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Amadeus

From Academic Kids

Amadeus is the title of both a play and a film written in 1979 by Peter Shaffer, both loosely based on the lives of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Amadeus was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin.

The title refers to a name that Mozart often used (he was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart) as a pen name. It is a Latinization of the Greek Theophilus, which Mozart sometimes also Germanized as "Gottlieb." All three names mean "God-lover" or "Loved by God" and, aside from being a direct reference to Mozart, the title serves as an ironic reference to Salieri's relationship with God in the play and film (see the plot section, below, for more detail).

The play, and to a much larger extent, the film, make use of Mozart's music (as well as that of a few other composers, including Salieri). The film famously opens with the powerful "Allegro con brio" from Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, and closes with Mozart's Requiem, the brilliancy of which defies description. The film's score was performed by The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

Contents

Plot

There are some important differences between the screenplay and the stage play, notably the number and treatment of scenes without Salieri in them, the portrayal of the Emperor Joseph II, Emanuel Shikaneder, and Count von Strack, Mozart's relationship with the Masons, and the finale.

Shared plot

Amadeus the theatrical production tells Mozart's story from the point of view of court composer Antonio Salieri, who is presented as a caricature of jealous mediocrity. Salieri speaks directly to the audience at many times during the play, his soliloquies serving to move the timeline forward and back, and to narrate the goings on. In the film, Shaffer employs an interlocutor (a young priest) for Salieri to achieve this same function, but the film is told from a more neutral, third-person perspective and there are more scenes without Salieri in them (especially in the Director's Cut). Most of the film, and much of the play, are presented in retrospective.

At the opening of the tale, Salieri has not met Mozart in person, but has heard of him and his music. He adores Mozart's compositions, and is thrilled at the chance to meet Mozart in person, during a salon at which both of their compositions will be played. When he finally does catch sight of Mozart, however, he is deeply disappointed to find that Mozart's personality does not match the grace or charm of his compositions: Mozart is crawling around on his hands and knees, engaging in an immature dialogue with Constanze Weber (who would later become his wife). As Mozart himself later explains: "I am a vulgar man. But... my music is not."

Salieri cannot reconcile Mozart's boorish behavior with the massive genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him. Indeed, Salieri, who has been a devout Catholic all his life, cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri rejects God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy God's chosen: Mozart.

Throughout much of the rest of the play and film, Salieri masquerades as Mozart's ally to his face, while at the same time doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have. On more than one occassion it is only the direct intervention of the emperor himself that allows Mozart to continue (interventions which Salieri opposes, and then is all too happy to take credit for when Mozart assumes it was he who intervened). Salieri also humiliates Mozart's wife when she comes to Salieri for aid, and smears Mozart's character with the emperor and the court. A major theme in Amadeus is Mozart's repeated attempts to win over the aristocratic "public" with increasingly brilliant compositions, which are always frustrated either by Salieri or by the aristocracy's own inability to appreciate Mozart's genius.

At this point, the film and the play diverge.

Theater version

In the play: only Count von Strack, who, early in the play inducts Mozart into the Brotherhood of the Freemasons, continues to support Mozart. Indeed, by the end of the play, Mozart is surviving solely because of the charity of his brother Masons. Finally, Salieri convinces Mozart (who by this time is half-crazed from frustration and poverty) to compose an opera based on the mythos of the Masons. As a result, Mozart produces the comedy Die Zauberflte. Von Strack is horrified to see that Mozart has, in his opinion, parodied the venerated traditions of Freemasonry. He summarily removes Mozart from the Masons. Meanwhile, Mozart's partner in the production of Zauberflote, Emanuel Shikaneder, cheats Mozart out of most of his share of the ticket proceeds.

Now throughly destroyed and without recourse, Mozart simply wastes away and dies, still at work on his Requiem.

Film version

In the film, however, the above does not occur. Instead, the film uses that time to focus on Mozart's relationships with his father (whom he worships and fears) and his wife, which are rather tense and erratic, respectively. As the film moves on, Mozart learns of his father's death and composes the operatic masterpiece Don Giovanni, in part as a tribute to him. Salieri avows that it was the finest opera he had ever seen, yet he uses his influence to make sure it closes after only a handful of performances.

Following this, Salieri hatches a plan to conscript Mozart to compose a Requiem, after which Salieri will kill him and claim the composition as his own. Even better, he reasons, he will then perform "Salieri's Requiem" at Mozart's own funeral, thus demonstrating to the world the inspiration that his true and devoted friendship with Mozart had given him. Salieri dons a disguise and anonymously commissions the composition from Mozart.

Meanwhile, Mozart's friend Emanuel Shikaneder has put on a parody of Don Giovanni at a local music hall, which Mozart finds charming. It has also been a great success. Shikaneder convinces Mozart to write an opera "for the people," who will appreciate his work more than the staid aristocrats he usually composes for. Mozart agrees, and composes Die Zauberflote, all the while continuing to work on his Requiem. Zauberflote is a big success, but during the initial performance, Mozart (who is conducting from the keyboard) falls ill and is taken home by Salieri. There, Salieri pushes Mozart to continue work on his Requiem, despite the fact that Mozart is barely conscious.

At this point, Shikaneder shows up at Mozart's door, and faithfully gives Mozart's share of the opera's proceeds to Salieri, who shoos him away. Salieri then returns to Mozart and gives him the money, saying that it came from the man who commissioned the Requiem, and that there will be more if Mozart can finish the piece hastily. Mozart therefore asks Salieri to assist him in completing the composition, as he is too sick to write. Salieri transcribes what Mozart tells to him, and the beauty of the Requiem is slowly revealed to the audience (and Salieri himself). After some time, Mozart pauses to thank Salieri for being such a good friend, admitting that he had always felt, deep down, that Salieri did not like his music. Touched in spite of himself, Salieri candidly replies: "I tell you, you are the greatest composer known to me."

The next day, Mozart is dead. He is buried in an unmarked, mass grave, his Requiem still unfinished.

Reality vs. fiction

It is a known fact that Shaffer took dramatic license in the portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri. There is some debate, however, as to just how much. While it is reputed that there was a real antipathy between Mozart and Salieri, and that Mozart did at one point accuse Salieri of attempting to poison him, their personalities in the play seem to differ from somewhat contemporary accounts. Many people (especially classical music critics and experts) feel that Shaffer's portrayal of Mozart as petulant and loutish is unfair. Others, though, point to the letters of and about Mozart for examples of his arrogance and stubborness. It is also well known that Mozart was a terrible money manager, and that his debts as portrayed in Amadeus were very real. Additionally, Mozart's relationship with his father seems to be verisimilar, at least according to the subtext of their letters to each other.

Recent studies suggest that Mozart died of some form of rheumatic fever (probably from simple overwork and desperation), and not of any poison. A similar fate befell Felix Mendelssohn who also demonstrated prodigal gifts for composing.

Performance and filming

The 1980 Broadway performance of the play starred Ian McKellen as Salieri and Tim Curry as Mozart. Both actors were nominated for Tony Awards, and McKellen ended up winning. The play itself was also nominated for costume design (John Bury), and it also won awards for director Peter Hall, best play, lighting designer, and scenic designer, both of which were done by John Bury as well.

The play was revived in 2000, and won Tony Awards for best revival and best actor (David Suchet).

In 1984, Milo Forman directed the screen version of Amadeus, which featured F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce as Salieri and Mozart. The film won eight Academy Awards that year, for Best Picture, Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham), Director (Milo Forman), Art Direction (Patrizia von Brandenstein and Karel Cerny), Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Sound, and Adapted Screenplay (Shaffer). It was the inspiration for Falco's song by the same name.

A young Kenneth Branagh was originally cast to play Mozart in the film, but was replaced by Hulce at the eleventh hour.

See also

External links

es:Amadeus fr:Amadeus it:Amadeus nl:Amadeus ja:アマデウス pl:Amadeusz (film) sv:Amadeus

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