Antonio Salieri

(18 August 1750, Legnago - 7 May 1825, Viena)


Antonio Salieri was an Italian classical composer, conductor and teacher. He played an important role in the development of the late 18th century opera. Born and raised in a prosperous family of merchants, Salieri started his musical studies in his native town of Legnano. His first teacher was his older brother, Francesco Salieri (Giuseppe Tartini's student) who was a very talented violinist and from which he learned to play the violin and the harpsichord. Later on he studied with local organist Giuseppe Simoni.

After his formidable musical talents got noticed, a family friend, Giovanni Mocenigo, arranged for Salieri to move to Venice to continue his musical education. After a year he met the Viennese-band composer Florian Leopold Gassmann who immediately recognized Salieri's talent (now an orphan, after both of his parents died) and took him under his wing to further improve his musical skills.

Salieri and Gassmann arrived in Vienna on 15 June 1766. Gassmann's first act was to take Salieri to the Italian Church to consecrate his teaching and service to God, an event that left a deep impression on Salieri for the rest of his life. By 1768, Salieri had composed his first opera, La vestale, probably not a success and now lost. His first surviving opera, Le donne letterate, was good enough to have impressed his new friend Gluck. Armida followed in 1771 and achieved wide success, assuring Salieri recognition in the highest Viennese musical circles. His music studies revolved around vocal composition, figured bass, harmony and counterpoint. 

After the death of Gassmann in 1774, Salieri found himself in the honored position of Kammerkomponist (chamber music composer) for the Viennese imperial court. Among his duties, composing, conducting and serving as music director for the Italian opera in Vienna were also included. Salieri went on to score triumphs in Milan (L'Europa riconosciuta; 1778) and in Venice (La scuola de' gelosi; 1778), while he was on leave from the Vienna court for two years. He surpassed these successes with his next operas, given in Paris. With the help of Cristoph Willibald Gluck, Les Danaïdes (1784) was performed to enthusiastic audiences there, but was far overshadowed by the sensation of Tarare (1787).

In his final years, Salieri served as Hofkapellmeister (court director of music) for the Hapsburg court. He devoted most of his time to managing the court chapel and to writing sacred music for services. Over the next decade-and-a-half, Salieri felt that he no longer had the creative capacity to adapt or the emotional desire to continue and therefore did not explore new directions in his operatic style which led to his falling out of fashion.

Salieri’s last opera was performed in 1804, after which he fully devoted himself to composing sacred music. He was an important teacher as well; among his students were Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Franz Liszt and Carl Czerny.

Antonio Salieri's wrote 45 operas, ranging from Tarare, with a libretto by Beaumarchais, for Paris and settings of libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte for Vienna to the Shakespearean comedy Falstaff and the operetta Prima la musica poi le parole (First the Music then the Words), staged at the imperial palace of Schönbrunn in 1786 on the same evening as Mozart's German Singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario). He also wrote a considerable quantity of church music, a s well as oratorios. He left still more secular vocal music, ranging from cantatas and choruses to duets and solo arias. His instrumental music survived in a small number which include music for ballet, sinfonias, concertos and music for various smaller ensembles. As well as a significant quantity of ballet music, Salieri wrote concertos, including an organ concerto and a piano concerto, a Birthday Symphony and a set of variations on La folia di Spagna, (The Folly of Spain) the dance tune used by Corelli and many other Baroque composers. Salieri's chamber music consists principally of serenades, cassations and marches.

Although much has been made of the supposed rivalry between Mozart and Salieri (particularly since the production of Peter Shaffer’s stage play Amadeus and the subsequent Academy Award winning film), there isn't any evidence to support these claims.

Here  you can find a list with the surviving works of Antonio Salieri.