Learning from a Master
The 18th century composer Antonio Salieri was made infamous in the 20th century movie “Amadeus.” In the movie Salieri is ridiculed as a second rate musical act compared to Mozart’s musical genius and puerile pranks. While history has proven Mozart’s place in the pantheon of classical music, Salieri should not be overlooked for his mastery of music.
During the mid 18th century, Salieri was a well-known composer of opera and church music. His abilities as a composer were shaped under the tutelage of Vienna court composer Florian Leopold Gassmann. Gassmann recognized the innate abilities in Salieri, who had mastered piano and violin growing up. Gassmann taught him the fundamentals of composing, stressing counterpoint and the rules of musical composition, all at no cost to young Salieri. He was also instructed in Latin, Italian and poetry, to guide him in creating the operas he loved, which were the popular entertainment of the day. Gassmann’s focus on discipline and focus were not always appreciated by young Salieri, but they provide him the foundation for this success, leading to the eventual appointment as court composer and Kapellmeister by Emperor Joseph II.
Salieri’s famed rivalry with Mozart was really one of established master versus rising star in the courts of the late 1700s. While Salieri continued to write, he also took time to return the favor shown him by Gassmann, instructing other rising musicians, including Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. His love for opera was still evident, for he emphasized the art of placing words to music, for which he was reknown. He recognized that no matter how much natural talent exists within a person , there still is a place for learning the fundamentals and nuances from an accomplished master.