Amadeus is truly a tribute to Mozart’s music. His melodies are accompanied by a great, if slightly historically inaccurate, story and excellent acting. However, the triumph of the film is that for a time in 1984, everyone was listening to Mozart. The film won eight Oscars, including one for Best Picture. It brought classical music into people’s homes with a story that is both touching, humorous, and real.
The film begins with Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) yelling about killing Mozart and cutting his own throat. Salieri ends up in a mental institution, and a priest is sent to him to hear his story and make him right with God. A majority of the film is a flash back to Salieri’s life as the court composer for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffery Jones) in Vienna, Austria. Salieri vowed to God to be devoted and abstinent if He would make him a great composer. Salieri works tediously to make good music. Then, Wolfgang Mozart (Tom Hulce) enters. Unlike Salieri, composing comes as naturally as breathing. He barely has to try to create the most beautiful compositions. On top of it all, Mozart is vulgar, nonchalant and promiscuous as well as a heavy drinker with a high-pitched giggle. Salieri sees this and believes that God has blessed this horrid little man over him. Amadeus revolves around Salieri’s insane jealous and desire to destroy Mozart.
The atmosphere of Amaedus is perfectly done. The elaborate buildings and sets and the beautiful costumes take us back to the late 18th century. It comes together perfectly without going over-the-top, which brings us into Mozart’s world. The music is, of course, the most important contributor to this feeling. The 18th century was a time when music and art was highly regarded, and great artists were revered. I imagine that Mozart’s life was completely accompanied by music both in his head and in the real world. The movie showcases Mozart’s work from the first scene, where his Symphony No. 25 in G minor plays, to the last scene, where his Piano Concerto in D minor is heard. The Amadeus soundtrack ended up making it to number 56 on Billboard’s album charts, which solidifies it as one of the most popular classical music albums of all time.
Of course, if Amadeus was just a collection of music, it would be an album (or maybe an opera) instead of a movie. The music is given life through the relationship between Salieri and Mozart. The two men are very much foils to each other, and they serve to showcase some other aspects of both life in the 18th century and life today. Abraham and Hulce do a great job in working together and bringing two great composers to life and making them relatable to people in modern society.
Many would say that the characterization is completely inaccurate and vulgarly exaggerated. I think it serves to illustrate how true geniuses rarely have to try. Greatness comes naturally to the greatest among us. We see this with Mozart and Salieri, but also in areas such as sports, literature, film, and even politics. There are those for which their talents flow from them naturally, and there are those who need to work extremely hard to achieve even a smidgen of the same greatness.
I appreciated that the good and the bad are shown from both Mozart and Salieri. Mozart is in many ways the victim, but he is also depicted in a negative light. It would be easy to classify Mozart as an conceited, childish glutton who thinks he is better than everyone else. However, we see him struggle with his genius. It comes naturally to him, but his music is not always received well. Emperor Joseph II and other royals and members of court do not fully appreciate Mozart’s work. We see this when he walks out of the room after being chastised by the archbishop for using “too many notes,” but meets applause from everyone else. He is misunderstood in many ways. We see his struggle to please his father and the emperor. During the 18th century in Vienna, there was a real-life rivalry between Italian and German composers, which we see a little bit in the film. Mozart is commissioned to write an opera in German, with much opposition from the Italian musicians surrounding the Emperor. Then, the Italian director tears up the dance scene in the Marriage of Figaro. The Germans make it impossible for Mozart to make money and support his wife and child.
Hulce does an amazing job in portraying Mozart as both gifted and cursed. The famous composer is larger-than-life, and that is often how Hulce characterizes him. From his elaborate wigs to his excessive drinking to his obnoxious laugh, Hulce plays Mozart as a caricature of the real thing. At the same time, Hulce knows when to bring him down to earth, especially when Mozart’s father dies. From that moment on, we see him struggle internally and externally to find excitement and direction. Mozart suddenly becomes more relatable as we all feel his loss.
On the other hand, we have Salieri, who we could easily set as the villain. He conspires to ruin Mozart and is the mastermind behind the Italians rejection of him at court. At the same time, we feel for Salieri. We all know what it is like to want to be successful and work so hard to reach our goals, only to have them dashed by someone better than us. He loves Mozart’s music despite being envious of his talent. His defining moment is one of the final scenes on Mozart’s deathbed. Salieri helps Mozart compose his final piece as his health deteriorates. He does it in the hopes of stealing it and claiming it as his own, but I think it becomes more about his love for music. It hurts him to see Mozart so successful, but he also believes that the world should hear his final, glorious composition.
Abraham makes each of us feel what Salieri is feeling. We see him internalize his joy, jealousy, and hatred. He draws us in with him and we get wrapped up in imagining his thoughts. Where Mozart is flamboyant and almost obnoxious, Salieri is subtle and realistic. Together, the two actors give us two amazing characters that work together beautifully.