Newfound Mozart- Salieri cantata premieres

Harpsichordist Lukas Vendl playing the upbeat four- minute piece at the Czech Museum of Music.
Harpsichordist Lukas Vendl playing the upbeat four- minute piece at the Czech Museum of Music. PHOTO: REUTERS

PRAGUE • A long-lost composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri rang out in public for the first time in more than 200 years on Tuesday, shedding new light on the classical maestros' reputed intense rivalry.

Legend has it that Italian composer Salieri was jealous of Austrian prodigy Mozart and once tried to poison him. The rumour first appeared in Alexander Pushkin's 19th-century poetic drama Mozart And Salieri, and later in the play and the 1984 Oscar- winning film Amadeus.

Experts rejected the claim after a musicologist discovered the lost piece in the reserve collection of the Czech Museum of Music.

The score was written in 1785, during one of the most fruitful periods of Mozart's career when he composed some of his best-known pieces, including the operas Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute.

"We all know the picture drawn by the movie Amadeus. It is false," said Mr Ulrich Leisinger, director of research at the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg.

"Salieri did not poison Mozart but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors," he added.

"Here, we have a short, not great, piece by Mozart, but at least something that really sheds new light on his daily life as an opera composer in Vienna."

The cantata, titled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia (For The Recovered Health Of Ophelia), was jointly composed by Mozart, Salieri and an unknown musician named Cornetti.

It accompanies a libretto by Italian poet Lorenzo Da Ponte and is dedicated to English soprano Nancy Storace, who returned to the stage after losing her voice for a spell.

It is unclear whether it had ever been performed in public before Tuesday, musuem officials said.

German composer and musicologist Timo Jouko Herrmann discovered the work in November last year while searching for pieces by Salieri's students in the catalogue of the Czech national music museum.

The fate of the piece after it was written is unclear, but it came to the museum in the 1950s carrying the names of Mozart and Salieri in a kind of signature code common at the time, said museum director Michal Lukes.

That made it nearly impossible to identify the composers until the museum digitised its collection, allowing Herrmann to sift through a huge database to discover the piece, which had been sitting unnoticed.

During the performance in a large hall in the former Baroque church that now houses the museum, harpsichordist Lukas Vendl played the upbeat four-minute piece to the delight of a few dozen people hearing music that probably has not been performed in hundreds of years.

"To hear a joint piece by Mozart and Salieri, lost for more than 200 years, is an amazing experience," Mr Lukes said.

"The part composed by Mozart is, shall we say, more ingenious and dramatic, while the other two verses are more lyrical," Vendl said after playing the composition. "But it's impossible to deduce from it who was a better composer."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Newfound Mozart- Salieri cantata premieres'. Print Edition | Subscribe