Amadeus is the title of a stage play written in 1979 by Peter Shaffer, loosely based on the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Amadeus was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin (later adapted into an opera of the same name by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov), and was itself later adapted into the film Amadeus.
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 Theophilos, 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 reaches its denouement with Mozart's inimitable Requiem. The film's score was performed by The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.
Amadeus the theatrical production tells Mozart's story from the point of view of the 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 Mozart.
Throughout much of the rest of the play, 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 occasion 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.
Only Baron van Swieten (who early in the story 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 Zauberflöte. Van Swieten 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 Die Zauberflöte, Emanuel Schikaneder, cheats Mozart out of most of his share of the ticket proceeds.
Now thoroughly destroyed and without recourse, Mozart simply wastes away and dies, still at work on his Requiem.
It is well known that Shaffer took dramatic license in his portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri. There is some debate, however, as to just how much. Documentary evidence suggests that there was indeed some antipathy between Mozart and Salieri, but the idea that Salieri was in fact the instigator of Mozart's demise is not given academic credence. In fact, while there may have been real rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, there is also evidence that they enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect. For a historical re-evaluation of this rivalry as represented in the play and the film, musicologist A. Peter Brown's article "Amadeus and Mozart: Setting the Record Straight" may be more useful.
Many classical music critics and experts feel that Shaffer's portrayal of Mozart as petulant and loutish is unfair. On the other hand, surviving letters by and about Mozart give examples of his brutal and sometimes profane sense of humor, his arrogance, his stubbornness, and penchant for juvenile indulgences. Also, extant records show Mozart was not a good money manager and suffered from large debts, as portrayed in Amadeus. Finally, Mozart's relationship with his father as portrayed in the film seems to be accurate, judging from the subtext of their letters to each other.
David Cairns called Amadeus "myth-mongering" and argued against Shaffer's portrait of "two contradictory beings, sublime artist and fool" in favour of a "fundamentally well-integrated" Mozart. He also refutes the "Romantic legend" that Mozart would always write out perfect manuscripts of works already completely composed in his head (or "noodle," to use Shaffer's word), citing major and prolonged revisions to several manuscripts.
A major disparity between the screenplay and real life is the fact that Mozart's mother-in-law, Caecilia Weber, is portrayed as Mozart's landlady, and her daughter Constanze as an innocent girl whom the composer casually met. In fact, Mozart was in love with one of Constanze's sisters, Aloysia, when he met Constanze for the first time, and only years later he would ask Constanze's hand in marriage. His relationship with the Webers seems to have been normal and friendly, especially with one of his sisters-in-law, Sophie, who was among his favourite singers and played one of the main roles in the debut of "The Magic Flute".
Recent studies suggest that Mozart died of some form of rheumatic fever (possibly aggravated by overwork and heavy drinking), and not from any poison. A similar fate befell Felix Mendelssohn who also demonstrated prodigal gifts for composing - and, like Mozart, did not survive to his 40th birthday.
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.
Mark Hamill was cast as Mozart in the 1983 Los Angeles production.
The play was revived in 2000, and received Tony Award nominations for best revival and best actor (David Suchet).
As part of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, in March 2006 BBC Radio broadcast an eight-part first-person adaptation (by Neville Teller) of Shaffer's play as read by F. Murray Abraham in the narrative role of Salieri.
The 1984 film version of Amadeus starred F.Murray Abraham as Salieri and Thomas Hulce as Mozart, with Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze. The play was thoroughly reworked for the film by Peter Shaffer in collaboration with the film's director Milos Forman, in order to made it more cinematic, and to add scenes not found in the play.
The movie won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
On July 20th, 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a production of the latest revision of the play at Hollywood Bowl. Neil Patrick Harris starred as Mozart, and Michael York as Salieri; Leonard Slatkin conducted the Philharmonic.
Cast to the Play
Differences between the Play and movie