AMADEUS -- The Music

The Musical Process

"My main concern in Amadeus is that the music should be presented faultlessly, not just technically, but as a perfect complement to what is on the screen. You can't cut the music to fit the film. One of the good things about Amadeus was that the film was shot around the music -- not the other way around as is usually the case."

Neville Marriner, Music Director


Playwright Peter Shaffer, who adapted the screenplay for Amadeus from his long-running London and Broadway stage hit, calls it "a fantasia based on fact. It is not a screen biography of Mozart, and was never intended to be."

Shaffer draws an accurate though rarely-seen picture of the gifted but childish composer based on exhaustive research into his life and music, including three fat volumes of letter written to, about, and by Mozart. (It is remarkable that in addition to composing over 600 works, Mozart found time to maintain a lengthy and continual correspondence with family and friends).

It is not Mozart that Shaffer has cast center stage, but his music and its impact on his jealousy-crazed rival, Court Composer Antonio Salieri. Did Salieri actually murder Mozart? Beethoven in his "conversation books" made no less than three allusions to this widespread rumor that formed the basis of Alexander Pushkin's play of 1830, Mozart and Salieri. And Mozart believed himself to have been poisoned.

In the tradition of Shaw's St. Joan, which is not a stage biography of Jeanne d'Arc, but a "drama of ideas" based on her life, Amadeus probes universal themes that transcend both Mozart and Salieri. Foremost among these themes is the confrontation of mediocrity with genius, that nagging frustration common to all eras and pursuits: business, science, sports, politics, and the fine arts. Another theme is man's relation to God; how, as John Milton wondered, can God's often perverse and unjust ways be justified to man? Another theme of Amadeus that strikes a universal chord is the sad spectacle of a towering genius poorly rewarded by society. No more shocking or dramatic example in all of history can be found than Mozart.

Had Mozart never lived, composers like the almost-forgotten Salieri (1750-1825) might enjoy vastly greater repute today. Salieri was hardly the "mediocrity" he decries himself to be in Amadeus, but a competent composer who met all the requirements his patrons expected of him, according to the prevailing standards of the late Eighteenth Century. The problem confronting all the Salieris was that Mozart went far beyond those standards, so much so that he terrified Salieri and his contemporaries. They couldn't understand how such absolute and indisputable genius could reside in the mind and body of one so young, so arrogantly sure of himself and so abrasively infantile.

History abounds with child prodigies in all fields, though few -- like Yehudi Menuhin -- seem to flower into adult genius, and none surpass Mozart, whose gifts from the age of three until his death a few months short of his 36th birthday lie beyond understanding, as though he had been a mutant, or a too-brief visitor from another planet. His father Leopold, a respected composer and superb violinist in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, early saw signs of genius in his infant son who could perform brilliantly on the harpsichord and violin by the age of five. Abandoning his own promising career, Leopold centered his life around the infant Wolfgang, exhibiting him on tour with his older sister Maria (Nannerl) at the courts of Europe where the child prodigy dazzled royal audiences with such stunts as playing difficult keyboard pieces while blindfolded. His career as composer, as the Encyclopedia Britannica so forcefully puts it, "began in all sober seriousness at the age of five." At eight he was writing music that Neville Marriner calls "as good as Haydn at the age of 40, and Haydn was the other great composer of this time."

Mozart's fertility and inventiveness seemed to multiply with age. There was no period in his life when he did not compose all forms of music at once. His 626 compositions include 23 operas, 20 masses, 49 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, 45 sonatas for piano and violin, 29 string quartets, 17 piano sonatas, 66 arias, 29 sets of orchestral dances, many pieces of diverse winds, and two fantasias for the barrel of a musical clock. Even in childhood he began to master the difficult composing style of his day, "sonata form" as perfected by his boundless admirer, Josef Haydn, 25 years his senior. Far from an idol, random stringing together of tunes, sonata form was grounded on an elaborate and precise model of musical architecture, requiring contrasts between themes, tempi, major and minor, all infinitely varied through many changed of key. Mastery of sonata form demanded the most rigorous training and discipline, to which Mozart added an inspiration that even his enemies like Salieri could only describe as "divine." Even more astonishing, Mozart composed this variety of music fully formed in his head before he set it to paper, unlike Beethoven who endlessly revised his manuscripts in the slow agony of creation.

Today, Mozart's works -- the operas, symphonies, piano concerti, string quartets -- have taken their place in the permanent concert repetoire the world over. Interest in his music is keener than at any time in history. Yet, of his over 600 works, not more than 70 were published during his lifetime, which ended in poverty and pointed neglect by the public, and, far more crucial to his success, by his potential patrons among the Church and the aristocracy.

Before the Industrial Revolution in England and the French Revolution of 1789 thrust the middle class into the forefront of history, composers such as Mozart and Salieri, like most artisans, had depended for their livelihood almost solely upon patronage dispensed by the Church and the aristocracy. Composers and musicians were looked on as craftsmen hired to do jobs, and as such were often required to wear uniformed livery of a servant, as the great Haydn did when in the "employ" of an Austrian count. When Mozart was in residence as composer-musician for the haughty Archbishop of Salzburg, he dined with the servants. His unenviable position was aptly described by Sir Peter Hall:

Mozart was not a revolutionary artist, but a social revolutionary in a feudal world. In many respects, he was the first "star." Artists at that time were servants, but Mozart wanted to be a "star," to be recognized for his uniqueness. In that, he was a revolutionary. He did not want to be just the servant of a nobleman.

Like Michaelangelo whom Pope Clement VII commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Mozart was hired to create on order. The Archbishop might command: "My niece is marrying the Archduke Frederich this Fall; you will compose a one-act opera, a wedding procession, and a set of six orchestral dances for the occassion." The Emperor might order Mozart to instruct his daughters in singing or the piano. The problem with some of Mozart's patrons was that they had unwittingly hired a genius when all they wanted was an agreeable craftsman like Salieri to follow orders without the fuss and complications for which Mozart became notorious. As Amadeus shows, he often ran afoul of whimsical taboos imposed by both the Church and court, who paid the piper and therefore called the tunes. The Emperor banned the play Mozart set to music, "The Marriage of Figaro," because "it stirs up feelings between the classes." When "Figaro" is finally in rehearsal, Amadeus shows how Mozart unknowingly violates the Emperor's edict against mixing ballet with opera. When the Emperor chides Mozart for putting "too many notes" in "The Abudction" ("just cut a few and it will be perfect"), the tactless composer is goaded to make the tart reply: "Which few notes did you have in mind, Majesty?" Such lack of diplomacy, plus his arrogance in the face of official restrictions of the practice of his art, did nothing to improve Mozart's sorry condition at court.

Salieri was far from alone in plotting against Mozart, who showed an uncanny knack for arousing spite among those less gifted. Court intrigue was one of aristocracy's two favorite indoor sports, and the hapless Mozart seemed tailor-made to be its perennial victim. When he paid his second visit to Vienna in 1767 at age 11, and composed at the Emperor's suggestion the opera buffa "La Finta Semplice," it was surpressed by a vicious cabal, even though it was highly praised by the company for which it was written. Again, in Milan three years later, his work on another opera, "Mitridate Re di Ponto," was constantly hamstrung by intrigues, aggravated by the jealousy of native musicians who refused to accept an Italian opera written by a German, or to abide the spectacle of a 14-year-old boy conducting with distinction the Orchestra of La Scala, the largest in Europe.

Mozart was often his own worst enemy. He passed up an invaluable chance as post organist at the French court at Versailles because he did not like French music. Though renowned throughout Europe and England as a composer at the age of 12, Mozart never cultivated the technique of infighting and subterfuge of the wily Salieri. His first biographer Niemetschek (1798) wrote that while in the service of Joseph II, Mozart's enemies, "particularly just before and after his death, became so wicked, and so loud in their slanders, that many an evil story about Mozart arose actually to the ears of the Monarch himself. These rumors and lies were so shameless and so shocking that the Monarch, who never heard the other side of the story, was enranged." As one of Mozart's friends, Melchior Grimm, wrote to his father: "To get ahead, I could wish Wolfgang had only half as much talent, and twice the ability to handle people."

Lacking patrons and paying pupils, and seeing his magnificent operas "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Don Giovanni" sabotaged at the box office, Mozart died destitute and unmourned in 1791.

Soon after his death, society began to lavish upon Mozart the adoration it had withheld during his lifetime. But the portrait of Mozart handed down to us, tinged by Nineteenth Century romanticism, was that of a porcelain aesthete with heaven-cast eyes playing on a porcelain piano. True to the romantic tradition, music lovers and critics could not reconcile such rapturous music with the arrogant and childish vulgarian who had created it. Aided by Mozart's widow, critics and biographers censored passages in his letters and events in his life that may have proved embarrassing. Peter Shaffer's Amadeus restores the actual Mozart as described by a host of his contemporaries, like the writer Karoline Pichler who witnessed him improvising on an aria from "Figaro" 'so beautifully that everyone held his breath...but all at once he jumped up, and as he often did in his foolish moods, began to leap over table and chairs, miaowing like a cat, and turning somersaults like an unruly boy.'

What survives, and what is central to Amadeus, is not Mozart's pranks or Salieri's conniving, but Mozart's music that dominates the film in a way not possible in the stage version. Unfettered by the three walls of a stage, director Milos Forman expanded Amadeus in space and time to accurately recreate the Vienna and, most of all, the Prague of Mozart's day, filming the performance of "The Abduction," "Figaro," and "Don Giovanni" in Prague's famed Tyl Theater, where Mozart himself had conducted the premiere of "Don Giovanni." The makers of Amadeus were free to avail themselves of the enormous wealth and variety of Mozart's work, choosing whatever they found appropriate to accompany the storyline.


* This information comes from the originally released, 1984 recording.

1. "Symphony No. 25 in G minor," K. 183; 1st Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Composed in 1773, this first of Mozart's symphonies in a minor key shows the 17-year-old prodigy a fully-formed of "sonata form," the elaborate and complex style of musical architecture pioneered by his senior, Josef Haydn. Its dramatic sweep and seething passion make it a clear forerunner of the storm-tossed Romantic style unleashed by Beethoven 25 years later.

2. "Stabat Mater; Quando Corpus Morietur & Amen"
Composed by Giovanni Pergolesi
Choristers of Westminister Abbey; Simon Preston, director.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36), like Mozart, enjoyed limited success during his brief lifetime, and like Mozart, his fame began to spread shortly after his death at 26, probably from tuberculosis. His "Stabat Mater" for two solo voices and strings was the most famous piece by this gifted composer, whose work intrigued modern composers like Stravinsky who based his "Pulcinella Suite" on themse of Pergolesi.

3. "Bubak and Hungaricus"
Early 18th-century gypsy music
Arranged by Jaroslav Krcek (played on instruments of the period).

These folk dances performed at the palace as a curtain raiser to Mozart's music show how classical composers constantly drew from the folk music that was all around them. (For example, the final movement of Haydn's 104th Symphony was a series of variations on a well-known English street song, "Hot Cross Buns.") The linkage also shows the bond between classical composition and dance music that persisted until the advent of "atonal" music in the early Twentieth Century, prompting Ezra Pound to remark that "music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance." In the feudal courts of Europe, the usual instruments of strings, cornets, and harpsichords were often joined by folk instruments, like a bagpipe made from a sheep's bladder. The ensemble heard here includes an ancient recorder-like flute, and a curious single-string double bass with a penetrating drone, the tromba marina, so named because it was used as a foghorn on ships.

4. "Serenade for Winds," K. 361; 3rd Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Written with the superb woodwind virtuosi of Munich in mind, this most famous of Mozart's compositions for winds calls for a complement of oboes, clarinets, basset horns (an obsolete cousin of the clarinet), French horns, bassoons, and double bass. Of this lovely slow passage, Salieri remarks: "On the page, just a pulse, like a rusty squeeze box, and then suddenly, high above it, an oboe -- a single not hanging there unwavering, until a clarinet took it over, sweetening into a phrase of such delight, filled with such unfulfillable longing. It seemed that I was hearing the voice of God."

5. "The Abduction from the Seraglio," Turkish Finale
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Ambrosian Opera Chorus; John McCarthy, director.

Having convinced the Emperor of the need for an opera in German, rather than the customary Italian, Mozart created this dazzling comic opera. With "The Abduction" can be seen not only the beginning of German national opera but also a new symphonic treatment of opera, what Wallace Brockway in The World of Opera calls "the first full-length opera in German by an undisputed master." Knowing "The Abduction" to be a ground-breaking opera whose success in Vienna was imperative, Mozart spent what was, for him, an unusually long time completing it. In the tradition of the German singspiel ("sing-speak"), the dramatic action is almost entirely spoken; only strong emotions prompt the principals to burst into song. Premiered in 1782, it was given 34 performances in Vienna during its first six years, received its first Italian performance as late as 1935, and did not debut in New York until 1946.

6. "Symphony No. 29 in A," K. 201; 1st Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Composed in 1774, this irresistible movement, abounding in themes of easy grace and unstudied elegance, shows the 18-year-old Mozart is already a consummate master of the "classical" style.

7. "Concerto for Two Pianos," K. 201; 3rd Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Imogen Cooper and Anne Queffelec, pianos.

Mozart's only concerto for two pianos was written to be performed by himself and his older sister Nannerl. Since both were superb pianists who formed a two-piano team since childhood, Mozart could fully exploit the virtuoso aspects of the keyboards which appear to merge as one enormous piano, coursing with bravura splendor through major and minor changed of key, while the orchestra keeps a discreet distance.

8. "Mass in C minor," K. 427, Kyrie
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Academy Chorus; Laszlo Heltay, director. Felicity Lott, sorprano.

From its first bars, overwhelming and dramatic, the "Kyrie" ("God have mercy on us") unfolds a dark and profound side of Mozart at variance with his cliche image as a master of light-hearted elegance. Departing from the accustomed "classical" style of his day, Mozart plays homage to the then out-moded contrapuntal (fugal) style of J.S. Bach, using a strongly rhythmic motif as an elaborate "round" interwoven between the orchestra and the choir. In this midst of this chilling dread, the clouds suddenly part for a sorprano trilling lark-like with song. Mystery hovers over this incomplete Mass; it was written in 1782, the year after Mozart had left the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg and thus was under no obligation to write church music. No one knows why he put aside this magnificent work, which was finished after his death by admirers eager to rescue it from oblivion.

9. "Symphonie Concertante," K. 364; 1st Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Levon Chilingirian, violin; Csaba Erdelyi, viola.

Much favored by Eighteenth Century composers, the symphonie concertante was conceived as a symphony with solo parts, derived from the earlier concerto grosso form, such as Bach's "Brandenburg Concerti" that contrasted a small corps of solo instruments (soli) with the orchestra (tutti). Contemporary audiences might view this piece as a double concerto for violin and viola whose trimbres Mozart was fond of contrasting with each other as well as with the orchestra scaled down to strings, horns, and oboes so as not to overpower the two solo strings. One of the most popular concert works, the "Symphonie Concertante's" opening movement showers us with melody with its profusion of varied themes, an unusual richness even for Mozart.

10. "Piano Concerto in E flat," K. 482; 3rd Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Ivan Moravec, piano.

Critical consensus has it that the piano concerto brought out the finest in Mozart, and that this may have been his preferred form of composition. He produced no less than a dozen piano concerti during his peak years of 1784-86, some in response to a public subscription series, but many in response to his own desire. Famous as a keyboard virtuoso, Mozart found the piano the ideal instrument to compete on an equal footing with the orchestra, and not to be overwhelmed like the violin or flute. For this reason the body of the orchestra in this version was kept small as in Mozart's day, and not swelled to Nineteenth Century proportions.

11. "The Marriage of Figaro," Act III: Ecco la Marcia
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

See below.

12. "The Marriage of Figaro," Act IV: Ah Tutti Contenti
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Perhaps the most popular comic opera of all time, "Figaro" marked a high point in Mozart's usually ill-fated career. Written in six weeks, it was banned by the Emperor until all political allusions had been eliminated. (The Emperor rightly feared that "Figaro" made fools of the aristocracy). Endless plotting by the Salieri cabal made certain that this masterpiece played only nine performances in Vienna, but it opened in Prague to the wildest acclaim, with people whistling the arias in the street.

Following the "Ecco la Marcia" in Act III signaling the approach of Figaro's wedding procession, this bedroom comedy of disguise and mistaken identity becomes happily resolved in the final act with "Ah tutti contenti" ("All's well"). The Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who sang leading roles in the premiere, described "Figaro's" rehearsals: "All the original performers had the advantage of the instruction of the composer, who transfused into their minds his inspired meaning. I shall never forget his little animated countenance, when lighted up with the glow-rays of genius. It is as impossible to describe as it would be to pain sunbeams."

13. "Don Giovanni," Act II: Commendatore scene
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

This ambitious tragicomic opera, now universally recognized as a monument of operatic literature, was based on the time-honored legend of Don Juan, the compulizive womanizing nobleman, adopted by Mozart's librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. In the Commendatore scene, Don Giovanni is confronted by the terrifying spectacle of a statue-come-to-life, a stone replica of the Commendatore whom the Don had killed in a duel over the seduction of the statue's daughter Donna Anna. After a dramatic dialogue that also involves the Don's long-suffering servant Leporello, the Commendatore sends the Don to the flames of Hell. Critics often speculate on how much this scene owes to Hamlet and his father's ghost. We do know that Mozart saw Hamlet performed by his colleague Schikaneder. A recent Mozart biographer, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, was moved to claim that "in his operas, Mozart created characters equal to Shakespeare in their dramatic presence, unique in nature and individual detail."

14. "Zaide; aria, Ruhe Sanft"
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Felicity Lott, sorprano.

A polar contrast to the Commendatore scene is this exalted song, "Ruhe Sanft" ("rest quietly"), from the most obscure of Mozart's operas, the unfinished "Zaide" that was neither published nor titled until 1838, and not staged until 1866. "Ruhe Sanft" stems from 1779, a most desperate and unhappy time for Mozart, rejected in marriage by his beloved Aloysia Weber, and reduced once more to serving the detested and stingy Archbishop of Salzburg. The ethereal loveliness of this rarely-heard aria gives the lie to the tired cliche of Hollywood musical biographies: that unhappy, love-thwarted composers invariably express their frustration through gloomy and tragic music.

"Requiem," K. 626
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

15). "Introitus" (Eternal rest give to them, O Lord)
16). "Dies Irae" (Day of wrath)
17). "Rex Tremendae Majestatis" (Awe-inspiring King)
18). "Confutatis" (When those cursed enter flames)
19). "Lacrymosa" (Mournful day)

Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Academy Chorus; Laszlo Heltay, director.

The "Requiem Mass," Mozart's final unfinished work, in all of its aspects looms as a clear portent of the Romantic movement soon to sweep all of Europe in the wake of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era. As Amadeus shows, the destitute and sickly composer is visited by a mysterious stranger who commissions him to write a mass for the dead for a third party. Hoping to make this his greatest work, he feverishly plunges into the "Requiem," but dies before it can be finished. (It was to be finished by his pupil Sussmayr). We now know that the "mysterious stranger" was an agent for Count Walsegg, who hoped to pass off the "Requiem" as his own work. This magnificent mass into which Mozart poured his final energies, with its mixture of awesome dread and lyric rapture, evokes death as a welcome release from torment, more than as a final judgment to be feared.

20. "Piano Concerto in D minor," K. 466; 2nd Movement
Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Imogen Cooper, piano.

Mozart biographer Albert Einstein calls this the best known of his piano concerti, "and one might say the only one known in the Nineteenth Century," because unlike many other Mozart concerti, it flaunted emotions the Romantic Era could understand -- "passion, pathos, drama." This concerto marks Mozart as a forerunner to Beethoven, who wrote cadenzas for the first and third movements.

It is fitting that the breathless tranquility of the slow "Romanza" brings Amadeus to a close, to confront the aged Salieri once again with the depths of mediocrity in the face of such sublime and unforgettable sounds that will "live through eternity," and making us grateful that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, however briefly, passed our way.

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