MALIGNED MASTER: The Real Story of Antonio Salieri by Volkmar Braunbehrens

MALIGNED MASTER: The Real Story of Antonio Salieri

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Despite the sexy title, this is no mere refutation of the Amadeus canard about poisoning Mozart, but a serious study by Braunbehrens (Mozart in Vienna, 1990) of Antonio Salieri's musical output, primarily the numerous operas that during his lifetime (1750-1825) were performed throughout Europe. Braunbehrens's worthy aim here is ""to provide a clear critical survey that might encourage the performance and study of Salieri's work""--and a timely survey, too, as more Salieri operas become available on compact disc (five at last count). But the writing is labored, the translation unhelpful, and the musical discussion either bland or hypertechnical (""forceful movements by the strings finally calm down on a pedal-point and are resolved in calando half- and whole-note values""). Braunbehrens's framework is conventional biography. Born in Italy and orphaned early, Salieri opted not to pursue a Neapolitan musical education, moving instead to Vienna under the tutelage of a generous Kapellmeister to Joseph II. Membership in the emperor's musical circle followed, as did the steady course of imperial preferment that Mozart later sought in vain. Some aspects of the life, such as Salieri's courtship, his relationship with Mozart, and his old age (a painful descent into senility) are handled well, but despite what he claims is ""scant"" information on the private life, Braunbehrens offers too much questionable speculation. Most of Salieri's 40 or so operas are described and discussed (though no work-list is included, a crucial omission). Gluck's personal regard apparently helped Salieri land the first La Scala commission, but Gluck's reform of opera seria, though often mentioned, is not clearly explicated. Similarly, a discussion of theatrical finances in late-18th-century Vienna is merely confusing. Braunbehrens has done much necessary spadework--but a sharper, more graceful writer, à la Ernest Newman in his magisterial Gluck and the Opera, should now make us want to learn the music.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1993
Page count: 249pp
Publisher: Fromm