Set in 18th century Vienna, Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer pays homage to a fascinating plot in music history. A tale of jealousy and deceit is woven involving the highest of Viennese society and culminates in the murder of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Hofkapellmeister Antonio Salieri. The genius composer is tortuously poisoned, though slowly, so that Mozart’s last work, Requiem in D minor, is fit for Salieri to call his own.
The story contains re-inventions of rumours that were told almost from the day Mozart died. Mozart did die an untimely death at the age of 35. One current hypothesis is that it was due to a fever that was treatable with penicillin (not known in 1791). Indeed, Mozart was writing his Requiem on his deathbed, and while other composers were enlisted to complete the work, they did not attempt to take credit for it. Due to financial difficulties, Mozart’s widow Constance was seeking to gain the full commission for a work that needed to have been finished by her husband. Salieri did not assist with these completions.
Salieri’s current notoriety overshadows his actual music. Salieri was a very good composer, and like many Viennese composers of his time, little attention has been paid to his works. Salieri’s operas received many productions in Vienna and aided in his appointment to the rank of Hofkapellmeister, musical overseer of the imperial court. Salieri was well-liked by his numerous pupils – among these Ludwig Beethoven and even Mozart’s son – and was described as good-natured, with the ability to laugh at himself.
You be the judge and cast your eye over the collection of books and scores by Salieri in the School of Music Library. You can even see Salieri’s own Requiem in C minor and hear it online. Poisoner or not, Antonio Salieri’s works are very enjoyable, and many more are still emerging.
- Antonio Salieri and Viennese opera
- Maligned master: the real story of Antonio Salieri
- Picciolo Requiem: composto da me e per me, Antonio Salieri, picciolissima creatura, Vienna, Agosto 1804
Naxos Music Library – recordings
Marie-Claire Taylor – Music and Dance Library