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Theatre / Amadeus

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"Are we going to appall you with something confidential and disgusting? Let’s hope so. Because that is what you really like. Unconfessed crimes of varied wickedness. If that is what brings you to us, the prospect of hearing horrors, you shall not go unrewarded."
"On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse – bassoons and basset horns – like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly – high above it – an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I’d never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing a voice of God."
Antonio Salieri

Amadeus is a 1979 stage play about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 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-Korsakov, 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 Austrian Emperor Joseph II. A devout and serious man, Salieri's faith is shaken when he meets Mozart. Though Mozart proves to be a tremendous boor and an immature Manchild, 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).

Amadeus brought a considerable revival of interest in the life and work of Antonio Salieri. Mozart in particular, and classical music in general, also got a nice little boost, but Mozart was quite well known already. The film also went on to be a sensation at the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and garnering dual nominations for both F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart as Best Actor. To date, it is the most recent film to have more than one nomination for Best Actor. (Abraham won.) Two other bits of Oscar lore for Amadeus: it won so many Oscars that the winner for Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre for A Passage to India) snarked that he was grateful that Amadeus had been ineligible in his category; the presenter for Best Picture, Laurence Olivier, didn't bother to read out the nominees, simply tearing open the envelope and announcing "The winner of this is Amadeus!" The producer, Saul Zaentz, gracefully covered up this gaffe by naming all of the other nominees in his acceptance speech.

The famous Falco song Rock Me Amadeus was directly inspired by the movie.

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 van Swieten. Von Swieten has to point to the actual Emperor playing Salieri's 'Welcome March' at the piano, much to Mozart's confusion.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie is much better known than the previous works, expanding on both the comedy as well as relationships while downplaying some of the more over-the-top elements.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: With respect to behavior rather than orientation. In the play and film, Salieri takes a vow of chastity and celibacy, hoping that abstaining from all sexual activity will win God's favor and give him talent. In reality, Salieri was married.
  • Adaptational Villainy: There is absolutely no evidence that Salieri was in any way responsible for Mozart's death, or that he harbored a life-long jealous hatred for Mozart. While there was some rivalry between the two composers, much of the time they were on good, friendly terms with one another.
  • Affably Evil: So much so, that Salieri's evil is never discovered note , only when he confesses to the priest, and even then, he is quite nice and congenial.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Mozart and Constanze call each other Wolfi and Stanzi.
  • Affectionate Parody: In-Universe example. Schikaneder’s company puts on a parody of Don Giovanni. Mozart attends this and clearly loves it while Schikaneder respects Mozart enough to commission The Magic Flute from him. Indeed, it's mostly Mozart's wife who dislikes it. It should also be noted that Don Giovanni is a Black Comedy so they just did it Lighter and Softer.
  • Always Second Best: The source of Salieri's bitterness; he felt that God had given him what composing talent he had solely so he could be the only one able to truly recognise Mozart's genius. Even the fact that he was by far the more successful of the two men during their lives didn't change the fact that he knew Mozart's music would outshine his forever.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Salieri doesn't really kill Mozart, but the fact that Mozart is, toward the end of his life, doing two jobs (and overwork was apparently a contributory cause of his death) doesn't really help matters, and since one of the jobs was assigned by a disguised Salieri...
  • Annoying Laugh: Mozart frequently delivers a shrill, obnoxious, hyena-like cackle. By all historical accounts that was actually how Mozart sounded when he laughed, with some contemporaries comparing it to "the braying of a jackass" mixed with breaking windows, while others described it as "grating a cobblestone down a piano's string". (One might notice that Hulce manages to look like a braying donkey when he laughs.)
  • Answer Cut: An older Salieri recalls how Emperor Joseph yawned once during the performance of Figaro.
    Older Salieri: Father, did you know what that meant? With that yawn I saw my defeat turn into a victory. And Mozart was lucky the Emperor only yawned once. Three yawns and the opera would fail the same night; two yawns, within a week at most. With one yawn the composer could still get-
    (flashes back to the past)
    Mozart: Nine performances! Nine! That's all it's had - and withdrawn.
  • 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 Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", that he immediately recognizes even though Salieri only plays a few notes with one hand.
  • Art Imitates Art: Several paintings in the film are based on real portraits of Mozart and his father, Leopold.
    • When Leopold is reading the letter about Wolfgang and Constanze's marriage, the portrait behind him is of a young Wolfgang, created circa 1768 by Thaddeus Helbling. The original painting is in the care of the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg.
    • The portrait of Leopold seen in the film, while made to look like Roy Dotrice, is based on and has a very close resemblance to a real portrait of Leopold. This original too is in the care of the Mozarteum.
  • The Artifact: The Ruhe sanft aria from Zaide appears in the CD soundtrack, but was never in the film.
  • 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 to the point that he could be described as an 18th century version of Michael Jackson. 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 Dated 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, in particular Caterina Cavalieri, adding weight to the Director's Cut scene where he tries to take advantage of Constanze but doesn't entirely follow through. The real Salieri was most certainly not celibate, and was in fact known to have fathered eight children with his wife. In addition, the real Caterina Cavalieri was known to have been a mistress of Salieri. In the play, Salieri intentionally married a boring woman so he could simply be married and done with it without the temptation of spending too much time with her and strived for as much celibacy as possible. While he lusted for Caterina, he initially never touched her despite believing Mozart to have seduced her, until he broke his pact with God and seduced her himself entirely to spite God.
    • 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.
    • The film shows Mozart and Constanze as having only one son; in reality, they had 6 children (though only 2 survived infancy).
    • 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. Though it is true that he once criticized Mozart's music for having "too many notes."
    • The film depicts Salieri as being jealous of Mozart and doing everything he can to undermine Mozart, and even trying (unsuccessfully) to kill him. In reality, while it is true that they were both competing for the same jobs in Vienna, with Salieri beating Mozart to certain coveted jobs, there is no evidence that the relationship was any more acrimonious than that. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that Salieri and Mozart actually had a professional working relationship built on mutual respect for each other's work, and both composers have even worked together on several occasions. In fact, after Mozart died, Salieri served as the music teacher of one of Mozart's sons.
    • Mozart did not actually collapse during the premiere of The Magic Flute as shown in the film, and was actually able to finish conducting the entire performance. The film also shows Mozart playing the keyed glockenspiel in the orchestra, with somebody else conducting the performance, but in reality Mozart himself was the conductor at the premiere.
    • The film paints Constanze's mother as a vicious shrew who hates Mozart, to the point where her constant shrieking is implied to be the inspiration for the Queen of the Night's shrill high notes. In reality, Mozart got along famously with her, along with the rest of his in-laws (in fact, the soprano who played the role of the Queen of the Night for the debut performance of The Magic Flute we see on-screen would historically have been Constanze's sister, Josepha Hofer).
    • The scene in which Mozart dictates the Requiem to Salieri obviously never happened, but it is almost plausible: part of the reason that we still don't know exactly how much of the Requiem was written by Mozart is because there is only so much of the work that has been found written in his handwriting, but Constanze claimed that he had left sufficient notes and sketches of the remaining movements for an outside composer to complete Mozart's vision— however, in real life that composer was Franz Xaver Suessmayr, not Antonio Salieri. The film posits that Mozart "wrote" a great deal of it through dictation, thus explaining why the work is not in his hand. However, even if this were true, copies of the pieces which the film shows Mozart dictating to Salieri ("Confutatis", with the suggestion that they will finish the Lacrymosa before resting) exist in Mozart's hand.
    • The idea of Mozart ending up receiving a pauper's funeral and having his body dumped in mass grave, is likely based on the historical description that he was buried in a "common grave". In reality, a grave having the distinction of being a "common" grave, was not in any way a communal grave, it merely meant that it was in a graveyard for the common people, as opposed to a graveyard reserved for the aristocracy. In reality Mozart's funeral was by all accounts a perfectly normal one for someone of his renown, with every expense for the ceremony paid for by his friend and patron Baron Gottfried van Swieten, where his body was interred in a personal plot of land reserved for him.
    • 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.
  • Ascended Extra: Downplayed with Mozart in the film. He was already a very large role in the play, but still clearly secondary to Salieri, who is onstage for the entire show. The movie bumps him up to being the co-lead.
  • Audience Surrogate: The priest — Father Vogler — serves as the audience surrogate to which the elder Salieri can narrate his tale without Breaking the Fourth Wall. Also, it is a very long film — 3 hours in the Directors Cut — marching steadily towards an inevitable Downer Ending, where Salieri descends into mad jealousy only to see the coveted requiem snatched away from right under his nose, Mozart dies and is thrown into a pauper's grave with little ceremony and the brilliant former court composer fades away in a lunatic asylum. It leaves the audience emotionally exhausted, just like the — by then — very dishevelled and crushed Father Vogler.
  • 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. Of course, by this point he's living in an eighteenth century mental asylum and implicitly isn't all there, so this isn't exactly the triumph he seems to view it as.
  • 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.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Salieri gives one after he decides that God is taunting him through Mozart, declaring himself God's enemy, swearing to destroy God's "incarnation" and renouncing the bargain they had made.
    Salieri: They say God is not mocked? Man is not mocked!
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: There's a fourth wall for most of the actions of the play, but Salieri narrates and justifies his actions directly to the audience.
  • 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/unwillingness to get a stable job teaching students (further compounded by his grating personality and Salieri's constant sabotage).
    • Inverted by Salieri, who is portrayed as a mediocre talent, but takes on private students in addition to his salaried post as court composer.
  • Broken Ace: Mozart. Genius musician and composer, and an alcoholic buffoon with terrible manners and spending habits.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Mozart, all the way. Immature, obnoxious jackass that he is, he is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant composers to ever walk the Earth, and he knows it. Deconstructed, as he's ahead of his time, which, along with his various vices, means he's often in debt, and his personality means he's not very well-liked even by those that recognize his talent. Salieri resents the hell out of the fact that God would bestow such staggering talent onto someone so improper and over-the-top.
  • 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, although only after he abandons his bargain with God.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-Universe, Mozart's work gets very dark after his father dies, and he starts spiraling into drinking that eventually kills him.
  • Crossing the Burnt Bridge (in the director's cut only): Mozart, who has already mentioned that he would prefer to spend his time composing and that he is only giving music lessons to pay the bills, lets himself be hired by a wealthy Viennese burgher to give piano lessons to his daughter. The attempt ends in a fiasco, because the man refuses to leave the room while Mozart tries to teach his daughter (who is visibly embarrassed by her parents), insists on keeping his pack of dogs with him—who interrupt all music by yelping and howling—and generally behaves as obnoxious as possible, causing Mozart to rudely storm off with a sarcastic comment. Later, as Mozart's financial problems have worsened, he (obviously drunk and staggering) turns up at the burgher again and asks whether he can give music lessons to his daughter. As the daughter is married and away, Mozart further humiliates himself by asking whether he can borrow money, and receives a curt refusal.
  • 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!
  • Deal with the Devil: Inverted; in his youth Salieri made a deal with the "God of Bargains" to dedicate his life to goodness, piety, the production of great works of music and (in the movie) celibacy, if only God will make him a successful and famous composer. He sees the creation of Mozart as God twisting this deal to torment him.
  • Description Cut: When Salieri sees the Emperor yawning during the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro:
    Salieri (narrating): And Mozart was fortunate that the Emperor yawned only once! Three yawns and the show would close that very night. Two yawns and it might last a few days. One yawn, well...
    [cut to Mozart and younger Salieri in Salieri's studio]
    Mozart: Nine performances! That's all it got! Just nine performances!
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Salieri, to Constanze, when she tries to call him "excellency".
  • Driven by Envy: Salieri, Very much so — as a core driver of the plot. The only thing he ever wanted was to be a great composer, and he worked hard for it all his life, but then he meets this crude, boorish boy who he recognises has a genius that he can never compete with, apparently given to him by God.
  • Driven to Suicide: The film opens with Salieri, overcome with guilt, slashing his throat in a failed attempt to kill himself. In Real Life, Salieri did attempt suicide in 1823, but from clinical depression, not guilt.
  • Downer Ending:
    • For Mozart, he dies from exhaustion thanks to Salieri just after his wife returned to reunite with him and is given a plague victim's funeral with his corpse being dumped in a mass grave.
    • Also one for Salieri, who is convinced that he will never be Mozart’s equal and resigns himself to be the self-described “Patron Saint of All Mediocrities”.
  • 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.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Salieri finds himself eavesdropping on an immature, vulgar man fooling around with his girlfriend. Then he hears the concert begin and rushes out as "My music has started without me," leaving Salieri shocked that such a person is also the greatest composer to ever live.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Salieri sees the cloaked figure in Don Giovanni, you can practically see the light bulb turn on over his head. He narrates that Mozart had resurrected his father to accuse him of being a bad son for all the world to see. The plan forms.
  • Faith–Heel Turn: Salieri committed himself to God's works in exchange for his composing career- until meeting Mozart and seeing the talent God had given him destroyed his faith.
  • False Friend: Salieri hides his resentment toward Mozart and pretends to regard him as a friend and colleague, while secretly doing things to hinder him at every opportunity. Salieri's act is so good that Mozart never realises his true intentions, and goes to his grave believing that Salieri is really his friend.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Elizabeth Berridge is quite nice to look at, but the scene in which Constanze is topless is so humiliating for her that it's pretty hard to find it sexy. This only appears in the Director's Cut.
    • Many viewers could have done without the scene at the beginning where a nude inmate of the asylum tries to accost Father Vogler.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Antonio Salieri Sr. wanted his son to be a merchant like him instead of a composer. His Undignified Death left Salieri free to pursue his dreams.
  • Fatal Flaw: Envy for Salieri. He's achieved the successful music career he dreamed of and is happy with the attributes that God had given him, until Mozart comes into his life. Mozart composes music of surpassing genius and inspiration in a way that makes it look easy, despite coming across to Salieri as childish, vulgar, impudent, and frivolous in all matters outside of music. The fact that God favors this unseemly creature over a pious, hard-working man such as himself makes Salieri feel cheated. He stops appreciating what he already has, turns away from God, and instead focuses on undermining Mozart's career. Eventually he goes to the extent of trying to murder Mozart and steal his magnum opus so that he can get revenge on God and attain the recognition he deserves, but after Mozart works himself to death Salieri is left guilty and grieving instead of triumphant. The sad thing is that Salieri genuinely loved Mozart's music more than anybody, and despite Mozart occasionally slighting Salieri's compositions he actually considered Salieri to be a real friend. If Salieri had been able to put aside his envy and return Mozart's friendship, he almost certainly could have lived a happier life instead of spending his old age in an insane asylum.
  • 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 deep understanding and appreciation of music.
    Salieri: He was my idol. Mozart, I can't think of a time when I didn't know his name.
  • Food Porn: Rather, Dessert Porn. Since it's Salieri's memories, and he has a Sweet Tooth, it's pretty justified.
  • 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. (In the film version, the role is given to Salieri's confessor, Father Vogler, who exists in within the film as an actual person.)
  • The Gift: Salieri works hard to make his music famous in Europe, while believing that God simply gave Mozart the gift to compose masterful music effortlessly (which he considers an injustice). Unspoken in the film is Salieri's annoyance that Mozart seems to be pissing away his gift, something Salieri would give anything to have.
  • 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The ultimate failing of Salieri's plan to kill Mozart and profit from his death (see below); while his original intent was to steal the Requiem and have it played at Mozart's public funeral as a tribute to him, gaining acclaim for it, his plan to ruin Mozart succeeded so well that Mozart died a pauper and was given little more than a beggar's funeral which almost nobody attended, preventing Salieri from benefiting from the Requiem at all.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Constanze and Cavalieri, full stop. Wigs, hats, and skirts galore.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Practically the theme and drive of the whole work! Although Salieri recognizes and genuinely admires Mozart's immense genius, he resents that such an immature, obnoxious jackass obtained it in what seems an effortless manner.
  • Hard Truth Aesop:
    • Talent and character are completely unrelated. A handful of rare individuals are born special, for no reason or merit. A few others are sharp enough to see talent in others, but do not have it themselves and are doomed to carry the burden of mediocrity. And most people are just mindless morons.
    • A more charitable reason is to appreciate what you have and not be a Green-Eyed Monster. Saleri and Mozart, had they been like they were in real life, could have supported each other to achieve much better ends.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: This is the basis of Salieri's resentment of Mozart; he's worked himself hard all his life to be a composer, but then Mozart shows up and not only outdoes him, but he makes it look easy.
  • Heroic RRoD: Mozart, with encouragement from Salieri, ends up working himself to death.
  • Historical Downgrade:
    • While the real Salieri wasn't as good as Mozart, he was still a skilled composer in his own right as opposed to the "patron saint of mediocrity" he describes himself as and most of the honors he got were legitimately deserved. Ironically, the play and the subsequent movie actually revitalized interest in Salieri's work.
    • Unlike how he's characterized here, the real Joseph II was far from a musical ignoramus. In actuality, he took musical instruction from some of the finest teachers in Europe and persistently championed Mozart's music even against his own advisors' wishes.
  • Historical Relationship Overhaul:
    • Mozart and Salieri were not mortal enemies as they are in the play, but rather friendly competitors in the same business.
    • Salieri was not celibate, and he was the father of eight children with and his Adapted Out wife. The woman in the play whom he lusts after but denies himself, Caterina Cavalieri, was Salieri's mistress in real life.
  • 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 it's nothing more than juicy gossip), 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.
    • A minor one, but whilst the Count Von-Rosenberg did really try to cut the music from the dance number in The Marriage of Figaro, he was not nearly as dismissive as Mozart in real life, and his patronage helped Mozart find an early foothold in Vienna.
    • Constanze's mother wasn't the vicious harpy she is in the movie and she never hated Mozart; to the contrary, she and her son-in-law got along very well.
  • 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. It's 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."
  • Irony: The story is about how Mozart's music would eclipse Salieri's leaving him to be forgotten by history despite his best efforts. As mentioned above, it actually inspired a new wave of interest in Salieri and his works.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When a young girl arrives at Mozart's household to offer her services as a maid, with payment being provided by an anonymous "admirer" of Mozart's, Mozart's domineering father, Leopold, is against keeping her on, stating that they shouldn't hire a servant who doesn't have references. As it turns out, the girl is a spy hired by Salieri.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mozart is an often obnoxious Manchild prone to tantrums and juvenile behavior, but he's also a man devoted to his craft who also loves his family and friends. Furthermore, even when he ridicules others, he does so in jest and really has no malice or ill will towards anybody.
  • 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 Constanze'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 Constanze'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.
  • Manchild: 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.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: Discussed Trope during the composition The Marriage of Figaro, as Mozart believes the use of music to have multiple parties hold simultaneous conversations/trains of thought without being clashing and incomprehensible is what makes opera unique as a medium.
  • Meaningful Name: Mozart's middle name, "Amadeus" is often taken to mean "beloved by God", although its actual meaning is "love God!" (imperative). The fact that Amadeus is the title of the play/movie and that Salieri believes that Mozart is God's favored instrument suggests that the author is playing on the interpretation as "beloved by God". In fact, when Salieri speaks to the priest, he puts an emphasis on his middle name as if it were Dramatic Irony.
    Salieri: (after a priest recognizes Ein Kleine Nachtmuzik) That was Mozart. Wolfgang... Amadeus... Mozart.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Salieri's schemes are successful and Mozart dies, but he can find no victory in it due to Mozart's music only becoming even more popular after his death, this combined his own guilt torments Salieri and he goes mad. The last we see of Salieri is him being wheeled through an insane asylum, having fully resigned his fate to be in Mozart's shadow and in madness declaring himself the patron saint of mediocrity. The movie further emphasizes Salieri's failure by having the last thing we hear be Mozart's signature annoying laugh, signifying who truly got the last laugh in the story.
  • 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.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Salieri believes Mozart's work to epitomise this trope, and his own to completely invert it. Lampshaded in a line from the play.
    Salieri: We were both ordinary men, he and I. Yet he from the ordinary created legends – and I from legends created only the ordinary.
  • 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.
  • Nay-Theist: Salieri becomes this as he decides he's had enough with Mozart.
    Salieri: (narrating) From now, we are enemies... You and I. Because You choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only to recognize the incarnation. Because you are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block you, I swear it. I will hinder and harm your creature as far as I am able. I will ruin Your incarnation.
  • Nice Guy: Though he is a humorless figure, out of all of the Emperor's courtiers Baron van Swieten does the most he can to help Mozart, inviting him to his Masonic Lodge, helping to find odd jobs when he is broke, and even after Mozart alienates himself from the Masons by parodying their rituals in The Magic Flute (at Salieri's suggestion obviously, though he imagined a positive message of brotherly love was being conveyed), Von Swieten still paid for his funeral. Truth in Television, as evidence shows that the Baron made attempts to support Constanze and her son after Mozart's death.
  • 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: An interesting variation exists in the film. Milos Forman wanted to immerse American audiences in 18th-century Vienna, so all the American accents represent what would have been spoken in German. Non-American accents, on the other hand, signify that the speaker is a foreigner. That's why Simon Callow (who has an English accent in real life) affected an American accent for his character, while Charles Kay (portraying an Italian in the film) kept his natural English accent. It's also why the German operas get translated into English, but the Italian operas stay in Italian. As for F. Murray Abraham, he was (believe it or not) attempting a very slight Italian accent. Suffice it to say, British audiences found it jarring to dispense with a uniform Queen's Latin.
  • Obnoxious Inlaws: Constanze does not get along with Wolfgang's unpleasable father, nor Wolfgang with Constanze's nagging mother, whose shrill voice inspires the Queen of the Night's high notes in The Magic Flute.
  • Only Sane Man: Possibly the most galling thing to Salieri is that he appears to be the only person of his day who can truly recognise Mozart's genius, seeing it as God adding insult to injury. He almost seems to resent the fact that his work is more popular than Mozart's in their day, despite its clear inferiority.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Salieri, despite his self-assessment as "a mediocrity," is not really a bad musician; one doesn't get to be the Court Composer of the Emperor of Austria by being a hack, and he was a teacher to Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Franz Schubert. The problem is his competition is Mozart.
  • Pet the Dog: Although Schikaneder, 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.
  • Playful Pursuit: In the film, Salieri first sees Mozart chasing his girlfriend (later wife) Constanze around the palace, with her hiding under a table and playfully struggling against him when he tries to catch her. She eventually lets herself be caught so they can start making out instead.
  • 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.
    Mozart: Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man.
  • 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.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Mozart really could a) play a tune from hearing it once, b) play music backwards, and c) play blind (though that is something many expert pianists can do, especially blind ones.)
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Both Baron van 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 risqué 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.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mozart and Salieri. Mozart is deeply passionate, hotheaded, creative, and stubborn, while Salieri is more intellectual, pious, and even-tempered, with his rage running cold rather than hot.
  • 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 disguise) appears, it's played straight.
  • Serious Business: Mozart's attitude to music. Aside from going straight from fooling around with his girlfriend in a dining room to conducting, he gives a short but potent line later in the film: "Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not."
  • 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 performer, hearing Mozart fall, tries to look off-stage as he remains in character.
  • Shown Their Work: Zig-Zagged Trope.
    • Several professors of music stated, after studying all of the musical keys struck on pianos throughout the film, that not one key is struck incorrectly when compared to what is heard at the exact same moment. In other words, what you see is exactly what you hear.
    • However, neither F. Murray Abraham nor Tom Hulce knows how to conduct, and it shows. (The main reason someone goes to stand in front of an orchestra and wave their arms like a madman is to keep time, and it becomes obvious that they are just faking it when they slow down but the music keeps going without them.)
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Wolfy and Stanzi can come off as this sometimes. Their very first scene has them making out, cuddling, and flirting in an adorably sickening fashion—though, in their defense, they think they have the room to themselves.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: It's about Mozart's rise to fame and eventual death, told by his jealous and murderous contemporary, who may or may not be batshit insane.
  • 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?"
  • Starving Artist: Mozart spends more than he makes and is seen asking for loans a couple of times.
  • 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.
  • Sinister Sweet Tooth: Salieri, not unlike his real-life counterpart, 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. He often offers guests desserts. His favorite breakfast at the asylum is sugar rolls. And, of course, he's consumed with envy for Mozart, enough to undermine his reputation and contemplate murder.
    • This trope proves useful for the stage show, as Salieri is onstage for all but about two minutes, so this allows his actor to stay fed as he carries the show.
  • 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. For example, he makes sure Don Giovanni only has four performances — and he attends all of them in secret. When asked about The Marriage of Figaro, Salieri honestly tells Mozart it was magnificent.
  • Talent vs. Training: Antonio Salieri works hard to become a famous and acclaimed composer in Europe. His main rival is Amadeus Mozart, a crass, juvenile alcoholic whose crudeness belies a musical genius whose talent is practically of divine origin. Salieri has no small amount of resentment for how easily Amadeus provides compelling music with seemingly no effort.
  • Technician Versus 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, "Lick me in the ass!", as the song urges the listener to lick it clean like a pot roast.)
  • 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.
    Salieri: Your... merciful God.
  • Touché: Related to the above, Salieri views God killing Mozart rather than let someone share in his glory as this.
  • 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: 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, 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, just removes the music from the ballet scene in The Marriage of Figaro and has the dancers dance to silence. When the Emperor attends a rehearsal, he asks an aide if this is a new modern development?
  • Unknown Rival: Mozart is aware Salieri dislikes him, but thinks it's in the way everyone dislikes him, since he is, by his own admission, not easy to get along with. Tellingly, when he's on his deathbed and needs someone to help him complete the Requiem, it's Salieri that he calls. He has no idea that Salieri deeply resents and loathes him out of envy, much less enough to want him dead.
  • 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 well have been one-sided.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Shaffer called it "fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri".
    • 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. And some nobody named Beethoven. Not to mention Liszt and Schubert.
    • 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.
    • The idea that Salieri killed Mozart came long after the latter's death, as there was a nasty rivalry between Austria and Venice going on. While Salieri and Mozart often competed for the same jobs (and Salieri offered his services for free), they were only professional rivals, not personal.
  • Villainous BSoD: In the play, Salieri has one during his final visit to Mozart in his Black Cloak and mask disguise when Mozart produces the completed Requiem, even tearing off a piece of one of the pages and placing it on his tongue like a wafer in Holy Communion. He allows Mozart to unmask him then explodes at him, revealing that he's been Mozart's enemy all along and cursing him to die and leave him in peace.
  • Villain Protagonist: Salieri is both the main character and the narrator of the story- the story of how he planned the destruction and death of the man he envied. Although he provides a Sympathetic P.O.V., and Mozart (in the movie more than the play) is arguably the Deuteragonist.
  • Villain Respect: While he'll try to sabotage Mozart and later even plot to kill him, Salieri can't hide his adoration for the man's work, and by the end of their relationship he makes it clear that Mozart's the greatest composer he knows. This is an interesting example because it's this respect that also leads Salieri to hate Mozart, as seeing a Manchild effortlessly coming up with music far greater than his own infuriates him.
  • 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...
  • Wham Line: "Your father's dead." The line, in which Mozart is informed of his father Leopold's passing, marks the film's Cerebus Syndrome. Notably, the first DVD release places its side break after the subsequent segment from Don Giovanni.