Amadeus: It’s Mozart VS Salieri in a Cinema Masterpiece

Amadeus
Wolfgang. Amadeus. Mozart!

Completing a trio of Mozart posts (following A Life in Letters and the composer’s unusual and complex relationship with scatological humour), we have the triumphant Hollywood epic Amadeus.

Initially a play by Peter Shaffer, it took to the big screen in 1984 with Miloš Forman at the helm – it wrapped up some eight Oscars such as Best Film, but it also won one for F. Murray Abraham in a pretty astonishing, film-stealing performance as Antonio Salieri.

Elsewhere, Mozart is played rather excellently by Tom Hulce. Whilst his invasive American accent does get, well, invasive at times, he provides a natural flamboyance and energy to the role as the precocious musical genius. What ho, then, let’s take a look at this glorious classic in all its glory. Onwards!

Amadeus

It opens with the ageing Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) wracked with guilt about his dealings with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart decades earlier. He attempts suicide and is carted off to a hospital, where a young priest visits him to try and get Salieri to confess his sins. Having none of it, the former composer takes the opportunity to rant about his perceived failings in life, and how one man’s genius left him rubbed out of popular culture.

Thusly, we’re beamed back in time to where Salieri is the perfectly competent court composer for the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (the “Musical King”) who has a good understanding and appreciation of all things cultural. Having heard of Mozart’s genius, the young prodigy is sought out for performances and quickly humiliates Salieri with his natural gifts.

Utterly infuriated by the precocious and lewd Mozart, and feeling betrayed by God, Salieri launches into a devious scheme in an attempt to get some form of revenge and claim a place in history. Thusly, what is essentially a period epic plays out with gusto, and the mystical Mozart is at the centre of it all.

F. Murray Abraham

Now this was one hell of a performance. It won Abraham an Oscar, and deservedly so as he’s pretty much the best thing in the film – well, second only to the soundtrack. Convinced Mozart’s musical abilities are a gift from God, he’s outraged that the almighty one could choose such a petulant and Abraham also conveys Salieri’s unrelenting passion for music and his appreciation for Mozart’s genius, even if God is apparently using a

Abraham also conveys Salieri’s unrelenting passion for music and his appreciation for Mozart’s genius, even if God is apparently using a boorish teenager to show off His divine abilities and what not (we should point out we’re atheists here at Professional Moron, so as not to confuse anyone). It’s a mighty performance, and it’s been great seeing the actor back in recent roles such as The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Tom Hulce

There remain criticisms about Hulce with this performance and how he turned Mozart into a puerile joke. Many people believed the idea of Mozart being a childish, flamboyant, precocious little git was merely a fanciful plot contrivance.

However, judging from the many letters depicting Mozart’s personality (and, indeed, the composer’s letters) it doesn’t seem like too great an exaggeration. It’s unknown, however, if Mozart had the irritating laugh Hulce flings about the place. To show off this side of his personality, Hulce (weirdly) used Tennis ace John McEnroe’s mood swings (“You cannot be serious!” etc.) as inspiration.

The final stages of the film also show some serious versatility from Hulce. Whilst comical and borderline irritating in the early stages of Amadeus, he turns his performance into something with real grit and emotional power as Mozart grapples with his responsibilities as a father, husband, and composer. When Mozart becomes ill, Hulce is particularly compelling we have to state.

Neville Marriner Soundtrack

This is the best take on Mozart’s music we’ve ever heard. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields was behind it, and Neville Marriner was the conductor. Obviously with a big old Hollywood production at stake, the music had to be excellent and, by heck, did they all deliver a stirring rendition of Mozart’s music.

Above is Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The abduction from the seraglio), better known in layman’s terms as the Turkish Finale. It’s of this standard throughout and we’re particularly fond of the serene Serenade For Winds. It’s music of such emotional and intellectual quality which, again, makes you wonder what was going on with Mozart’s childish toilet humour based outbursts.

Wigs

On a side note, there are an awful lot of fantastic wigs in this film. It’s a shame society ditched this 18th century habit as we quite like it.

Legacy

It’s gone down in legend as an almighty film. Rightly so. It’s not perfect, in that the American accents do grate a bit here. Not that we have anything against Americans at all, it’s just this is a period piece set in Vienna during the 18th century. We’re pretty sure few American accents would have been in evidence back then. Indeed, Mozart usually spoke in Russian.

All we can do, as we close this trilogy of Mozart posts, is recommend you watch the film and, in so doing, take up a lifelong fascination with classical music. It’s a gosh darned epic journey and you’re all invited. What ho, old bean.

2 comments

    • Yeah, we read up about him in detail years ago. It’s better to read the books about him – Maligned Master (1992) is a good one. The film takes artistic license with legends, I don’t think the film’s producers or Peter Shaffer were explicit in it being an accurate portrayal.

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