Royal Rumble 1786: Mozart versus Salieri

Mozart’s The Impresario
Salieri’s First the Music and then the Words

May 2018 Performances

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About the Composers


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791) was an Austrian composer, instrumentalist,and music teacher. He was born in Salzburg, Austria, the youngest child of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. From a very early age, the young Mozart showed great musical talent. He toured Europe with his parents and older sister “Nannerl” for several years performing for royalty and the aristocratic elite.

As a young man, Mozart tried but failed to establish himself as a composer in Paris. He returned to Salzburg where he was briefly employed in the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. He was restless, aware of his genius, and thought Salzburg too small for his talent. He relocated to Vienna where he met with some success. He married Constance Weber and fathered two sons. He died in Vienna after a brief but unknown illness.

Mozart wrote more than 600 musical works, all of the very highest quality. His works include the operas The Marriage of FigaroDon GiovanniCosi fan tutte and The Magic Flute; the symphonies in E-flat major, G minor, and C major (“Jupiter”); concertos for piano, violin, and various wind instruments; and numerous chamber pieces, works for the church, minuets and other dances, songs, and the Requiem. Along with Bach and Beethoven, Mozart is regarded as one of the greatest composers who has ever lived.

Antonio Salieri (August 18, 1750 – May 7, 1825) was an Italian Classical composer, conductor, and teacher. He was born in Legnago, south of Verona, in the Republic of Venice, and spent his adult life and career as a subject of the Habsburg Monarchy.

Salieri was a pivotal figure in the development of late 18th-century opera. As a student of Florian Leopold Gassmann, and a protégé of Gluck, Salieri was a cosmopolitan composer who wrote operas in three languages. Salieri helped to develop and shape many of the features of operatic compositional vocabulary, and his music was a powerful influence on contemporary composers.

Appointed the director of the Italian opera by the Habsburg court, a post he held from 1774 until 1792, Salieri dominated Italian-language opera in Vienna. During his career he also spent time writing works for opera houses in Paris, Rome, and Venice, and his dramatic works were widely performed throughout Europe during his lifetime. As the Austrian imperial Kapellmeister from 1788 to 1824, he was responsible for music at the court chapel and attached school. Even as his works dropped from performance, and he wrote no new operas after 1804, he still remained one of the most important and sought-after teachers of his generation, and his influence was felt in every aspect of Vienna’s musical life. Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert, and Ludwig van Beethoven were among the most famous of his pupils.

Salieri’s 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 20th century. This revival was due to the dramatic and highly fictionalized depiction of Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus(1979) and its 1984 film version. He is popularly remembered for rumours that he poisoned his supposedly bitter rival Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, when most likely, they were at least mutually respectful peers.

Mozart: The Impresario

Composition Date: 1786

Runtime: approx. 30 minutes

Plot Summary

Time: 1786

Frank, the impresario (along with the buffo singer, Buff, who assists him) audition two actresses to be part of his new theatrical company. While both are hired, they then argue over who will get the prime role and who will be paid the most. To illustrate their strengths, each sings a striking aria to back her claim (Herz: “Da schlägt die Abschiedsstunde“, Silberklang: “Bester Jüngling“). An agreement is reached when the tenor, Vogelsang, intervenes, in what Rushton describes as a hilarious trio, Ich bin die erste Sängerin (“I am the prima donna“) compromise is agreed to with each receiving “large salaries and star billing”. The work ended with the quartet “Jeder Künstler strebt nach Ehre” (Every artist strives for glory).

Salieri: First the Music and then the Words

Composition Date: 1786

Runtime: approx. 30 minutes

Plot Summary

Count Opizio contracts a new opera to be written to be ready in four days. The composer has already created the score, but the poet is suffering from writer’s block and resorts to trying to adapt previous verses he has written to the existing music. The composer and poet are interrupted when Eleonora, the prima donna hired by the Count, enters and delivers a sample of her vocal artistry. Together with the Poet and the Maestro, she acts out a scene from Giuseppe Sarti’s Giulio Sabino that devolves into a grotesque parody. Eleonora exits, and the librettist and the composer again wrestle with the problems of the libretto for the new opera in which a lengthy dispute between the two men ensues. Tonina (whose character is a parody of opera buffa) enters and demands a role in the new opera. The composer and the librettist quickly concoct a vocal number for her. A quarrel then erupts between Eleonora and Tonina over which of them should sing the opera’s opening aria. The scene culminates in having both sing their arias simultaneously. The composer and the librettist are able to pacify the two ladies by agreeing to a juxtaposition of the seria and buffa styles, thereby putting a conciliatory end to their quarrel.