In 1772, when Count Hieronimus Josef Franz von Colloredo became the Archbishop of Salzburg (succeeding in the post the late Sigismund Christoph, Graf von Schrattenbach), he appointed 16-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart concertmaster of his court orchestra. The strict and rigid rules of his service were not to the taste of the genius musician and he did not stop undertaking concert tours together with his father Leopold. He traveled to Italy and Vienna, and when he returned, after several failed requests to the Archbishop for a leave of absence, in 1777 he vacated the post. He set out on another trip – first to Munich, then to Augsburg and Mannheim, in attempts to seek better employment. During the trip, he made the acquaintance of the Weber family from Mannheim and fell in love with the second of their four daughters – Aloysia, a singer with an excellent voice. Having spent five months in Mannheim, on 23 March 1778, he arrived in Paris full of hopes and accompanied by his mother. However, in the beginning of July, she suddenly died. Sunk in grief and disillusioned after his endeavours to secure a position in Paris proved abortive, he was compelled to return to Salzburg, and at the end of September reluctantly occupied the vacant position of court organist. Amadeus dreamed of broader horizons and, above all, of devoting himself to his fond passion – opera – and alternately travelled and returned until the final scandalous break with the Archbishop. Having resigned for good from his Salzburg employment, in 1781 he settled to Vienna as a freelance musician. He spent the last decade of his short life teaching piano lessons, giving public concerts of his own music (the so-called “academies”), composing his mature piano concertos, sonatas and symphonies, the operatic masterpieces The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and his Requiem.
The three pieces by Mozart featured on the evening’s program were composed in Salzburg. In March 1775, Archbishop Colloredo commissioned the 19-year-old composer with writing an opera for the forthcoming visit to Salzburg by Archduke Maximilian Franz of Austria, the youngest son of Empress Maria Theresa. The libretto picked for the occasion was Pietro Metastasio’s text Il re pastore (‘The Shepherd King’). Within a quarter of a century, eighteen operas by other composers, including Giuseppe Bonno, Giuseppe Sarti, Francesco Antonio Baldassare Uttini, Johann Adolph Hasse, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Niccolò Piccinni, Niccolò Jommelli, Baldassare Galuppi, among others, were written on this text, which was based on the pastoral drama Aminta by Torquato Tasso. Gianbatista Varesco, chaplain at the Salzburg Archbishopric, adapted the libretto for Mozart, reducing the three-act structure to a two-act version. The action of the plot unfolds in Phoenicia. Alexander the Great (‘Alessandro’) has liberated Sidon from the tyrant Stratone and sought to reinstate on the throne its rightful heir, Abdalonimo. However, in order to remain undiscovered, he has become a shepherd living under the name of Aminta and was happily in love with Elisa, preparing their wedding. Alexander offers the crown of the kingdom to Aminta and demands that he marry Tamiri, the daughter of the defeated Straton. But Tamiri is in love with Agenore, a friend of the heir to the throne. Aminta, torn between duty and love, decides to renounce the throne. Moved by the nobleness of mind displayed by the young, Alexander the Great blesses the two couples and proclaims Aminta the ruler of Sidon, promising Agenore to conquer another kingdom for him. This story in the spirit of Arcadian idyllic poetry took Mozart mere six weeks to convert into an opera. It lacks extended dramatic scenes, but abounds in wonderful arias. The swift sparkly overture merges into the first act. Subsequently, Amadeus added to the overture an instrumental arrangement of the opening aria combined with a fast finale and it became a small symphony. The opera Il re pastore (KV 208) was performed for the first time at the Salzburg Archbishop Palace on 23 April 1775.