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The latest from Primephonic

    Tchaikovsky: Destroyer of Scores

    With his unerring gift for gripping drama, exuberant orchestration, piquant harmonies and large, memorable tunes, Piotr Tchaikovsky was a hugely popular and influential composer. But even as he cranked out one masterpiece after another, he was plagued with doubts and occasionally destroyed scores that he was unhappy with.

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    Topics: Opera, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Piano transcription

    Inseparable: Paris and Culture

    In an interview with Le Monde, a Paris police officer referred to last week’s attacks as “something from Dante’s Hell”. The world has turned its eyes and ears towards Paris in the past week, and tried to come to terms with what happened - the human stories of horror, suffering and subsequently of solidarity and the displays of humanity as we process what happened in places of the ever-bustling night life in the city of lights.

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    Topics: Opera, Ballet, Paris

    Interview: Michel van der Aa on Contemporary Opera

    Michel van der Aa– the 'pin-up boy' of the Dutch National Opera or a true composer's composer? Michel speaks honestly with budding young composer Anthony Dunstan about his career and dispels any notion of grandeur with his hard-working down-to-earth approach to the making of his richly multi-media operas.He speaks about composition, his life as an opera-maker in the 21st century, his collaboration with Barbara Hannigan and how the use of film in opera can create a dream-like mood.

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    Topics: Composer, Opera, Michel van der Aa

    The Salieri Conspiracy

    Wednesday, August 17, 2016

    The Salieri Conspiracy

    Antonio Salieri (1750 – 1825) was a central figure in the musical world of late eighteenth-century Vienna. Appointed by the Habsburg court as director of the Italian opera, he also served as the Austrian imperial Kapellmeister from 1788 to 1824. During his lifetime, Salieri wrote several operas that were performed extensively throughout Europe, while he was also an important and sought-after music teacher, counting celebrated composers such as Liszt, Schubert, and Beethoven among his pupils.

    Salieri did not compose any new operas after 1804, his music gradually becoming less popular until it slowly disappeared from the repertoire during the first half of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the last century, however, Salieri’s fame saw a somewhat unexpected revival, largely due to his depiction as the archrival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozartin Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus (1979) and its subsequent cinematic adoption by Miloš Forman in 1984.

    Salieri’s place in popular imagination as Mozart’s nemesis and even alleged murderer goes at least as far back as 1832, when Alexander Pushkin published his short poetic drama Mozart and Salieri. There, Pushkin has Salieri murdering Mozart by pouring poison in his drink, after acknowledging the latter’s undisputed musical genius. As Salieri exclaims in Pushkin’s play:What profundity!
    What symmetry and what audacity!
    You, Mozart, are a god — and you don't know it.
    But I, I know.

    But how much truth is there in this much-hyped conspiracy surrounding Salieri’s name? Very little, the historical evidence found so far suggest. It seems that during Mozart’s early years, while he was still trying to get established in Vienna, Salieri was indeed sometimes portrayed unfavorably in Mozart’s correspondence. In July, for example, 1783 Mozart wrote of “a trick of Salieri's” in a letter to his father, while in other instances he would also accuse Salieri of trickery. What is more, a rumour that Mozart had been poisoned by Salieri started to spread decades after Mozart’s death, further enhancing the theories behind Salieri’s alleged wicked character and malicious motives.   

    However, there is little evidence to support such kinds of claims outside the realm of fiction and popular imagination. The truth is that the two composers enjoyed a rather courteous and respectful relationship, especially after Mozart had managed to establish himself as a composer in Vienna. It appears that they often supported each other’s work, while they even composed together the cantata Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia for voice and piano (a work that, although thought to be lost, was recently identified and recovered by German musicologist Timo Herrmann in the archives of the Czech Museum of Music in Prague). It might also be worth adding that Mozart’s youngest son Franz Xaver Mozart, born just five months before his father’s death, received musical instruction by Salieri.

    A prominent opera composer and music teacher with a significant impact upon subsequent composers of the Romantic era, Antonio Salieri no doubt deserves to be remembered differently than merely the man who envied Mozart to death. The revival of his fame over the last decades and the modest popularity his music has enjoyed through recent recordings is perhaps a late yet rightful vindication for the man whose life and work was so completely overshadowed by the blinding brightness of Mozart’s star.

    Mimis Chrysomallis
    Header image: Mikhail Vrubel, Salieri pours poison into Mozart's glass (1884)
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    Topics: Composer, Opera, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Lieder and Opera Go Hand-In-Hand: An Interview with Irish Mezzo-Soprano Ann Murray

    From trouser roles to feisty female characters, Dublin-born operatic mezzo-soprano Ann Murray has had a dazzling career ever since her first title role in Gluck's Alceste in the mid-1970s. As she retires from the stage and turns her attention towards encouraging the next generation of young singers, her recordings, honours and reputation stand as a credit to her long and extraordinary career in opera.

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    Topics: Opera, Ireland, Lieder

    The Mystical Heart of Philip Glass

    Can Philip Glass really be 80? He and his music possess a quality of youthfulness, of timelessness, that is entirely of our day while going beyond it into more mysterious, universal spheres. So distinctive is his voice, and so influential, that he has plenty of detractors. Minor arpeggios, incantatory melodies, interweaving motifs, a gradual progression of change… But take a closer look. Minimalism? No way.

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    Topics: Composer, Opera, Philip Glass