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Joseph IIlocked

  • John A. Rice

(b Vienna, March 13, 1741; d Vienna, Feb 20, 1790). Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, first son of Maria Theresa and Francis of Lorraine. As a patron of music and supervisor of the court theatres in Vienna, he helped to shape the city’s operatic life. During the first part of his long reign he shared power with Maria Theresa, but even before her death in 1780 he exercised considerable influence over operatic policy. Especially fond of the young Antonio Salieri, Joseph supported him with commissions and recommendations from 1770 onwards.

In the mid-1770s Joseph dismissed the impresario who was struggling to present Italian opera in the court theatres, and transformed the Burgtheater into a national theatre for the performance of spoken plays in German. In 1778 he organized a troupe of German singers to perform Singspiels there and it was for this troupe that Mozart wrote Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1782. Claiming that he found opera seria boring (and reluctant to pay for the more costly singers), Joseph assembled in 1783 one of the best opera buffa troupes in Europe, together with a skilful librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. Composers commissioned to write for the company included Salieri, Mozart, Paisiello and Martín y Soler. Through his chamberlain Count Rosenberg he supervised the troupe closely, making important decisions about theatre finances, personnel and repertory. He thus helped to create the environment in which it was possible for Mozart and Salieri to produce some of their greatest operas. Both Da Ponte and the tenor Michael Kelly relate stories in their memoirs about Joseph and opera. Joseph is alleged to have thought that Die Entführung contained ‘too many notes’ and that Don Giovanni was ‘too tough for the teeth’ of his Viennese.


  • R. Payer von Thurn: Joseph II. als Theaterdirektor (Vienna, 1920)
  • O. Michtner: Das alte Burgtheater als Opernbühne von der Einführung des deutschen Singspiels (1778) bis zum Tod Kaiser Leopolds II. (1792) (Vienna, 1970)
  • F. Hadamowsky: Die Josefinische Theaterreform und das Spielzeit 1776/77 des Burgtheaters (Vienna, 1978)