Friday, 25 December 2015


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December 1787: Mozart receives the aristocratic privilege of “Court Composer” to Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II: The real story of the Emperor, Salieri and Wolfgang Mozart

Fans of the epic film and writer Peter Shaffer’s masterpiece “Amadeus” will be familiar with the character of Antonio Salieri.

In the film, Salieri is cast as a deeply jealous and envious musical rival of Mozart - possessive character traits that only serve to underscore an incessant need to be the Emperors favorite, a goal he attempts to accomplish (often in vain) through a series of deviously underhanded coups d’etat against a gifted young ‘harpsichordist’ (as Mozart was then known in Vienna), whose talent so obviously superseded his own.

The real Salieri is less devious, the real story less scandalous, and the events that culminated in his appointment as teacher to Princess Elisabeth (and later Conductor to the Italian Opera) the result, not of expertly executed manipulations behind the scenes, but rather of a series of matters of circumstance and noble connections within Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II’s  royal sphere.

Although Shaffer’s original play makes it clear
that Salieri did not murder Mozart, director Miloš
Foreman wanted to go in a different direction with
the script, drawing on ‘confessions’ (later recanted
and proven false) by an elderly and insane Salieri,
who claimed to have poisoned the composer, from
inside of his cell in an ‘Insane Asylum’ in 1823.
Even after this was dismissed both by witness
accounts and by Salieri himself, the idea of a jealousy
inspired kill proved so salaciously popular even
Alexender Pushkin wrote a play using this theme
which he had published in 1830.
(..and for the record, Salieri not only had nothing to do with the death of Mozart, the then-middle-aged composer was nowhere near the ailing Wolfgang in his final hours: the illustrious Requiem Mass in D minor was in part dictated to, and later finished by an altogether different composer: one Franz Xaver Süssmayr). It was he who was at the dying composer's bedside. 

In “Amadeus”, we see a frustrated Mozart being used as a pawn through a series of angst-fuelled orchestrations devised by Salieri to thwart the young composer from receiving several critical appointments of note - in one instance, blocking the efforts of Constanze, Mozart’s wife, who is sexually manipulated by the scandalous Salieri - from influencing the Emperor’s decision to cast the best available vocal coach for his visiting niece, Princess Elisabeth. Constanze had Mozart in mind for the post, as did Mozart himself.

After Mrs. Mozart arrives with several works-in-progress of her husband Mozart, the envious and devious minded Salieri immediately brews up a series of defamatory incriminations so foul the Emperor would not only see fit to secure for the post an inadequate vocal coach in the form of one Herr Zimmer, Salieri chose to go the full nine yards, and attempted to discredit the person and character of Mozart himself, accusing him
before the Emperor of having molested one of his own pupils (a Maria Theresa Paradis).

As it was portrayed in the film, it was in fact Salieri, not Wolfgang, who was mixed up in such carnal sin: overcome by the sheer beauty of the Kyrie from Mozart's Mass in C Minor,* Salieri, brewing over the unfinished compositions - all originals - provided to him by a desperate Constanze, is shown in a state of mixed reverie and primitive outrage at the "God"-like talent of his musical nemesis, that he immediately proceeds to extort the young bride Mozart by ensuring her husband the post in exchange for carnal delights. 

In reality, the prospect of the Royal post was first brought to the attention of Mozart by one Maximilian Francis, Archduke of Austria (younger brother of Emperor Joseph II), who had arrived at the Imperial Court in the late fall of 1781 alongside Princess Elizabeth, wife of Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg, both of whom had been on a visit to the Court since mid-November of that year to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of Archduke Francis and his intended bride-to-be).

Archduke Maximilian Francis tried hard to gain
Mozart an appointment with Princess Elisabeth.
The Archduke Francis (“Franz”) had fully expected to become Elector of Cologne, and had promised the position of Kapellmeister to an ever hopeful Mozart, even going as far to give the stalwart composer a notice of confirmation: a consent from the Princess herself, when the Emperor unexpectedly appointed Salieri to the position instead. The reasons for this turn-around were less than back-biting: even at this stage of Mozart’s career as a gifted composer who had already taken Italy by storm, most of the Imperial household, and indeed Vienna itself, knew of Wolfgang only as a virtuosic prodigy on the harpsichord,** who could outwit, and out play even the best contenders on the keyboard, and a former child prodigy whose compositions for the instrument and variations on the works of other prolific musicians left all of Salzburg riveted..but he was not known to Vienna or the Emperor as a vocal composer. Mozart had wished to establish himself not only as the keyboard prodigy Vienna knew him to be, but also as a fully capable and irrepressible mentor and vocal coach to the young Princess. This was not to be for the hopeful musician.

**(this would, however, begin to change following the premiere of Wolfgang Mozart’s opera ‘singspiel’ Die Entführung aus dem Serail in mid-July the following year in 1782. The opera was a success with the Viennese public from a critical perspective, however it’s contract did not not allow for any form of residuals from further performances, and as such, did not bring Mozart the financial return he had so hoped for in the long run. It was during this period in which Mozart would succumb to gambling and entertaining excess in a desperate attempt to secure for his budding family financial stability, and likely, as a means to an outlet in which he could work off the frustrations of not being recognized by Joseph II with a nomination for a musical position within the Imperial Court itself. 

Wolfgang fully expected to see substantial monetary gain as his fame began to grow within Viennese musical circles, however this was not happening at the rate he had envisioned - and in 18th Century Vienna, it was almost impossible for a musician to make for himself a comfortable living without securing a steady court post. Mozart would not premiere another major operatic work in Vienna until four years later, with the 1786 production of Le Nozze di Figaro). 

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II would finally
relent to Mozart, nominating him Court 

Composer following the death of Gluck in 1787
In reality, Wolfgang’s abilities in all arenas, astonishingly, would not be recognized in the way Mozart felt they should be received amongst the Imperial court until much later, in December of 1787, when Mozart finally obtained a steady post as ‘chamber composer’ under the aristocratic patronage of Emperor Joseph II, following the death of Wolfgang’s predecessor to the post, early-classical composer Christoph Gluck. There was a bit of deviousness in play here - but it’s antagonist was not that of Antonio Salieri, but rather of the Emperor himself, who was later proved through court documents to have relented to Mozart his wish for court appointment only to keep the young composer contractually bound to him and to Vienna. It seems Joseph II had royal coffers to fill at the expense of the then flourishing composer.

Salieri’s role in the events of 1781, by all accounts, was at best marginal, and in fairness, that of the politics and slower pace of the era and Imperial Court itself. The passing over of Mozart for Salieri in the role of royal maestro can arguably be viewed as the common sense of the reigning Holy Roman Emperor. Joseph II had known Salieri since his pubescent years, when he had first arrived to the royal court at the tender age of 15 alongside Bohemian opera composer (and teacher to Antonio) Florian Gassman in 1766, who would introduce the budding musician to Christoph Willibald Gluck, who was later to become Salieri’s mentor.

It was through the death of Gluck
that Mozart would receive the
former's post as 'Court Composer'
to Joseph II. Both Salieri and
Mozart were much influenced
by this early-classical period
composer and tutor.
During his stay at the Imperial Court, Salieri accepted invitations to perform in chamber music sessions with Joseph II himself, leading to an eventual appointment as court composer and later Conductor to the Italian Opera in 1774. Mozart may have been recommended by the genial Archduke, but Salieri had been recommended by Gassmann, a noted composer and long-time friend of Joseph, and much respected by the Emperor. There could be no accusations of nepotism at play here: it seems the Emperor preferred the opinion of his confidante over that of his younger brother.

It was these factors, and not a devious coup, that ultimately culminated in the 'logical choice' of selecting as maestro to the young Princess Elisabeth, the composer with the most intimately known compositional and vocal coaching history available to the Emperor - and that man, at that time - was Antonio Salieri.

The accreditation Mozart so much sought in Salzburg moved at a snail’s pace, and was a far cry from the response he had experienced during his time in Italy. Despite the slower transmission of gossip in Vienna, however, it would soon be almost impossible to ignore the events that had already commenced in Italy in 1771, when a young Mozart, alongside his father Leopold, began a tour of Il Pease that would take the country by storm and would reverberate throughout Europe and secure for himself the post of chamber composer to Joseph II. No matter what the Emperor’s motives, it was inevitable that Mozart would finally receive his dues back in Salzburg as the "Logical Choice”.

It certainly took Joseph II long enough!

The famous "Miraculous" Scene from director Milos Foreman's "Amadeus":

In this scene, a pensive Antonio Salieri thumbs through several incomplete Mozart compositions, overcome by a state of intoxicating reverie. He (rightfully so) crumbles like a leaf when he happens upon the Kyrie

*(In reality, the Mass in C Minor, K. 427 to which the Kyrie belongs was not composed until one year after Mozart applied 
for the post of Vocal coach to the Princess, in 1782, and the Kyrie itself was not completed until two years post-application, 
in 1783). There is evidence to this effect in the form of letters that survive, written by Wolfgang to his father in early January of 1783, in which he describes the state of the composition "...the score of half a mass which is still lying here waiting to be finished..." It would not premiere until late October of 1783 at St. Peter's Church in Salzburg. It was during this period when Mozart would wed Constanze, in August of 1782 - she would celebrate her newfound status as Mrs. Mozart by appearing as a guest soprano for the Mass.


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