Salieri Is Watching!
It happens every once in a while. I’ll select a CD to play on the air and glance at the sticker in the upper left hand corner of the storage case. It has the date the CD came into the Friends of WILL Library.
A few weeks ago, one of those tiny stickers opened up a world of thoughts. “1984,” it said. That was 35 years ago and the title of the famous novel by George Orwell, which has acquired the most popular association with 1984. Interestingly, June marked the 70th anniversary of the publication of Orwell’s famous novel, which was 35 years old in 1984.
But back to the little sticker. It’s on a CD of concertos that features the Danish recorder virtuosa Michala Petri, who celebrated her 60th birthday last year and was 25 when the recording was released – in 1983. This year marks the 50th anniversary of her first public performance – at age 11 in the concert hall of Copenhagen’s famous amusement park known as Tivoli.
Petri was joined on the recording by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, led by Kenneth Sillio. No, he’s not as famous as Sir Neville Marriner or Iona Brown – the other violinist/conductors of the legendary ensemble over the years. But he was a long time artistic director and leader of the Academy in concerts, on tours and in the recording studio. In 1967, he founded the famous Gabrieli String Quartet, which he led for 20 years.
Then I remembered that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields had quite a gig back in 1984. The ensemble, led by Sir Neville, recorded the music for the Milos Forman film Amadeus, which opened on September 9,1984. The film and the soundtrack led the way for what seemed like a Mozart renaissance.
It was just a couple of years earlier that recordings were released on compact discs for the first time. The very first was a digital re-mastering of Claudio Arrau’s 1979 analog collection of Chopin waltzes. I understand that Arrau, whose fingers had graced the keyboard for the recording, was given the honor of using just one of them to push the button that began the process of mass-producing digital discs.
The new technology arrived just in time to cash in on the popularity of Mozart’s music that was brought on by the film. There were Mozart CDs everywhere, recorded by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and every other ensemble that wanted to be a part of the Mozart mania. And the bicentennial of Mozart’s death in 1991 provided yet another incentive for musicians to celebrate the composer’s works back then.
1984 has come and gone. Many will remember it as the year in which Orwell’s futuristic novel took place and for which it was named. What a coincidence that it was the same year that Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus came to the big screen and introduced so many to the music of Mozart, not to mention a fictitious “bad guy” version of his famous contemporary Antonio Salieri, who was memorably portrayed by F. Murray Abraham.
The thought came to me that 1984 allowed this sort of chance “meeting” between the fictitious Salieri and Orwell’s “Big Brother.” If nothing else, it’s amusing to think of the two of them at the same time.
Mozart triumphed, not only in the film, but in the enduring legacy that continues well after his passing. Those of us who have hosted classical music programs over the past 35 years have come to know that audiences are interested in hearing a wide variety of Mozart’s music. But we’ve also found ourselves faced with the task of having to deal with the false image of his Italian contemporary, which came from the film.
In the end, the real Salieri hasn’t done too badly, with all of the increased attention paid to his music since the year 1984. He’s earned a few “stickers” in the Friends of WILL Library. And he, in a very different way than “Big Brother,” might well be watching - with sheer delight!