Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
By Lindsay Bennett
Background Music: Flute and Harp Concerto in C major
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The film, Amadeus, written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Milos Forman, is a not only an Academy Award winning film, but is also a surprisingly accurate portrayal of Mozartís life. Although the movie contains discrepancies regarding Mozartís actual life, many aspects such as Mozartís financial situation and his relationship with his father are well portrayed. Despite historical inaccuracies concerning the depiction of Antonio Salieri, the film Amadeus is not only entertaining, but also comprises a great deal of historical interpretation.
Although Amadeus clearly has a basic foundation with a fair amount of research, there are historical discrepancies for the sake of the narrative. The most obvious point is the portrayal of Antonio Salieri. In the film, Salieri is represented as a sour celibate and a malevolent conniver; he was actually a married man who had a great admiration for Mozart and his work. Though the admiration for Mozart is clear in the film, Salieriís vindictive and envious nature overshadows his respect. According to the plot, Salieri condemned Mozartís opera, Don Giovanni, to only five performances, but he loved the work so much that he attended all five performances in secret. From a writerís perspective, these scenes show both Salieriís admiration for Mozart as well as his malevolence. The central plot of Amadeus contends that Salieri was responsible for Mozartís death. To some extent, this notion was based on rumor and gossip, and was the filmís most glaring historical inaccuracy. As the opening scene of Amadeus indicates, Salieri did attempt suicide late in life and he did claim that he had poisoned Mozart. Music historian, Roye E. Wates argues that the idea that Salieri was actually responsible for Mozartís death is patently absurd. His confession was likely just the ravings of a clouded mind. The performance of Salieri as an old man with a touch of lunacy was brilliantly portrayed in the film by actor, F. Murray Abraham, and helped seal the falsehood about Salieriís attempt on Mozartís life.
In poor health for much of his life, the most accepted theory among music historians is that Mozart died from a series of infections and rheumatic fever that were worsened by his stressful lifestyle, but it is implied in the film that Salieri hastened Mozartís condition with psychological stress. Although Salieri did not actually kill Mozart, directly or indirectly, the storyline created a compelling narrative. Some reviews termed the film a disappointment because it did not live up to its Broadway stage predecessor, but Amadeus proved to be a box office success. The movie won eight Academy awards, including Best Picture. The remarkable Peter Shaffer also received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screen Play; his original script opened in London in 1979 and then again strongly revised, opened on Broadway in 1981. As the dry and business like Emperor Joseph II, Jeffrey Jones (the principal in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) stole the few scenes he was in and reminded viewers that great actors need great character actors. Ironically, Tom Hulce as Mozart received only a nomination; in part, his exuberant, almost campy, Amadeus seemed to some critics too much of a stereotypical Rock n' Roller who might forsake the piano for smashing guitar or drums at any moment.
Despite the dramatic license for the sake of a good story, Amadeus is historically accurate in its portrayal of many aspects of Mozartís life. One of these aspects is Mozartís financial situation. Even though his music was revered, Mozart often had trouble finding work because he was temperamental and often had problems with authority. This is seen in the film through the level of disrespect Mozart shows his employers, including the Archbishop of Salzburg, and the father of a potential student, even in a flippant attitude toward the Emperor. While he and his family are not portrayed as especially poor, they are well-dressed, and live in a nice home, yet they are constantly struggling with debts. In reality, Mozart had debts and was even sued for over one thousand florins for not repaying a loan to Carl Lichnowsky. Although this specific instance is not in the film, other references make the point that Mozart was a well-known debtor. In the film, Mozart comes to Salieri asking for a small, desperate loan, and Salieri warns him that it is not good for Mozart to become known in Vienna as a debtor. The culmination of Mozartís financial woes is even depicted in his death scene. In fact, Mozartís family was too poor. He was buried, naked, in an unmarked, mass grave. This sort of burial was common for people of Mozartís financial standing in the eighteenth century, and this depiction is true to Mozartís actual burial. In addition, the attention to the detail of eighteenth century Vienna is ďmeticulousĒ and adds to the historical worth of the film.
Another major cause of strain on Mozartís life in Amadeus is the relationship with his father, Leopold Mozart. In the film and in reality, Mozartís father had a significant role in his sonís life and career. Leopold took Mozart around Europe to perform as a small child in various courts. Having composed his first concerto at age five, Mozart was considered a child prodigy and even played in court venues such as the Bavarian court in Munich, Germany, and the court of Versailles. The acknowledgement of this history in the film establishes the influence Leopold Mozart had on his son, Wolfgang, and sets up a compelling sub-plot of tension between father and son. Mozart flees his hometown of Salzburg with his future wife, Constanze, and marries her in Vienna against his fatherís express wishes. In the eighteenth century even at age twenty-two, Mozart was expected to defer to his father and was not yet considered the master of his own destiny.
Evidence supports the belief that Mozartís wife, Constanze, later burned Leopold Mozartís correspondences regarding their marriage, which marks a ďlow point in the relationship between father and son.Ē In the film, it is implied that after the marriage, Mozart and his father did not speak until years later when Leopold arrived unannounced at the young familyís home. The scenes where Leopold stayed with Wolfgang and Constanze reveal the strain in their relationship with a combination of heated arguments, anti-social behavior between the three, and Mozart caught in the crossfire between his wife and father. These scenes depict Leopoldís controlling, obsessive nature concerning his sonís life. This is true to Leopold Mozartís actual personality, as he was preoccupied with his sonís success and life choices. Leopold viewed the marriage to Constanze as ďbetrayal,Ē and tried to undermine his sonís success during the final decade of his life. In Amadeus, Mozart is still plagued by the memory of his father, Leopold, long after his death. Salieri even dresses up in a costume worn by Mozartís father earlier in the narrative to commission the famous Requiem. This fictitious aspect of Amadeus places the culmination of Mozartís tense relationship with Leopold into a visual medium through the horror on Mozartís face when he sees Salieri dressed as his fatherís ghost. Mozartís close connection with his father played a central role throughout his life, and fittingly, occupied a central role in Amadeus.
Although Amadeus has some historical discrepancies, particularly, Antonio Salieriís role in Mozartís death, the drama is still an entertaining and generally accurate film. Many of the filmís aspects are especially well portrayed, including Mozartís financial situation and his relationship with his father. This film gives an interesting and insightful look into Mozartís life, particularly, the Vienna years. Although some of this compelling narrative needs to be taken with a grain of salt, Amadeus is both an entertaining and historical film among cinematic greats.
Additional editorial comments by Clioís Staff
Fujisawa, Shuji. New Mozart Theory. (Kindle Edition, 2013).
Rossellini, John. The Life of Mozart,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1998).
Wates, Roye. E. Mozart: An Introduction to the Music, The Man, and the Myths (Plymouth: Amadeus Press, 2010).
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