’s Amadeus Essay, Research Paper
I believe that there are two ways to critique Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.
The first, and the easiest for me, is as an artistic work only.
As an artistic endeavor, Amadeus is a triumph. Particularly stunning is
F. Murray Abraham’s performance as the tortured Court Composer Antonio
Salieri. Abraham portrays a talented yet mediocre musician who, having
revered God all his life, shows us clearly that “pride goeth before the
fall”. It is Salieri’s greed for fame, and pride in his own “moral
goodness” that lead him to denounce Mozart as a “fiend”. When God
continues to shower favor upon mozart, Salieri renounces God, and vows
that he will be the instrument to thwart God. Salieri’s Fall from Grace
is brilliantly documented, and Abraham’s performance utterly believable.
Tom Hulce does a splendid job portraying Shaffer’s Mozart. His wild
antics and child-like behavior are charming, his laugh infectious and
singular, and his mannerisms unique. However, it is the moments when a
different Mozart is glimpsed — the tender father, the infuriated court
composer, and the dying genius — that Hulce’s talent shines through.
To play a buffoon well is one thing, and to show a serious side to that
buffoon another. To do it all convincingly is the key to the range of
Additionally, the film is beautifully shot, the costumes enchanting and
the set design marvelously detailed. The lighting in the final scene
(depicted above), with its contrasting dark shadows and harsh glare, is
especially creative. This Academy Award-winning film was crafted with
great skill, and is worthy of the acclaim it received.
The second way to analyze this film is as a factual account of history,
and here is fails miserably. It is true that Peter Shaffer himself
calls it “a fantasia based on fact. It is not a screen biography of
Mozart, and was never intended to be.” The argument, of course, is to
say that this film gave many people that first real exposure to Mozart,
and as a result, gave them untruths upon which to base their knowledge.
That is to say, to the everyday person who knows nothing of Mozart,
there is no reason to think the events described in Amadeus are
anything but the truth. Why perpetuate rumors and myths, when the truth
I choose not to enter into this argument. There are valid points to be
made on either side. I will, however, point out some of the more
* While the movie shows the dying Mozart dictating his Requiem to
Salieri, it actually was his pupil and assistant S?ssmayr who helped him
with it and finally completed the score. The existence of S?ssmayr, as
well as that of Lorenzo da Pointe, is nowhere mentioned in the movie,
though they each played a far more critical role in Mozart’s life than
many of the characters who are shown in the film.
* Constanze Mozart may have been prone to spending time at the spa in
Baden, but she hever packed up and ran out on her husband, as she is
made to do in the movie. Nor did she ever throw Mozart’s father out of
* The Mozarts had two surviving children, not one as depicted in the
film. Additionally, four children died in infancy.
*Salieri never planted a servant girl in the Mozart household as a spy,
nor was it he who commissioned Mozart to compose the Requiem.
* Neither Mozart nor Salieri ever conducted an entire performance with
two hands; the late 18th century practice generally was to conduct from
the keyboard. This is one of a number of stylistic gaffes in the movie.
(from Amadeus: A Mozart Mosiac)
However, a third element overpowers all of these concerns as to the
worth of Amadeus. The presentation of Mozart’s music, brilliantly
performed by the Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields and conducted by
Neville Marriner, is breathtaking. Whatever other criticisms there are
to make of this film, it cannot be denied that it brought about a
resurgence of Mozart’s works into popular culture.
A personal favorite is the Serenade for Winds, K. 361, 3rd movement. As
Salieri describes, this piece is exemplary of Mozart’s true genius:
simplicity crafted into the complex. The interweaving melodies become
impossible to separate, and yet never cross the line to cacophony. I can
remember, as a young music student, hearing Salieri describe the beauty
of this piece — the clarity of the oboe, and the lovely tune of the
clarinet — and becoming just as entranced myself by its long,
mesmerizing journey to a final cadence.
Also impressive is the inclusion of the Requiem, K. 626, in its
entirety. The death-bed composition scene in Amadeus may be a bit
unbelievable, but the use of various movements to accompany Mozart’s
dying, Constanze’s return, and Salieri’s passion is clever.
The movie begins with the furious Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183,
and ends with the deceptively simple Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466,
2nd movement. So begins and ends Mozart’s life, in Peter Shaffer’s
Amadeus, and perhaps so begin and end we all: starting off in a fury of
noise and vigor, and in the end, slipping away quietly with time-taking