Most people do not know this about me, but when I was in high school I listened almost exclusively to classical music. I was a pretty weird kid. I liked to not fit in with any one group, and consequently fit in with none of them. That is not to say that I was without friends, and a few of them remain my best ones to this day. Still, take your pick of a well-known high school clique. I was always into sports, and I am pretty athletic, but never played on any teams in high school or hung around with the so-called “jocks.” Many have considered me to be brainy, and I actually received a varsity letter for taking part in the academic quiz bowl team, but I was never close with most of my teammates (aside from my friends already mentioned). I knew of popular people, and they knew of me, but that was the extent of our interactions. The reason for this last odd situation is because in all three years of my high school career (I graduated a year early) I was on the yearbook staff. Much of my time, particularly in my freshman year, was spent off to the side of the room listening to Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart while trying to think of new ways to describe mathematics for our annual publication. Without nurturing my love for classical music then and there, I would not have bothered watching Amadeus (1984), and that would be tragic.
Amadeus does not begin with our title character, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). Instead, we see a priest, Father Vogler (Richard Frank) visiting an insane asylum in Vienna, Austria. It is 1823, and with the sounds of Mozart’s music ringing from many quarters, he is at the institution to see a different composer, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). Salieri has attempted to kill himself, shouting for forgiveness in saying that he is responsible for killing Mozart. Father Vogler arrives to hear his Confession, believing there is a different explanation for such an absurd claim. When he enters Salieri’s cell and sits down, the old composer is near a piano and asks the priest if he recognizes any of the music he plays. When Father Vogler says that he has not, Salieri claims shock, saying they were quite popular in his own day. They were his pieces, of course. Salieri then plays a few bars from “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and Father Vogler’s face lights up in recognition, and he even begins to hum along. This is Mozart’s music, and with a sigh Salieri begins to weave a tale of how he became a composer and met Mozart. Steadily working his way up, Salieri soon became a favorite of Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) of the Holy Roman Empire, whose then capital was in Vienna, Austria. He also begins to hear of another talented composer gaining popularity, Mozart. Wanting to see him in person, Salieri attends a Mozart performance for the young man’s benefactor at the time, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg (Nicholas Kepros). Behind the scenes, Salieri also witnesses a vulgar and immature Mozart that the more staid older man finds unsuitable. This is before Mozart performs, and when Salieri witnesses the beauty and majesty of the music, he feels that it is an unfair trick played by God. Things get worse for Salieri when Mozart is invited to the emperor’s court to perform, and impresses the impressionable monarch. Salieri vows to destroy Mozart. Yet, the more Mozart produces gorgeous music, mainly operas, the more accolades he receives, particularly from the Holy Roman ruler. Mozart does have one weakness: he parties to an excess, while at the same time continuing to maintain a brutal working schedule in order to meet the demands of those wanting compositions from him. Salieri believes he has what he needs to get rid of his rival when he discovers that Mozart is working on an operatic adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, a story banned by Emperor Joseph II for being subversive. It backfires, though, when the emperor sees the rehearsals with some of the altercations made by Salieri’s cohorts, and allows the opera to go on as intended. Salieri believes he may truly be lost until he sees the toll that the work is taking on Mozart. Salieri also witnesses Mozart’s Don Givanni production, in which Mozart seems to be imbuing the character of the dead commander with his own deceased father, a sore spot for the composer given their strained relationship. Salieri then dresses like the figure from the opera and commissions Mozart to write music for a requiem Mass, pushing hard for it to be finished. Despite complaints from his wife Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge) for the time spent away from his family, Mozart sees a source of income that can cover debts accrued from their excessive lifestyle. Salieri also steps in to help with the composition, feigning friendship, but actually driving the frail Mozart into his grave. This is when Salieri concludes his tale for Father Vogler, and basically when the movie ends.
As Salieri is wheeled away through the other patients at the asylum at the end of Amadeus, he is mockingly absolving the others for their deficiencies, referring to himself as the patron of mediocrity. This is but one of many religious themes in the film. It begins with Salieri making a promise to God as a boy that he would live a chaste life if God would make him a composer, which he took as being fulfilled with the death of his objecting father. There have been many instances throughout the history of Salvation of people making similar bargains with God. When their fulfillment is acknowledged, the effect on the person is an added miracle. When it appears that the prayer has gone unheard, the opposite usually happens. Of course, every prayer is heard and answered. What God wants for us and what we want do not always align, and Salieri’s life is evidence of the negative effects of not accepting one overriding truth: God is in control, not us. Mozart may seem undeserving of the incredible gift from God that the film does grant as being divinely ordained, at least to Salieri. Where he errs is in believing that this is unfair, or that it is done to personally mock him. This flies in the face of the reality of God’s love. Then again, if Salieri had been more accepting of his own talents rather than being jealous of another’s as the devout Catholic he claimed to be, then there would not be a movie.
Amadeus is a bit on the long side, and this is a shorter review. I could talk about the historical inaccuracies (Salieri had a large family, and there was no feud with Mozart), but faithfulness to actual events is not the point of the film. The lesson about accepting who you are is more important, and why this movie is worth seeing. God created us all with a purpose in mind, and when we stray from that path, problems happen. There are a few inappropriate scenes, though these are mitigated if you see the original PG theatrical release. Anyway, if you are a fan of classical music like me, or of good movies in general, it is worth seeing.