WolfmanOz at the Movies #17

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.

Enjoy.

15 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #17”

  1. Can’t stand Mozart, though the movie was good. Mozart is too flowery for me, like Laura Ashley furnishings. Think I heard him too often as a child with my mother playing him on the piano. Playing Chopin and Liszt had the opposite effect.


    Report comment

  2. Wolfman, like you, my father was a big fan of Mozart and an amateur piano player. He used to listen to classical music all the time – another of his favourites was Beethoven and I remember a lot of the music he’d listen to was conducted by Neville Marriner with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – and on the ALPBC at that. Unfortunately, his love of this music did not have a similar effect on his progeny – to this day, I still loathe classical music with a passion.

    Haven’t seen the film, either, but it may be interesting to check out if there’s been a remastered version released. Thanks for piquing my interest.


    Report comment

    4
  3. Lavish production, particularly the stagings by Marriner, but the film was a disappointment compared to the excellent radio play version (which I had heard before seeing the film) by Shaffer. If the film had limited itself to following the play rather than trying to sensationalise so ardently, it would have been a much more worthy thing.
    The most comprehensive book about Mozart’s life that I have read is Sacred and Profane by David Weiss. It had none of the scatological rubbish depicted in the film just before the famous movement from K.361 Serenade for Winds (the one that amazed Salieri).
    Weiss hinted at the possibility of Mozart being poisened, and expanded on that theme in a later book The Assassination of Mozart. I would guess that Shaffer got some inspiration from Weiss.
    My best classical music film? Eroica, a depiction of the first performance of Beethoven’s (then) revolutionary 3rd Symphony, with Haydn in the audience – he gives a verdict at the conclusion.


    Report comment

    1
  4. Anchor What says:
    April 21, 2022 at 9:27 am
    My best classical music film? Eroica, a depiction of the first performance of Beethoven’s (then) revolutionary 3rd Symphony, with Haydn in the audience – he gives a verdict at the conclusion.

    Excellent TV movie with Ian Hart an outstanding Beethoven.
    The Eroica symphony is my favourite piece of music – the 1st movement just transports me to another dimension.


    Report comment

    1
  5. Although totally unschooled in music, I am captured by Mozart and Bach for the sublime heights they reach with a satisfying mathematical purity as the notes scale in flurries of precision. (Try Bach Partitas on Harpsichord played by Wanda Landowska for another dance to the music of time). These composers are prior to romanticism, achieving something more celestial, music of the spheres, heart-bursting in a different way to, say, Beethoven. Mozart turned ridiculous silly stories into the heights of human expression – a love of mine years ago gave me Cosi Fan Tutti and I have been a Mozart fan ever since. My husband wants the Mozart Requiem to be his at his funeral (he is a classicist through and through, violin player and a ex-chorister). I was not brought up within any sort of musical household although my father occasionally displayed a musical wild card which I also found for myself in my obsession with syruppy ballet. Amadeus the Movie certainly does it for me. I just loved it. We attended a Mozart concert at the Orangerie Charlottenburg in Berlin a few years ago, in a large salon where Mozart once played. Awe-inspiring.


    Report comment

    2
  6. Yes, an engrossing film and a remarkable performance by F. Murray Abraham.

    It’s a pity we haven’t seen more of his talent in films since, but I believe he has concentrated on the theatre.


    Report comment

  7. Can’t stand Mozart, though the movie was good. Mozart is too flowery for me

    Too many notes?

    Very enjoyable movie.

    If there could only be one composer ever, it would have to be JS Bach.


    Report comment

    2
  8. John Eliot Gardiner said of Bach, that he should be regarded as way up in the sky, while all the others we call great are not just earthbound, but lower than that, in a deep hole.
    I thought that was a bit OTT.


    Report comment

  9. Wolfman – thank you for the critique – now I understand the movie – it’s a story as I could not understand someone getting away with that.
    My mum being a patriotic crout played the greatest composers in the history of the world – all Crauts.
    Abraham is brilliant. Tom Hulce from Animal House – hysterical – you could write about the casting – reminds me of the Producers auditioning for the Adolph.
    The explanation of the music by Abrahams – its a music lesson set to period costume and drama – oh the drama, the conflict of the ethereal and pretentious Salereri against the earthly and emotional Wolfgang.
    When are you critiquing Chariots of Fire.
    Oh for Classical Europe – oh my pain


    Report comment

  10. I loved the scene when Mozart patriotism bursts through “ what would Italians know about love, fat baling men rolling around “.
    One line you use for soccer World Cup when the Azzuri loose to Solomon Islands in the group stage.


    Report comment

    1
  11. Salereri “ leopold was controlling his son through his grave” – in modern day parlance this is known as a testament or trust.
    Personally I enjoy the emotional blackmail of the female mind which burdens you with guilt.


    Report comment

  12. Thanks, WolfmanOz. An excellent critique of a favourite movie.

    It’s years since I last saw it, but I can still hear the wonderment in Salieri’s voice as he describes Mozart’s Serenade for Winds: “A single note…” (IIRC) leading into utter enchantment.

    I get goosebumps just thinking about it.


    Report comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.