6 Nov 2016

A World without Salieri

From The Sunday Feature, 2:00 pm on 6 November 2016
Antonio Salieri

Antonio Salieri Photo: JW Mähler, Public Domain

Florian Gassmann died as the result of a coach accident at the comparatively young age of 44, and he had achieved quite a lot in his professional life, attaining the position of Kapellmeister to the Hapsburg Court in Vienna, two short years before his untimely death. It’s quite possible that he might have gone on to achieve greater things with his compositions, but as we look back at his life, we recognize that perhaps the most important thing he did was to encounter a young and unknown Italian musician named Antonio Salieri. Their meeting took place in 1766, and it led to Gassmann bringing Salieri to Vienna as his pupil.

Salieri of course has a mixed reputation in modern musical circles: those who have seen Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, or the movie made from the play, have been given a particular view of the man and the composer, and it isn’t flattering to Salieri. In the light of the movie, it’s very easy to ignore the enormously positive impact and influence he had on opera in particular, and on the future of musical composition in general, through his teaching. And it’s fair to say that none of this would have happened had it not been for Florian Gassmann.