Were Mozart and Salieri friends or rivals? And can this be deduced from their music? In contrast to the prevailing prejudices there is nothing to indicate distinct, let alone, fatal rivalry. From time to time, in competing for the favour of Viennese audiences and of the emperor there was friction, envy and resentment. Salieri had somewhat better luck at court where he worked from 1774 as kapellmeister and from 1788 as court music director, whereas Mozart, in 1787, had to be content with the title of imperial and royal chamber musician. Ultimately, however, it was the rivalry with Salieri, who was so successful at the time, that prompted Mozart to compose his masterly operas from Le nozze di Figaro to La clemenza di Tito.


Only as composers do musicians enjoy a lasting reputation. Yet we easily forget that composing was in those days and today is still usually a part-time activity. Money had to be earned through hard work so as to be able to compose in hours of leisure. Besides organising and performing in concerts, Mozart also taught, although he was not particularly keen on doing so. Whereas Mozart primarily taught friends and amateurs (even though professional musicians such as the singer Aloisia Weber and the piano virtuoso Johann Nepomuk Hummel were among his students), Salieri developed a remarkably versatile activity as a singing teacher and teacher of composition. For instance, around 1805, he also taught Mozart’s son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang, and no less than Beethoven and Schubert sought his advice.


Genius and madness are close bedfellows! We have the image in mind of Antonio Salieri dying in a state of mental derangement, but does this mean that he was also a genius? He certainly had a sense of humour, but he was no fool. In the eyes of his contemporaries, “his cheerful mood, his pleasant wit, never insulting”, made him “one of the most agreeable persons to have in company.” Mozart’s genius was not visually apparent. Despite or perhaps especially because of his extraordinary talent he remained, apart from in music, “almost in all other circumstances always a child.” For instance, it often occurred that he jumped up and “began, in his foolish mood […] to jump over the table and chairs, to miaow like a cat, and to perform somersaults like a carefree young boy.”