‘Amadeus’: It’s just a movie, people
Everybody loves a good “whodunit?”In the case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, however, nobody did. But the rumors have persisted that Mozart was actually murdered by composer Antonio Salieri. The flames were fanned by Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” and the 1984 Oscar-winning movie by the same name.In the movie, Mozart, played by Tom Hulce – yes, the same Tom Hulce who was Larry “Pinto” Kroger in “Animal House” – dies, poisoned by Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) as he is writing his “Requiem,” presumably coming to grips with his mortality.
The magic of moviesIt’s a great movie, but well, not exactly true.Mozart died on Dec. 5, 1791, at the age of 35 of – if there is a consensus – rheumatic fever.”The first thing is that movie has brought Mozart into the life of millions. For that, it totally gets my vote. Second, it is a story,” said conductor Christopher Seaman, who will lead the Rochester Philharmonic tonight at 6 in a performance of “Requiem,” as well as Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony” at Bravo! at the Ford Amphitheater. “We have far too little information about exactly what happened in the last few weeks and days of Mozart’s life. Shaffer, using his imagination, what information we do have, wrote this extraordinarily imaginative and exciting play which became a movie. We should not treat the movie as historic fact. It’s not meant to be.”Seaman is definitely correct that “Amadeus” brought the music of Mozart to millions. The film’s soundtrack is a wonderful introduction to Mozart’s music. Healthy doses of his symphonies (Nos. 25 and 29) abound, as well as his operas (Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Abduction from the Seraglio).There is the “Kyrie” from the “Mass in C Minor,” humorously set to the death of Salieri’s father, allowing the overshadowed composer to pursue his career in music, as well as the “20th Piano Concerto,” which plays hauntingly as an elder (and demented) Salieri is wheeled off in the asylum after completing his confession of murdering Mozart at the end of the move.
And, yes, there is “Requiem.”Major mythsOne of the problems of the movie is that Mozart’s music is not autobiographical. Further at 35, how does Mozart know he’s dying of what is at the time an unknown ailment?”Mozart regarded the commission to write the ‘Requiem’ as the same way as he regarded everything else,” Seaman said. “Though it’s a magnificent work, it’s not autobiographical. Mozart’s inspiration was on such a high level that it somehow transcends what was happening in his life. You can’t listen to a symphony and say, ‘Oh, he must have written during a depressing week. Or he must have written this one just after he got married. It’s really cheerful.’ His inspiration was above that.”Also confusing in the movie is Mozart’s financial status. He is supposedly destitute in his final days and buried in an unmarked grave. (It should be noted that form of burial was very common in those days.)
Yet while Mozart is portrayed at the time as being penniless, he was, in reality, very gainfully employed. He had commissions to write “Magic Flute,” “La clemenza di Tito” and “Requiem.”Who’s the real victim?And then there’s Salieri. He emerges from “Amadeus” as a jealously stricken ogre who murdered the leading light of music for his own gain. In reality, Salieri was an extremely accomplished composer in his own right.”We’re all a bit of a Salieri, aren’t we? We’ve all seen people whom we envy, no matter what kind of business we’re in,” Seaman said. “We are a Salieri to somebody’s Mozart. So we identify by Salieri. If Mozart had never appeared, if he had never existed, Salieri would have done quite well, better. But he didn’t do badly.”Ironically Abraham, not Hulce, walked away from the 1985 Oscars with the statue for best actor. In his acceptance speech, Abraham joked that this was the first time Salieri had beaten Mozart in anything.Vail Colorado