Thursday, July 8, 2010

32 Short Films About Antonio Salieri

Continuing yesterday's ruminations...

It is strange, how because of Mozart, Salieri has achieved a kind of immortality.

I do not think it is the immortality he wanted but it is an immortality all the same.

That is Salieri pictured above. Here is another picture.

You get a good idea of what he looks like, that is for sure. Although judging by the fashions both pictures date from after Mozart had come and gone.

Salieri was respected during his lifetime. Here is something the play puts backwards: "Amadeus" has it that Salieri was secretly in love with his pupil Catherina Cavalieri. In real life he was not so secretly in love with her. She was "his mistress," is the way they always put it. Mozart mentions it in his letters. That era seems to have been something like ours, with lots of people shacked up with each other. Catherina was Salieri's "shacked-up honey," to use that Dr. Laura term I love.

Salieri taught Beethoven and Schubert and other greats. And here is something I saw on Wikipedia: He rarely charged for lessons. Unless a student was extremely wealthy, his lessons were free. He did that for philanthropical reasons. Today we would call it "giving back."

Such a strange story, that he poisoned Mozart. Probably it did not happen. But you never really know! People were talking about it at the time. Mozart had an idea he was poisoned. Salieri was rumored to have confessed on his deathbed. Beethoven and his friends gossiped about the situation. It is in Beethoven's conversation notebooks.

And could his free lessons have been a way of atoning for such a terrible crime? Admittedly I am letting my imagination run wild. But people could have thought like that back then.

Reading up on "Amadeus" I have noticed that not many people writing about the play mention this stuff. They say it is "very loosely based" on the actual Mozart and Salieri. It is not that loosely based. It is not as if Peter Shaffer dreamed this up, as if he sat down and wrote a play about, oh, John Adams poisoning Thomas Jefferson.

Another thing, though it is right there on Wikipedia, few people seem aware that the idea was not new when Shaffer explored it. Everyone gives credit to "Shaffer's genius" in coming up with the idea behind "Amadeus." I am not saying Shaffer is not a genius but he did not come up with this idea. There was the Pushkin poem "Mozart and Salieri" that came out just a few months (!) after Salieri died. It was described as a fable about envy, just like the Shaffer play. And Rimsky-Korsakov's opera, "Mozart and Salieri," set to the poem. How come nobody stages that opera? I never read about it being performed and I would be curious to see it.

However here is a confession: The one thing I am not curious about is Salieri's music.

Once, on our classical music station, someone said blithely, "If most people heard a Mozart piece and a Salieri piece, they would not be able to tell the difference."

Um, yes, they would.

Not to say Salieri is not smart. I am sure he was a brilliant man and way smarter than I am. But still, you could tell.

Another thing, a few years ago, Cecilia Bartoli came out with "The Salieri Album." It was a great idea, great marketing, and a lot of fun, but I will tell you one thing, I do not remember one aria off that album. Nothing grabbed you. When you are listening to even an early Mozart opera, say, there will be things that do not grab you right away but something will grab you, rest assured.

I was touched to read that Salieri is being honored by his hometown in Italy. They hold a Salieri Festival. That is a very Buffalo thing to do. Buffalo would do something like that.

I would like to stop by the Salieri Festival. but I would like to hear Mozart.

Could that possibly be arranged?

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