Theatre / Amadeus
Ladies and gentleman, one of the greatest composers of all time

Amadeus is a 1979 stage play written by Peter Shaffer, adapted into a film in 1984 by Shaffer and director Miloš Forman. It is based off of an 1897 one-act opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korshakov, Mozart and Salieri, which is in turn based on an 1830 drama of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. This article deals mainly with the film.

Taking some liberties with historical accounts, the story is told from the point of view of Antonio Salieri, the court composer for Emperor Joseph II. A devout and serious man, Salieri's faith is shaken when he meets Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Though Mozart proves to be a tremendous boor and an immature Man Child, his godlike musical talents win the affections of the court and the audiences while simultaneously moving and infuriating Salieri with their genius. That the boorish Mozart could create such magnificent, groundbreaking compositions with seemingly little effort, while Salieri had to struggle to get to where he was, drives him to undermine Mozart any way he can. Sometimes, he even succeeds.

The story and its relationship to actual history is often misunderstood. The story is about the supposed secret history of Salieri and Mozart, and works on the idea that recorded history is different because it has been duped. In Real Life Salieri and Mozart were good friends and Salieri was a respected composer, but in this movie Salieri and Mozart are also good friends and Salieri is still a respected composer... as far as everybody else knows, Mozart included. The premise is that the only one who knows the real truth is Salieri, who is far too wallowed up in self-pity to appreciate his lot in life (which is, on the whole, pretty good) but is also enough of a Villain with Good Publicity that by the end he, and only he, really knows the extent of his bastardy (bar the priest he confesses to).

Ironically, the greatest legacy of Amadeus was a considerable revival of interest in the life and work of Antonio Salieri.

These works contain examples of:

  • Actually, That's My Assistant: When Mozart first meets the Emperor and the rest of the court, he bursts in enthusiastically and bows ... to Baron von Swieten. Von Swieten has to point to the actual Emperor playing Salieri's 'Welcome March' at the piano, much to Mozart's confusion.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Salieri didn't really kill Mozart, but the fact that Mozart was, toward the end of his life, doing two jobs (and overwork was apparently a contributory cause of his death) didn't really help matters, and since one of the jobs was assigned by a disguised Salieri...
  • Annoying Laugh: Mozart. Some have claimed that was actually how Mozart sounded when he laughed, with some contemporary accounts comparing it to "the braying of a jackass" mixed with breaking windows.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Salieri, despite having relished the moment for a long time, seems utterly crushed when Mozart dies. In the opening, where he tries to commit suicide, he's even crying out "Forgive me, Mozart!"
  • Appeal to Obscurity: To make his point to the priest, Salieri plays to him two of his compositions, of which he hasn't heard, in contrast to one of Mozart's themes, that he immediately recognizes.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Although the movie takes great Artistic License with Mozart and Salieri's relationship, it is surprisingly accurate on a number of levels. First, meticulous care was put into accurately portraying the period. Second, Mozart was just as annoying in real life: Joseph Haydn once saw him make a hundred enemies at a single party.
    • One of the film's greatest inaccuracies is Mozart's composition method, stating that he composed entirely in his head and then wrote the music down in a single draft. Although this is untrue (Mozart's sheet music went through numerous revisions, like any other composer), it is more a case of Artistic License – History, as the single-draft method was perpetrated by historians in the 19th century.
    • One minor but curious alteration in the movie is the absence of Salieri's wife. The movie portrays him as celibate but secretly lustful towards his students, adding weight to the Director's Cut scene where he tries to take advantage of Constanze but doesn't entirely follow through.
    • The movie takes some artistic license with the music of both Salieri and Mozart, with scenes in the operas altered for the movie.note  Some changes are also made to the music itself, including over a minute of music taken out from the middle of the Don Giovanni scene shown in the movie.
    • In real life Salieri was only six years older than Mozart, but in the movie he looks old enough to be his father, thanks to the 14-year age difference between F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.
    • Another major departure from actual history: Salieri was the composition tutor of one Ludwig van Beethoven, of whom Mozart was known to have explicitly stated was a rising star, indeed Mozart predicted that Beethoven would go on to be an even greater composer than Mozart himself.
    • The film depicts Emperor Joseph II as a hilariously bland Upper-Class Twit, completely ignorant of music, who took his opinions from his courtiers, but in fact the reverse was true: Joseph was smart, very opinionated, had taken musical instruction from some very fine teachers, and persistently championed Mozart's music even when his own advisers tried to persuade him that he shouldn't.
    • The biggest one of all: Salieri was a much better composer than the film makes him out to be.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Naturally, there are several opera scenes throughout the movie. We see bits of performances of The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni by Mozart, as well as the finale of Salieri's Axur, Re d'Ormus. For the central characters—Salieri and Mozart—these are work, but the character of the 18th-century Viennese opera night is expressed rather well—that is to say, rich people in fancy dress chatting and drinking and only half-paying attention to the action onstage, with the ones who had their own boxes getting dinner served and sometimes drunkenly tossing orange peels and other refuse onto the audience below.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: It's widely considered to be an urban legend that Salieri claimed to have killed Mozart; and even if it were true, nobody would have believed him. Compounded by the fact that part of the movie's tagline is, "...Everything You've Heard Is True", though that is just commenting on the critical praise.
  • Bedlam House: The lunatic asylum that Salieri is confined to.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Mozart can't resist directly insulting his benefactors and advocates.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the movie, Salieri rediscovers his own spirituality after realizing at the end of his confession that he wasn't Mozart's killer after all, and that he himself never knew that God was setting him up as something better, be it ever so slightly, than just a great composer doomed to live to see his fame and fortune wither away before his eyes: the patron saint of mediocrities.
  • Black Cloak: Salieri disguises himself in one of these to commission the Requiem Mass in D minor from Mozart. Papa Mozart wore a similar cloak.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: When really putting his mind to it, Mozart displays a passion for his compositions and operas. However, his real fault is his inability to go out and find a stable job (not helped by Salieri's constant sabotage).
  • California Doubling: 18th century Vienna was shot in 1980s Prague - because their roofs don't have lots of satellite dishes that could potentially spoil the shot.
  • Catchphrase: The Emperor's "...There it is." Also, "...Mmm-hm."
  • Celibate Hero: Salieri in the movie. Not so much in the play, in which he expresses contempt towards his wife's frigidity and seduces one of his students.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Mozart, when asked by Salieri about what he thought of his music, answers in a rather vague way that pointedly avoids saying anything explicitly positive about the work:
    Mozart: I never knew that music like that was possible!
    Salieri: You flatter me.
    Mozart: No, no! One hears such sounds, and what can one say but... Salieri!
  • Deader Than Disco: In-universe, Salieri's music is this. How could he have known that it'd experience a revival many years later–thanks to this very movie, no less?
  • Don't Call Me Sir: Salieri, to Constanze, when she tries to call him "excellency".
  • Driven to Suicide: The film opens with Salieri, overcome with guilt, slashing his throat in a failed attempt to kill himself.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: While Emperor Joseph has no ear for music, he knows that a dance is nothing without it and his intervention causes Marriage of Figaro to be premièred.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Salieri and Mozart...oh, where to start? Notably, Mozart died soon after Constanze came back and took the Requiem away from him. This happened just after she promises to be a better wife, showing that Salieri shared something with him that she didn't: a love for music.
    Salieri: He was my idol. Mozart, I can't think of a time when I didn't know his name.
  • Forced to Watch: Salieri dreams of killing Mozart and forcing God to listen to Mozart's Requiem being passed off as Salieri's at the former's funeral.
  • Fourth-Wall Observer: In the stage play, Salieri (and only him) is aware of the audience, alternatively believing them to be his torment or his salvation, and addresses all of his monologues to them.
  • A God Am I: Salieri's aspiration to become God's musical messenger in this world. It all goes downhill when he understands that Mozart fits the role much better. And then he seeks to outwit God.
  • Heroic RROD: Mozart, with encouragement from Salieri, ends up working himself to death.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Although Salieri and Mozart were competitors for various professional positions, and Mozart and his father suspected that Salieri and other Italian composers based in Vienna had conspired to hinder his career (leading to the accusations that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, accusations which caused Salieri to have several nervous breakdowns in later life), the two composers actually had a great deal of respect for one another (save for a single dispute arising from an alleged attempt by Salieri to sabotage The Marriage of Figaro, which is the only reason why such allegations of murder were made in the first place–long story, the short of it being that one thing just led to another), and Salieri actively helped to bring about the premieres of several of Mozart's later works. By some accounts, Salieri was also present at Mozart's burial, and helped to arrange concerts celebrating Mozart's work following his death. It is known that in the years following Mozart's death, Salieri was given a chance to set up a production at the opera in Vienna, of anything he wanted. He chose to set up a production of The Magic Flute, rather than one of his own works.
  • Hope Spot: Stanzi and her son come home in time to see Mozart still recuperating. Though weary, Mozart shows happiness at their presence. However, this does not save him from death.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Salieri is tortured every day by reminders that, however good he gets, Mozart will always be better and will always be acclaimed as a genius. Its his frustration and anger at both his shortcomings and his belief that Mozart is undeserving of his talent that drives him to breaking point.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Behind Salieri's Insufferable Genius demeanor, you find a deeply insecure man.
  • Insufferable Genius: Mozart is boorish, rude, infantile, and argumentative against anyone who can't appreciate his work.
  • Intermission: Usually occurs when the movie is shown on premium cable channels (i.e., HBO, and the like).
  • Interrupted Suicide: Salieri's cook and valet manage to break down his door and save him from bleeding to death after he slits his own throat.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Mozart revising the piece Salieri made in his honor.
  • In the Style of...: Mozart playing "Vivat Bacchus" in the style of Salieri, punctuated with flatulence.
  • Ironic Echo: Early on, Salieri looks up at his crucifix as he composes his welcome march for Mozart and says, "Grazie, Signore." Not ten minutes later in the picture, after Mozart performs a variation that will become "Non più andrai", Salieri, sulking at his piano and obviously trying not to lose it, grumbles, "Grazie, Signore."
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: Mozart's corpse is dropped unceremoniously into a mass grave while it's raining cats and dogs. According to one Mozart scholar, the notion that it rained at Mozart's funeral is a myth. He checked out the local almanacs, and found out it was actually a bright and sunny day in Vienna.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The general reaction to Mozart's operas shown in the film, as their subject matter is rather baffling at times. Constanze even thinks The Magic Flute is ridiculous, and a waste of her husband's time, especially with the promised pay for the Requiem.
  • Kick the Dog: Salieri constantly sabotages Mozart's career opportunities as much as possible. But a particular nasty instance is in the Director's Cut where he takes advantage of Constance's desperation and devotion and obtain sexual favors from her. Even when he decides not to go through with it, he never does anything to remedy Constance's emotional breakdown.
  • Large Ham: Both Mozart and Salieri are full of themselves, with the former heavier on being hysterical (complete with annoying laugh) and the latter, on dramaticity. Unsurprisingly, this scored Best Actor nominations for both Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham, and the latter won the Oscar.
  • Loophole Abuse: Mozart is advised to remove the entire ballet sequence in "Marriage for Figaro." When he fights back, the court removes the pages of the ballet composition. In mockery of their request, he still keeps in the dancing but just has them dancing to silence. The Emperor takes notice and restores the ballet sequence.
  • Man Child: Even without Salieri trying to sabotage him, Mozart had a lot of demons on his own. He was very childish, outspoken, couldn't take criticism, spent more money than he earned, and had severe drinking issues.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film starts out rather dark and atmospheric without being threatening, lightens with Salieri's servants eating the desserts, then goes very dark with Salieri lying on the floor, his throat slashed.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Salieri apparently starts to have second thoughts about killing Mozart after the latter apologizes to him, and he later apologizes to Mozart, as seen during the opening.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: The Framing Device is Salieri remembering his golden days and how Mozart caused them all to crumble.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Everyone in the cast spoke with their natural accents. British audiences found it jarring to hear some of the characters sound American and others sound British.
  • Oh Crap!: The Emperor's expression when he realized that he unreasonably forbid ballet in operas.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Salieri, despite his self-assessment as "a mediocrity," is not really a bad musician; one doesn't get to be the official court composer of the Emperor by being a hack. It's just that, well, compared to Mozart....
  • Pet the Dog: Although the actor requesting an opera written without paying Mozart up-front becomes unreasonably demanding when Mozart hadn't written any of his opera (due to extreme stress), he pays a visit to Mozart to sincerely wish him good health and hands Salieri Mozart's payment.
  • Phrase Catcher: The Emperor's "Mmm-hm in response to Mozart's opera pitches gets picked up by the other members of the musical court.
  • Precision F-Strike: Mozart's temper gets the better of him while raging to the Emperor about the people sabotaging The Marriage of Figaro, saying they're so uptight "they must shit marble." Naturally, this is quite a shocking thing to say in the man's presence.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: "That was not Mozart laughing, Father. That was God. That was God laughing at me through, through that obscene giggle."
    Salieri [throwing a crucifix in his fireplace]: From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Both Baron von Swieten and the Emperor's Chamberlain try to counsel Mozart, to behave himself, to be more deferential to the Emperor, and not to use such risque subject matter, while still wishing for him to succeed.
    • Emperor Joseph II is one as well. He's a bit of a fool, but he's also frequently willing to give Mozart the benefit of the doubt. The real Joseph was this as well compared with other European monarchs.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Salieri is so driven by his jealousy that he doesn't see that Mozart is suffering his own demons. Until Salieri attends Don Giovanni, and he realizes exactly what he can do to make Mozart suffer even more...
  • Rule of Three: When the priest comes, Salieri plays a tune of this that the priest doesn't recognize. Then a second. The third one, the priest recognizes.
    Priest: Oh, that's charming! I'm sorry, I didn't know you wrote that!
    Salieri: (smiling) I didn't. ...That was Mozart.
  • Scare Chord: The broad chords of Il Commendatore from Don Giovanni are used three times: First at the very beginning of the film, and then when black-cloaked Leopold Mozart shows up in his son's home, waiting for him...with loving arms. The third time, when the black-masked messenger (Salieri in disquise) appears, it's played straight.
  • A Simple Plan: Salieri's plan to trick Mozart into composing a Requiem, then kill Mozart, pass off the Requiem as his own creation, and perform it at Mozart's funeral.
    Salieri His funeral! Imagine it, the cathedral, all Vienna sitting there, his coffin, Mozart's little coffin in the middle, and then, in that silence, music! A divine music bursts out over them all. A great mass of death! Requiem mass for Wolfgang Mozart, composed by his devoted friend, Antonio Salieri! Oh what sublimity, what depth, what passion in the music! Salieri has been touched by God at last. And God is forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! I, for once in the end, laughing at him!
As he himself then admits, the plagiarism is the easy part. His real problem is, in his own words, "How does one kill a man?"
  • The Show Must Go On: In the middle of a piano jingle solo at an opera performance, Mozart collapses. An understudy musician has to step in for the piano and the performaner, hearing Mozart fall, tries to look off-stage as he remains in character.
  • Stealth Insult: When asked what he thought of Salieri's play, Mozart struggles to find words (since he was obviously unimpressed), then tells him that he'd never seen anything like it before, and that when one hears it, one can only think "Salieri". Judging by the annoyed-but-amused smile on Salieri's face, he caught the insult.
  • Sweet Tooth: Salieri has a thing for candy and desserts. The opening scene has his servants trying to wheedle him out of a locked room with pastries. The party where he first sees Mozart shows him sneaking a treat off a banquet table. When he's working, he's seldom seen without a dish of candies close at hand. His favorite breakfast at the asylum is sugar rolls. May also count as a sex substitute, as movie Salieri is chaste.
  • Sympathy for the Hero: As much as Salieri resents Mozart for being better than him, he is also one of the very few people able to recognize the true depths of Mozart's brilliance, and is never shy about praising it.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Salieri is shown to be quite deliberate about his compositions, carefully testing each note and chord before penning it in, with the occasional bit of prayer to help him through it. Mozart seems to make it up right off the top of his head "as if he were taking dictation", according to Salieri.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Salieri gets one of these when the Emperor yawns during Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, causing it to close after nine performances. Salieri's opera, meanwhile, is loved by the Emperor and Salieri receives a royal commendation as a result.
  • Toilet Humour: Mozart's sense of humour is rather... lavatorial. (Truth in Television: He famously wrote a canon entitled "Leck mich im Arsch", meaning, essentially, "Kiss my ass!")
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: While by no means pure, Salieri admitted at the end that Mozart (or at least, his music) was so sacred that God himself called him home to Out Gambit Salieri's plot to kill him and steal the last laugh from right under the Most High's nose.
  • Translation Convention: The convention in the film is that English stands in for the German language — even in the operas, which have translated librettos. Italian, as a foreign language, remains the same both spoken and sung.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-Universe, Mozart is seen struggling against everyone who can't comprehend the operas and music he's creating for them. Most of them — Emperor included — can't recognize good music even when it points them to the Awesome Music tropes page, while the one person who can comprehend — Salieri — is working behind the scenes to sabotage Mozart's efforts. Parodied when Mozart, in a huff after being told that the Emperor has banned ballet in opera, Mozart just removes the music from the ballet scene in The Marriage of Figaro and has the dancers just dance to silence. When the Emperor attends a rehearsal, he asks an aide if this is just a new modern development?
  • Unreliable Narrator: Quite emphasized by the narrator's dementia. A notable instance is that Salieri assumes that Mozart slept with his most beloved pupil, who reacted with jealousy at news of Mozart's engagement. Though really, no on-screen evidence of this affair is given to the audience and her affection might as well been one-sided.
  • The Watson: The priest to whom Salieri tells his story.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • In reality, Salieri and Mozart had a great deal of respect for each other, attended each others' operas and Salieri ended up teaching one of Mozart's sons.note 
    • It is true that Mozart did not know who was commissioning the Requiem. The film depicts Salieri commissioning it with the intent of passing the work off as his own as well as driving Mozart to madness by dressing in the same masquerade outfit as Mozart's late father. Although Salieri did not actually commission the work, the man who did (Franz von Walsegg) was a known plagiarist who almost certainly had the same intent as Salieri in the film (minus the whole murder thing). In the play, von Walsegg is revealed to have been the man in the mask - Salieri simply takes advantage of an already freaked-out Mozart to further his plan.
  • Visual Pun: After being chastised by the Prince-Archbishop for his conduct, Mozart walks out to see a crowd of admirers applauding him and bows to them, in the process figuratively mooning the Archbishop. The furious Prince-Archbishop signals for his guards to close the door on Mozart, thereby booting Mozart's ass out of his quarters.
  • Vindicated by History: In-Universe. Many of Mozart's works don't go over well when they premiere, but by the time Salieri is institutionalized, everyone knows Mozart's music.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Mozart is both terrified and awed by his imposing father Leopold. He's hoping for the adoration he wants from his father (who never shows any) but unwilling to submit to his demands to leave Vienna. And when Leopold dies, Mozart pumps out Don Giovanni to express his rage and grief. And Salieri is the only one who understands it...