Antonio Salieri (August 18, 1750 –May 7, 1825) was an Italia classical composer, conductor and teacher born in Legnago, south of Verona, in the Republic of Venice. He began his musical studies in his native, first taught at home by his older brother Francesco Salieri, a former student of the violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini, and receiving further lessons from the organist of the Legnago Cathedral, Giuseppe Simoni, a pupil of Padre Giovanni Battista Martini. Sometime between 1763 and 1764 Salieri suffered the death of both parents and was briefly taken in by a monk in Padua, and then for unknown reasons in 1765 or 1766 he became the ward of a Venetian nobleman named Giovanni Mocenigo. While living in Venice Salieri continued his musical studies with the organist and opera composer Giovanni Battista Pescetti, then following Pescetti’s sudden death he studied with the opera singer Ferdinando Pacini or Pasini. It was through Pacini that Salieri gained the attention of the composer Florian Leopold Gassmann, who, impressed with his talents and concerned for his future, took the young orphan to Vienna where he personally directed and paid for the remainder of his musical education.
Salieri and Gassmann arrived in Vienna on June 15, 1766. Salieri’s music studies revolved around vocal composition, and thoroughbass. His musical theory training in harmony and counterpoint was rooted in Johann Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum. Salieri continued to live with Gassmann even after Gassmann’s marriage, an arrangement that lasted until the year of Gassmann’s death and Salieri’s own marriage in 1774. Few of Salieri’s compositions have survived from this early period. Salieri quickly impressed the Emperor Joseph II, beginning a relationship between monarch and musician that would last until Joseph’s death in 1790. Salieri made his debut as a composer of a completely original opera buffa, with his first full opera Le donne letterate, composed during the winter and carnival season of 1770. The modest success of this opera would launch Salieri’s 34 year operatic career as a composer of over 35 original dramas.
Salieri’s first great success was in the realm of serious opera. Commissioned for an unknown occasion his Armida premiered on June 2, 1771. Armida was translated into German and widely performed, especially in the northern German states, where it helped to establish Salieri’s reputation as an important and innovative modern composer. Armida was soon followed by Salieri’s first truly popular success; a commedia per musica La fiera di Venezia, which was written for Carnival in 1772 and premiered on January 29. The majority of Salieri’s modest number of instrumental works also date from this time. They include two concertos for pianoforte, one in C major and one in B flat major (both 1773); a concerto for organ in C Major in two movements,; two concertante works: a concerto for oboe, violin and cello in D major (1770), and a flute and oboe concerto in C major (1774). These works are among the most frequently recorded of Salieri’s compositions.
Upon Gassmann’s death in 1774 Salieri succeeded him as assistant director of the Italian opera. Also in 1774 Salieri married Therese Helferstorfer on October 10. She was the daughter of a recently deceased financier and official of the court treasury it. During the next three years Salieri was primarily concerned with rehearsing and conducting the Italian opera company in Vienna and teaching. However, after the financial collapse of the Italian opera company in 1777 due to financial mis-management, Joseph II decided to end the performance of Italian opera, French spoken drama, and ballet and promote German language plays and musical productions that reflected Austrian values, traditions and outlook. This left Salieri’s role in a much reduced position because he had never truly mastered the German language, so he began casting about for new opportunities.
Salieri’s Italian tour of 1778–80 began with the production of Europa riconosciuta for La Scala. From Milan Salieri included stops in Venice and Rome and finally a return to Milan. During this tour he wrote three new comic operas. Upon his return at imperial behest to Vienna in 1780, he wrote one German singspiel. In 1783 the Italian opera company was revived with singers partly chosen and vetted by Salieri during his Italian tour, but in 1783–84 Salieri assisted Gluck in finishing Les Danaïdes in Paris which was received with great acclaim. Upon returning to Vienna following his success in Paris, Salieri met and befriended Lorenzo Da Ponte and had his first professional encounters with Mozart. Salieri then returned to Paris for the premiere of his tragédie lyrique Les Horaces which proved a failure. However the failure of this work was more than made up for with his next Parisian opera Tarare
In 1788 Salieri returned to Vienna where he remained for the rest of his life. In that year he became Kappellmeister of the Imperial Chapel. As Kappellmeister he conducted the music and musical school connected with the chapel until shortly before his death, being officially retired from the post in 1824. However, as his political position became very insecure he was retired as director of the Italian opera in 1792. He continued to write new operas per imperial contract until 1804, when he voluntarily withdrew from the stage, recognizing that artistic styles had changed and he felt that he no longer had the creative capacity to adapt or the emotional desire to continue. As his teaching and work with the imperial chapel continued, his duties required the composition of a large number of sacred works, and in his last years it was almost exclusively in religious works and teaching that Salieri occupied himself.
Salieri’s remaining secular works in this late period fall into three categories: first, large scale cantatas and one oratorio Habsburg written on patriotic themes or in response to the international political situation; pedagogical works written to aid his students in voice,; and finally simple songs, rounds or canons written for home entertainment. He also composed one large scale instrumental work in 1815 intended as a study in late classical orchestration entitled Twenty-Six Variations for the Orchestra on a Theme called La Folia di Spagna. The theme is likely folk derived and is known as La Folia. After being committed to medical care and suffeering dementia for the last year and a half of his life, he died in Vienna on May 7, 1825.
Salieri was a pivotal figure in the development of late 18th-century opera. However, his music slowly disappeared from the repertoire between 1800 and 1868, and was rarely heard after that period until the revival of his fame in the late twentiethth century. Many of his opera overtures are sometimes performed; they include:
Armida (1771): Overture.
Axur, Re d’Ormus (also known as Tarare, 1788): Overture.
Cesare un Farmacusa (1800): Overture.
Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamace (1770): Overture.
Eraclito e Democrito (1795): Overture.
Il Moro (1796): Overture.
Il Rico d’un Giorno (1784): Overture.
Il Talismano (1788): Overture.
La Grotta di Trofonio (1785): Overture.
L’Angiolina, ossia Il Matrimonio per sussurro (1800): Overture.
La Seccia Rapita (1772): Overture.
Les Danaides (1784): Overture.
Les Horaces (1786): Overture.
Semiramide (1782): Overture.
Of Salieri’s larger scale orchestral works, the best known are the following:
Piano Concerto in BbM (1773).
Piano Concerto in CM (1773).
(26) Variations on La Follia di Spagna (1815).