By Robert Muller
PRAGUE (Reuters) - A long-lost composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri was performed for the first time on Tuesday after a musicologist discovered the piece in the reserve collection of the Czech national music museum.
The piece also appears to show the rivalry between the two was not especially fierce and provides more evidence that Salieri played no role in Mozart's death in 1791 at the age of 35, the play and Oscar-winning film "Amadeus" suggested.
The collaborative score was written in 1785, during one of the most fruitful periods of Mozart's career when he composed some of his best-known pieces, including the operas "Don Giovanni" and "The Magic Flute."
"We all know the picture drawn by the movie `Amadeus'. It is false," said Ulrich Leisinger, director of research at the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg. "Salieri did not poison Mozart, but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors."
The piece, titled "Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia" ("For the recovered health of Ophelia"), was written to celebrate the recovery of a English singer who had performed pieces by Mozart and Salieri, museum officials said. It is unclear whether it was ever performed in public before today, they said.
"Here we have a short, not great, piece by Mozart, but at least something that really sheds new light on his daily life as an opera composer in Vienna," Leisinger said.
German composer and musicologist Timo Jouko Herrmann discovered the work last November while searching for pieces by Salieri's students in the catalog of the Czech Museum of Music.
The piece's fate after Mozart and Salieri wrote it is unclear, but it came to the Czech Museum of Music in 1950s carrying the names of Mozart and Salieri in a kind of signature code common at the time, said Michal Lukes, director of the Czech National Museum.
That made it nearly impossible to identity the composers until the museum digitized its collection, allowing Herrmann to sift through a huge database to discover the joint effort that had been sitting unnoticed.
During the performance in a large hall in the former Baroque church that now houses the Czech Music Museum, a harpsichordist played the short and upbeat piece to the delight of a few dozen people hearing music that probably has not been performed in hundreds of years.
"To hear a joint piece by Mozart and Salieri ... lost for more than 200 years, is an amazing experience," Lukes said.
(Writing by Michael Kahn, editing by Larry King)