoven’s Conversation Books. Weber, Mozart’s father-in-law, had heard it by 1803, and cold-shouldered Salieri ever after. And 20 years later it was still doing the rounds; Rossini joked about it when he met Salieri in 1822.

As the rumour gathered strength, all denials only served to reinforce it. Then, in 1823, Salieri – hospitalised, terminally ill and deranged – is said to have accused himself of poisoning Mozart. In more lucid moments he took it back. But the damage was done. Even if few believed the ramblings of a confused old man, the fact that Salieri had “confessed” to Mozart’s murder gave the rumour some semblance of validity.

Another interesting assessment of the Mozart found in the film Amadeus can be found in an essay entitled The Amadeus Mozart: Man or Myth?