MILAN (AP) — Residents of a provincial city in northern Italy are seeking to reclaim the remains of its best-known son, composer Antonio Salieri.

Salieri left his birthplace of Legnago, south of Verona, as a teen in 1766 to pursue his musical ambitions in Vienna, where he mostly remained until his death in 1825. He was one of the Habsburg court's favorite composers, and is perhaps best remembered in popular culture as Mozart's chief rival.

Rumors in his lifetime, dismissed by authoritative sources as slanderous, even claimed that Salieri poisoned Mozart.

A group called "Legnago for Salieri" is asking the city to use diplomacy to recover his remains from Vienna's largest and most important cemetery, Zentralfriedhof, where such musical luminaries as Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert also have been buried.

Organizer Franco Bozzolin said Tuesday that the "noble initiative" was inspired by local pride. The last known attempt to return Salieri's remains to Italy failed during World War II.

"We believe this mission is possible, but it will be a long road as it involves institutions in two countries," Bozzolin said.

The cultural foundation supporting the Salieri Theater in Legnago has not taken an official position on the campaign. But theater director Federico Pupo noted that Salieri's musical successes were mostly in Vienna.

"Therefore, I think it is correct that he rests in the city that he himself chose, and that benefited him so much," Pupo said in an email.

Disseminating Salieri's music and that of his contemporaries at the theater bearing his name is "the only way he can be truly present in Legnago," Pupo said.

In Vienna, state broadcaster ORF quoted an unnamed spokesperson for Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, Vienna's alderman for culture, as saying any repatriation request would be considered but it was "relatively unlikely" it would be granted.

"Salieri is part of Vienna's musical culture," the spokesperson was quoted as saying.


George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.


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