Venice and Vienna – two focal points of European culture. Venice and Vienna – two towns that play a major role in the life of the Italian composer Antonio Salieri, the famous counterpart of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Vienna. Who would write the better operas? The established master from Venice or the ambitious young man from Salzburg? Who would win and keep the favour of the Emperor? Whose name will last and whose name will be forgotten? One is tempted to say that Mozart gained the upper hand, but that would not be true. Salieri has precisely not been forgotten, because Mozart, his most fierce competitor, became so popular.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was his teacher, Frédéric Chopin his successor. He was a master pianist and an accomplished composer, rooted in the classical Vienna, but looking already beyond the 18th century at the Romantic world of sound. Johann Nepomuk Hummel bridged the two eras and showed contemporary audiences how much brilliance and delicatezza piano music can display without leaving the framework that Mozart and Hummel’s later teacher Antonio Salieri had set. His later compositions expanded considerably in expressive range, harmonic and melodic variety, compared to earlier works, closer to Mozart’s style.
“There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major”, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev once remarked. So true. Schubert’s piano piece “Wanderer Fantasy” in C major, Op. 15 D.760 for example. Take the opening: Massive accords gradually diluted in a lovely melody for the right hand… beautiful! If you care to look at the score, you may wonder how many fingers the pianist needs to play all those notes in any given time! To put it mildly, it requires a certain degree of virtuosity… of which I can just dream!