Why I Love Amadeus


"I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am the patron's saint. Mediocrities everywhere... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you all."

I don't know a lot about Mozart or Classical Music, except that I love it. My journey through Mozart's work began when my mother showed me perhaps the greatest movie about music Amadeus, many years ago. Amadeus, directed by the late, great Milos Forman plays on a comment that the real life Salieri made after Mozart died, that he felt responsible for his death. Amadeus was a play to begin with, and while it doesn't particularly adhere to the facts, what is created in their absence is so powerful that it really doesn't matter. There has never been a better movie made about the creative process - Whiplash comes close - or about the great pain that comes from being a mediocre talent in the presence of pure genius.

Salieri begins his creative life with great hope. He is made Court Composer and has the attention and respect of royalty. Until Mozart arrives, Salieri believes that he is blessed and chosen by God to make music. As an immensely mediocre talent myself, I relate so much to Salieri and the bitterness and jealousy that overtakes his life. He sets out to destroy Mozart, through manipulation and spreading vicious lies about his nemesis. I used to be like this, stabbing people in the back before - as I then believed - they could do the same to me. This may be the secret to the success of Amadeus, as not only a wonderful, heartfelt tribute to the music of Mozart, but also a movie that examines the feelings of envy that we all experience from time to time.

Speaking of the music of Mozart, this movie is absolutely packed with it. I defy anyone to not be seduced and overwhelmed with joy when they watch and listen to it. My favourite piece by Mozart has to be Piano Concerto No 15 in B major. From the opening minutes it wraps me up and brings my soul to a peaceful, happy place. It is easy to see why Mozart is the gateway into a life long passion for Classical Music. He is The Beatles of Classical Music, a reputation that Amadeus solidified when it was released in 1984. I may not know a lot about Classical Music, but as I found when I became obsessed with Jazz, there is something universal, as Bill Evans would say, in our capacity to understand in an instinctual manner what we love and what we don't. I have compiled a playlist with the help of my mother and brother of the best material from Amadeus here. It may help you with getting into this incredible music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave. While Salieri is more than comfortable, with a solid, reliable position, Mozart is frequently reckless and spends money before he has it in his hand. Some of the most dramatic and compelling scenes in Amadeus come when money is a primary motivator in Mozart's story. When Salieri, disguised as a seemingly considerate soul in his father's mask, offers Mozart a lot of money to compose for him a death mass, we get some incredible scenes. This is with the plan to kill Mozart and steal the music and call it his own, getting the adulation he felt is owed to him. The final scenes between Salieri and Mozart, where Mozart is dictating music to Salieri, who is too slow to keep up, are masterful as all hell.

There are many good performances in Amadeus - Elizabeth Berridge as  Mozart's wife is very good, as is the legendary Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II - but the movie wouldn't work if not for the two central performances from Tom Hulce as Mozart and F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. Abraham in particular is stunning, winning the Best Actor Academy Award in 1985. Amadeus won eight Oscars that year, including Best Picture and Best Director. Hulce - whom you may also know as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, possibly Disney's best picture - plays Mozart like an entitled jackass, but a seriously talented one. He is vulgar and rude but also a formidable genius. His laugh is iconic and something that made a huge impression on me as a young person. 

There are no musical biopics that compare with Amadeus. It is a staggering achievement in writing, directing, cinematography, performance and most of all in the soundtrack, which continues to amaze and delight all these years later. The closest comparison I can think of is Purple Rain by Prince, in the way that it expresses that certain kind of musical genius, and the struggle to live up to the potential that is stored in the body and soul. If you haven't seen Amadeus, then you are in for a treat. It is Milos Forman's masterpiece and a picture that will serve as the introduction to Classical Music for many generations to come.

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