Antonio Salieri was an important figure in the development of Italian opera. His great ability in matching music to various theatrical features gave him an edge in opera music that few other musicians had.
Salieri was born on the 18 August, 1750 in Verona, Venice. His brother, Francesco Salieri, was a skilled violinist, who taught his brother the basics in composition and construction. Antonio would then receive lessons from a cathedral organist, Giovanni Battista Martini. However, Antonio lost both his parents at the young age of thirteen, following which he was inducted as a ward in the household of Giovanni Mocenigo, who was a Venetian Nobleman. He continued his musical education under opera specialists Ferdinando Pacini and Florian Leopold Gassman. In fact, Gassman volunteered to take Antonio to Vienna, where he was specifically trained in harmony, construction and counterpoint. With Gassman, Antonio also received lessons in Latin and Italian. Antonio continued to live with Gassman until he turned 24. Gassman had an extraordinary impact on Antonio’s life, for he introduced Antonio to both the church and the monarch. Antonio wrote his first opera in 1770 titled ‘Le Donne Litterate’. It received considerable attention as it was received by the noble Martinez family. Antonio went on to write two more operas with libretti from Giovanni Gastone. In 1771, he wrote ‘Armida’, which many critics recall as his first great success. ‘Armida’ established Antonio’s ability in expression through ballet and theatricality. Armida was also translated into German after which it was performed all over Germany. Armida’s success was followed by ‘La Fiera di Venezia’, which Antonio wrote in 1772. La Fiera was known for its performance in three languages, and also for its brave innovation, for it was the first opera performance to have vocal dancing performances from both actors and chorus. Antonio also wrote plenty of instrumental works during this time.
In 1774, Antonio succeeded Gassman as the Assistant Director of the Italian Opera, where he was mainly responsible for conducting the performances. However, the Italian Opera had to be shut down in 1777 due to financial issues; it was then when Antonio took to newer opportunities. Antonio wrote operas for opera houses in Milan, Paris and then Vienna for the next eleven years. Thus began Antonio’s strange relationship with Mozart, who was also in Vienna at the time. Public rumors had it that Mozart was unhappy with Antonio for being a hindrance to his career. Mozart believed that he could never be successful in Vienna with Antonio in the way, as Antonio’s Italian heritage gave him an unfair advantage. Even so, Antonio and Mozart would be publicly seen as friends, complimenting and supporting each other’s performances.
Antonio Salieri died on 7 May 1825. He is remembered for revolutionizing opera with his bold innovation and creativity, along with his interactions with famous composers such as Mozart and Gassman.