Mozart museum seeks to debunk Salieri myth

Tom Hulce playing Amadeus in Milos Forman’s 1984 feature.

VIENNA: It’s one of the great mysteries of music - did composer Antonio Salieri poison his onetime protégé Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with arsenic? The famous 1984 Milos Forman film “Amadeus,” based on Peter Shaffer’s play, leaves little doubt he did. But now the Vienna museum dedicated to Mozart’s legacy has launched a campaign to burnish Salieri’s reputation as a supporter of the younger Austrian genius – and not a jealous villain.

A new exhibit at the Mozarthaus where Mozart lived and worked in the late 18th century portrays Salieri as a good-humored, talented and generous man who praised and honored pupils including Ludwig von Beethoven and Franz Schubert.

The problem, curators say, is that too many people think of Salieri as the evil mastermind from Shaffer’s 1979 play that the Czech director Forman filmed in and around Prague, parts of which look much the same as they did in Mozart’s time.

“We want simply to enlighten people and show the authentic Salieri, getting away from a very strongly fictionalized image,” museum director Gerhard Vitek said Thursday.

The talent of Salieri, who was born in northern Italy in 1750 and moved to Vienna at age 15, made him a favorite of the imperial court. He wrote operas and other stage plays, patriotic compositions and sacred music when not teaching.

The family’s correspondence shows it was Mozart’s father, Leopold, who saw Salieri as a threat to young Mozart’s career advancement, musicologist and curator Otto Biba said.

“With a single exception Mozart writes only positive things about Salieri. He was irritated once but this was laughable. Leopold grumbled constantly about Salieri, and many others. This was someone who could stand in his son’s way, and he had to make him look bad,” Biba told a media tour of the exhibit.

The generation after Mozart’s death in 1791 retroactively projected a widening split between “Italian” and “German” schools of music onto ties between the two men, Biba added.

The crowning evidence that the musicians were close came when Mozart’s wife, Constanze, sent the son born the year Mozart died to Salieri for training, said Ingrid Fuchs, who also curated the exhibit.

“I think this rebuts all the speculation. No mother would send her son to be educated by the alleged poisoner of her husband. This is a very powerful testimonial.”





Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

Alert: If you are facing problems with posting comments, please note that you must verify your email with Disqus prior to posting a comment. follow this link to make sure your account meets the requirements. (

comments powered by Disqus



Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here