One of the most successful European composers of the late 18th century, Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was active in all spheres of musical life but was known, above all, as an opera composer. Salieri went to Vienna as a teenager in 1766. He found success there, eventually rising to the post of Imperial Court Composer at the Habsburg court in Vienna, which he held from 1788 until his retirement in 1824. In that capacity, he was responsible for sacred music and secular music at court, as well as for opera; he composed over 40 works for the stage between 1768 and 1804. He was also crucial in promoting the works of other composers; favorites included contemporaries such as Joseph and Michael Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (in whose death he played no part, though the story made good dramatic fodder for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus) as well as younger composers such as his pupils Beethoven and Schubert.
La secchia rapita (The Stolen Bucket) is a relatively early work for Salieri; it premiered at Vienna's Kärntnertortheater on October 21, 1772. The opera's story, adapted by librettist Giovanni Boccherini (composer Luigi Boccherini's brother) from a 1614 mock-heroic poem by Alessandro Tassoni, revolves around a battle between Bologna and Modena, two neighboring Italian cities, over a stolen well bucket. Things come to such a head that the gods have to descend from Mount Olympus to intervene. The opera's combination of pseudo-heroics and comic spirit comes across well in the overture, with the pretended seriousness of its exaggeratedly pompous slow introduction juxtaposed with the teasing quality of the ensuing theme, which has a lighter, woodwind-based texture. The overture provides a good example of why Salieri was so esteemed during his lifetime: his tunes are catchy without attaining the immortality of those of Mozart or Beethoven, his forms are solidly constructed (a reminiscence of the introduction just before the overture's coda helps the work hang together), and his orchestration is really quite accomplished, with imaginative, soloistic use of various instruments adding to the piece's charm.
- John Mangum is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Program Designer/Annotator.