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Mozart and Salieri ‘lost’ composition played in Prague

In 2016, a piece of music considered lost for more than 200 years was performed for the first time since being rediscovered;  Per la ricuperata di Offelia.  It was co-written by Antonio Salieri, and Amadeus Mozart, usually considered rivals, as well as an unknown composer, Cornetti.

The four-minute cantata was found in the archives of the Czech Museum of Music in November 2015.  The score, written in 1785, was acquired by the museum in a collection of material in the mid-20th century but its composers were identified in a code that has only recently been deciphered.

Listen: World Service, Lost Mozart score revealed

A German musicologist and composer, Timo Jouko Herrmann, recognised the name of the piece while browsing the museum’s online catalogues.

He said the work is “key to a new understanding of the relationship between Mozart and Salieri”.

Rumours that Salieri fatally poisoned his rival Mozart out of jealousy have long been discounted by historians, but were popularised by several plays and an Oscar-winning film, Amadeus.

“We all know the picture drawn by the movie Amadeus,” said Ulrich Leisinger, from the Mozart Institute of Salzburg.

“It is false. Salieri did not poison Mozart, but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors.”

The cantata’s name, “Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia”, translates into English as “For the recovered health of Ophelia”. It was written to celebrate soprano Nancy Storace’s recovery after an illness.

The text to the piece was written by a Viennese court poet called Lorenzo Da Ponte, who often worked with Salieri.

Mr Leisinger said the piece is “not great” but “really sheds new light on Mozart’s daily life as an opera composer”.

“It is clearly the original piece and there is no reason to doubt it is genuine.

The opera singer Nancy Storace was a great inspiration for Mozart, Salieri and Cornetti. It was this outstanding personality of the operatic world who led the composers to write music for Ponte’s libretto.

Nancy Storace was born on 17 October 1765 in London and studied in Venice, where she started her successful career. In 1783 she became a prima donna of the new opera company in Vienna, specializing in Italian opera.  While in Vienna, she sang in 20 operas.

She was the first Ofelia in Salieri’s opera La Grotta di Trofonia, and the role of Susanna in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was first performed by her. On 1 June 1785 the singer suffered a sudden failure of her voice during the premier of Gli sposi malconenti, an opera written by her brother. This unfortunate indisposition lasted several months.

After Nancy’s return to stage, the composers wrote a celebratory cantata called Per la ricuperata di Offelia. At that time, Mozart had a very close professional relationship with the diva. Before her return to her native England, Mozart composed a farewell concert aria for the singer, Chio Mi scordi di te? (Will you remember me?), and accompanied her as a pianist.