The Very Voice of God
Released in 1984 and based on the play by Peter Shaffer, Miloš Forman’s magnificent film Amadeus tells the fictional stories of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri where Salieri as an old man claims to have murdered Mozart.
During his confession to a priest in a mental asylum, Salieri recounts how he could not reconcile Mozart’s boorish behaviour with the genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him.
Salieri cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri renounces God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart as a way of retaliating against his Creator, whilst pretending to be Mozart’s ally to his face while doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have.
Therefore the central tenet of the film is how someone can compose music that is beyond the capability of mere mortals.
The film never asserted to be an accurate biographical portrayal of these 2 men. In fact both Forman and Shaffer claimed it was a “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri”.
I have to admit to having a great love for classical music, especially the music of both Mozart and Beethoven. This passion started when I was a teenager and probably grew from my late father who was a handy amateur pianist although I can’t play or read a note of music.
Therefore, I was thrilled when I first saw the film on release 38 years ago in that finally a serious movie was trying to explore the essence of musical creativity. It certainly captures the essence and wonder of Mozart’s genius and marvellously brings his music to the screen.
At the heart of the movie is F. Murray Abraham’s glorious performance as Salieri – it’s one of my top 3 favourite performances on film. He superbly captures the jealously and bitterness of his character whilst also showing his utter frustration in that it appears that only he can really hear and appreciate the genius of Mozart’s music.
His obsession with Mozart was pathological but at the same time he seemed to have a deep, but flawed, understanding of him although he was in utter bewilderment as to how he could compose such music.
He was fully deserving of his Oscar for Best Actor.
The film also presents a number of scenes from a number of Mozart’s operas which are beautifully staged in the Count Nostitz theatre in Prague where Don Giovanni debuted nearly two centuries before. The Commendatore scene from this opera is arguably the finest depiction of an opera scene in film history.
As Mozart lies dying in his bed, he is still trying to finish his final composition, the Requiem Mass where he has Salieri taking dictation. It’s a remarkable scene as it shows where Mozart’s composition is on a different plane to that of anyone else.
Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Film, Director, Screenaplay and, of course, Actor, it’s incredible that the film was made at all given its subject matter and the cost of producing it, but a financial success it was, as well as being an artistic and critical triumph.
The film is impeccably produced and boasts a glorious soundtrack where the music was supervised and conducted by Neville Marriner and played by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields; the film sits as one of my all-time favourites.