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Amadeus – The Quintessential Mozart

Viewers might be tempted to think that Amadeus is a biography of the celebrated composer, and yet it is at the same time more and less than that. This work magisterially sketches a double portrait, in which Mozart is seen through Salieri’s eyes over a period of 10 years, from the arrival of the young genius in Vienna, the capital of musicians, to his death. The director and the scenarist, Forman and Shaffer, meet more or less the historical truth in terms of his marriage with Constanze Weber, the Requiem being ordered by a mysterious stranger and Mozart’s burial in a common grave; however, they took some liberties with Salieri’s character, which they rendered considerably more important than what historical testimony would suggest. Fortunately, the movie stops short of claiming that Salieri poisoned Mozart, even though much later a legend would arise along these lines.

Salieri thinks, quite simply, that he is a victim of God’s betrayal: God gave him the hope of talent but he gave Mozart something which he would never have: genius. There is a certain scene in the movie where Salieri discovers Mozart’s original scores, and sees they are spotless clean, without any correction – from then on, there is no doubt in the Italian’s mind that his younger rival is transcribing a musical dictation from God. The great success of the film lies in this face-off between the gifted and the not-so-gifted, between a man of genius and one of mediocrity. This duality drives Salieri throughout the movie: he is torn between admiration and jealousy, two colliding passions which lead him to be a friend of Mozart but also to work against him. The high point of this film is the final scene, where Mozart, on the threshold of death, dictates to Salieri the notes of his Requiem; it is a mise-en-scène both intimate and spectacular, as Salieri discovers truly groundbreaking music while in the very act of writing it.

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