‘Lost’ Mozart and Salieri work performed again in Prague

February 16, 2016

A small joint collaboration between the authors was hiding in plain sight since 1950

A musical collaboration between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri that was long considered lost has been found in a Czech music archives.

While fictional accounts such as the play and film Amadeus portray the two as bitter rivals, the newly discovered work lends more evidence the notion that the relationship was more congenial, according to music scholars.

Page from Per la Ricuperata Salute di Offelia
Page from Per la Ricuperata Salute di Offelia

The existence of the work was long known, but no copies were thought to have survived, and it has gone unperformed since the late 1700s, until now.

The short, four-minute harpsichord piece called Per la Ricuperata Salute di Offelia has a text by Viennese court poet Lorenzo Da Ponte, and three parts, each by a different composer. In addition to Mozart and Salieri, there is a section by a composer named Cornetti, about whom nothing is known.

Page from Per la Ricuperata Salute di Offelia
Page from Per la Ricuperata Salute di Offelia

Each composer did the music for two stanzas, and the difference in styles is quite noticeable.

The typeset work was been in the collections of the National Museum since the 1950 and was cataloged on a paper card system in 1976, but the information about the authors was not clear at the time.

It wasn’t until the piece was recataloged in August 2015 that, with the help of the online sources and other reference material, the composers were identified finally.

The significance was discovered by German musicologist and composer Timo Jouko Herrmann, who found the piece in the museum’s online catalog and realized that it was among the works that were considered lost.

Ulrich Leisinger, from the Mozart Institute in Salzburg, Austria, confirmed the authenticity of the piece, and says there is no doubt about Mozart’s hand in it.

The piece, whose title translates to For the Recovered Health of Ophelia, was written to celebrate the recovery of Viennese court singer Nancy Storace. She was an English singer who was known for interpreting works by both Mozart and Salieri.

Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto describes her recovery after several months of illness affected her singing.

Ponte wrote the libretti for Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. He also wrote several texts for Salieri’s opera including Axur, re d’Ormus, the end of which is depicted in the 1984 Miloš Forman film Amadeus, based on the 1979 play by Peter Shaffer.

The work was mentioned in 1937 in the Köchel catalog of Mozart’s works, but was considered lost. The notation was made based on a 1785 newspaper called Wiener Blättchen a Wiener Realzeitung, which mentioned that copies of the work were for sale at the Vienna music shop Artaria et Comp.

The printed copy only had the initials of the authors and a pseudonym of the poet.

Both Mozart and Salieri were associated with the court of Emperor Joseph II.

Mozart died at the age of 35. He is known in Prague for conducting the premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787 at the Estates Theatre. He also was in Prague for the premiere of La clemenza di Tito in September 1791, and at least three other times

2016 marks 260 years since his birth and 225 years since his death.

Salieri was born 1750 and died 1825. He was an important composer and conductor in his life time but his work faded from favor quickly after his death and was all but forgotten until playwright Shaffer revived his name in 1979.

The rumors that Salieri may have had a hand in Mozart’s death started shortly after the event.

Alexander Pushkin mentioned the alleged jealous murder in his 1830 drama Mozart and Salieri.

It was adapted in 1897 into an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

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