Hawaii Concert Society opens its 56th season by “Setting the Record Straight on Salieri”
Poor Antonio Salieri: defamed and slandered in the Oscarwinning film “Amadeus,” portrayed as Mozart’s jealous rival, who supposedly was obsessed with destroying Mozart so that his inferior compositions would be acclaimed.
Actually, Salieri was nothing like that. He was one of the most respected, talented and successful composers of his day who wrote music of considerable charm, approaching the level of genius. In his time, Salieri’s operas were more popular than Mozart’s.
On Sept. 14, the Hawaii Concert Society’s 56th season will open with a special concert, “Maligned Master: Setting the Record Straight on Salieri.” The concert, which includes compositions by Salieri as well as a taste of Mozart, will be performed by Honolulu’s Spring Wind Octet and will be narrated by Hawaii news broadcaster Joe Moore. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center.
KHON-TV anchorman Moore has been a Mozart aficionado for decades. He even had his own Mozart music program on Hawaii Public Radio for five years. What has bothered him for a long time, however, is the depiction of Mozart’s socalled rival in “Amadeus.”
“Salieri was held in much higher esteem than Mozart,” says Moore, who not only has carefully studied the musical lives of both composers, but also wrote the script for the concert. “And there was no antagonism between the two. Salieri was actually more of a mentor to Mozart. In fact, we get a rich picture of the late 1700s in Europe by enjoying them both.
“Salieri composed 42 operas. Many of those were what today we would call smash hits,” Moore continued.
“Mozart had 26 operas, but in the 10 years they were both in Vienna, if you look at box office attendance and receipts, Salieri’s operas were more popular, and received better critical reviews.”
Obviously, Mozart’s music has stood the test of time better than Salieri’s. However, as Spring Wind Octet bassoonist Marsha Schweitzer sees it, “For every composer who becomes well known or well recognized, there are a hundred or a thousand others, contemporaries, who are basically lost to history. Many such as Salieri wrote “great music,” she says. “It’s just that they didn’t push the buttons that the famous composers pushed that got them famous.”
The evening concert will open with Salieri’s most widely heard piece of music, but Moore and the musicians are keeping it a secret. The concert will close with music from one of Salieri’s most popular operas, arranged for wind band by Johann Wendt, a contemporary of Salieri and Mozart.
“Wendt arranged many of Mozart’s operas for wind band (a popular musical grouping at that time) and he arranged this Salieri opera for wind band,” Moore said. “This arrangement has been in the Esterhazy library in Vienna for over 230 years. I was able to talk with those folks and get the parts for the piece. The Hawaii performances are the United States premiere, so it’s a pretty special deal.”
Other pieces by Salieri, along with Mozart’s overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” also will be heard in the concert, in settings for the Spring Wind Octet. For many of these, the arranger is Schweitzer, a music publisher and a gifted arranger, who has expanded the wind instrument repertoire through her many arrangements and transcriptions.
Hawaii news broadcaster Joe Moore will narrate during the concert.