Antonio Salieri correspondence regarding the opera “La princesse de Babylone”

Generally speaking, the librettos that I have encountered in the French Revolution Collection (FRC) only indicate the librettist, not the composer of the musical score.  I was delighted then when I came across a pamphlet (Case FRC 22112) containing the libretto for La princesse de Babylone, that indicated the composer –   “M. Saliéri, premier maître de chapelle de la Cour de Vienne.” The libretto itself, an adaptation of Voltaire‘s work of the same title, is attributed to “M. Martin, député du commerce près l’Assemblée nationale, membre du Club des amis de la constitution et chef de la Société académique des Enfans d’Apollon, pour 1791.” Also included in the pamphlet is a series of letters, and excerpts from letters, (p. 73-96) between Marie-Joseph-Désiré Martin and Antonio Salieri discussing the libretto and effect of the French Revolution on the operatic scene in Paris.

My research into where La princesse de Babylon fit into Antonio Salieri’s operatic output raised several questions that require closer reading of the correspondence and further research on Salieri’s relationship with Paris during the early part of the Revolution.   Salieri first came to Paris in the early 1780’s to take over an operatic commission for Christoph Willibald Gluck.  Throughout the same decade Salieri composed several other operas for Paris but is thought to have been “cut off from Paris” during the Revolution.   La princesse de Babylone is not included in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians works list for Salieri.  His later work, Palmira regina di Persi (1794) with the libretto by Giovanni de Gamerra, another adaptation of Voltaire’s original work, is included.  A glance through the correspondence between Salieri and Martin indicates Salieri’s interest in Martin’s libretto and that the musical score for the first act was completed by August 1789.  It would be interesting to examine any extant primary sources for the two operatic scores to see if the music from the French opera was reused or adapted for the later Italian libretto. 

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