What if Mozart were Italian?


If I would call Boccherini and Haydn my plugging a musicological gap, more than actual rediscoveries, a true revelation were the astonishing manuscripts and the results of my research on a composer who is becoming closer and closer to me in recent years: Giuseppe Sarti (Faenza 1729 – Berlino 1802).
Even if he is generally known for the famous Mozartian quote in Don Giovanni’s finale “E vivano i litiganti”, I won’t deny that my familiarity with his name occurred long before my first approach with Mozart’s operatic masterpiece, owing to our common origins in the Romagna region.
A quantity of biographical data, worthy of the greatest composers of his time, resulted from an initial research on Sarti: a student of Padre Martini, he mentored Luigi Cherubini for six years (and Cherubini credited him for the art of melody and counterpoint), he was Kapellmeister at the court of Frederick V of Denmark, then at the Duomo of Milan, finally at the Imperial Chapel in Saint Peterburg.
After having managed to recover the few specific bibliographic sources on the composer from Faenza, I have discovered that his fame among contemporaries was much greater than one would expect; he was commissioned operas for major Italian houses: La Scala and the Carcano in Milan, the San Samuele, the Moisiè and the Sant’Angelo in Venice, the Carignano of Turin, and the most important houses in Florence, Parma and Rome.
Not less important was Sarti’s encounter in Milan with the Emperor of Habsburg, who later welcomed our composer to Vienna with the pomp and splendor usually reserved to heads of state. His opera were the most in demand in Europe, his Giulio Sabino was the most performed opera seria in the continent, to the extent that Haydn at the Esterhazy court interrupted a performance of one of his own operas to introduce “il Signor Giulio Sabino” to the audience (obviously referring to Sarti).
Fra i due litiganti il terzo gode (premiere at the Teatro all Scala on the 14th of September 1782) was one of the most famous and performed opera buffa in European houses, so much that it was translated and adapted in several languages; it is reported that the opera was performed sixty times (!) in Vienna alone between 1784 and 1785. This would explain both the Sarti-Mozart querelle, attested in contemporary records, on account of Le Nozze di Figaro drawing inspiration from Sarti, and the literary quote in Don Giovanni a few years later. Certainly, the solo arias from Sarti scores in particular, both the ones of sacred music and the virtuosic operatic scores, feature more than one similarity with the compositional style and the air of the genius of Salzburg.