Amadeus By Peter Shaffer The play “Amadeus” by Peter Shaffer was not written in order to be a biography of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, much more than this, Peter Shaffer wrote it as a story, rather than a history. In his story he was free to insert fiction to make the play more interesting to a wide audience, as well as to fulfill his purposes. However, musicologists and historians have written several articles claiming that Peter Shaffer “trashed this immortal”. What none of them can see is that in “Amadeus” there are situations that are plausible while others are “fictional ornament”. In this paper I will make an attempt to point what is fiction or untruth.
The center of the play lies on the character of Antonio Salieri and his obsessive jealously of Mozart. To convey this plot, it was necessary that Salieri had motives enough dislike Mozart. So it was necessary to build a character that was extremely competent but with no talent at all to contrast with a genius who behaved badly. With this, Salieri would have reasons to be jealous. As his first attempt to convey his plot, Salieri is shown as a musical hack as we can see in this extract: “Bewildered, MOZART does so (halts and listens), becoming aware of SALIERI playing his March of Welcome.
It is an extremely banal piece, vaguely – but only vaguely – reminiscent of another march to become very famous later one.” The truth is that Salieri was recognized as a great composer and that is the reason he was appointed as the court composer and imperial Kappelmeister. He had several students, including Beethoven, Liszt and Schubert. His operas were performed and acclaimed in Italy and France during 1778 to 1790. Unfortunately, his style lost worth and his works were no longer popular at the end of the XVIII century. However, showing Salieri as only a competent musician was intentional in order to convey the plot, which is the rivalry against Mozart’s artistic creativity and Salieri’s intellectual capacity.
Salieri held his posts in the court from 1774 until 1824. He died one year later in 1825 and in his last years he suffered from senility. During 1824 there was indeed the rumor in Vienna that someone had heard Salieri saying that he had poisoned Mozart. However, many biographies of Mozart don’t even mention the probability of poisoning and in 1825 the attendants of Salieri said that they had never heard Salieri saying that he had killed Mozart. Furthermore, if Salieri had indeed said those things, it wouldn’t have meant that he indeed poisoned him, it could be related to his weak mind. On the other hand, Constanze supported the idea that Salieri killed Mozart and she believed that Salieri planned against Mozart during his life.
But the medical observations of Mozart can nowadays be diagnosed as several causes, from typhus to rheumatic fever, streptococcal infection to cyclothymic disorder, but none related to poisoning. Shaffer probably decided to write this play because of this rumor of a murder between two great composers. This idea, which at that time was indeed plausible, fed Shaffer with inspirations to write “Amadeus”. Even not being true, Salieri poisoning Mozart was a demand for Shaffer’s play. Again, a play here is a piece of art, not a biography. What seems to be the most important topic of the play is the relation between Salieri and Mozart.
As it is seen throughout the play, Salieri’s envy is not demonstrated to others, he treated Mozart with respect and had friendly manners. However, he boycotted Mozart inside the court. Mozart could have had the post to teach Princess Elizabeth: JOSEPH: Herr Sommer. A dull man, surely? What of Mozart? SALIERI: Majesty, I cannot with a clear conscience recommend Mozart to teach royalty. One hears too many stories.
JOSEPH: They may be just gossip. SALIERI: One of them, I regret, relates to a protge of my own. A very young singer. JOSEPH: Charmant! SALIERI: Not pleasant, Majesty, but true. JOSEPH: I see ..
Let it be Herr Sommer, then. And later, the emperor was willing to offer Mozart a post and a salary, to which Salieri objected. JOSEPH: We must find him a post. ( .. ) There’s Chamber Composer, now that Gluck is dead.
SALIERI: Mozart to follow Gluck? JOSEPH: I won’t have him say I drove him away. You know what a tongue he has. SALIERI: Then grant him Gluck’s post, Majesty, but not his salary. That would be wrong. JOSEPH: Gluck got two thousand florins a year.
What should Mozart get? SALIERI: Two hundred. Light payment, yes, but for light duties. JOSEPH: Perfect fair. I’m obliged to you, Court Composer. Here we see that Salieri betrayed Mozart when he was not around, while held courtly manners in front of him.
In real life, nothing can prove us that Salieri was or was not a jealous character. However, we can say that Salieri’s jealously might have been true, as he had high posts and Mozart could seem to him as a threat. On the other hand, as Salieri had such honorable career inside the court, he could have done something to prevent operas like “The Abduction from the seraglio”, “The Marriage of Figaro”, and “Cosi fan Tutte” from being presented in the court theaters. He had influence enough to prohibit these operas and he did not. Besides, if his jealousy were obsessive as it is shown, others would have noticed.
And all that is reported about Salieri is that he was a “small-town, earnest young man, filled with a Single desperate desire to serve God.” Again, in the play Salieri must be exactly how he is portrayed because his personality is the plot itself. His jealousy is the main plot of “Amadeus”. In any other way Shaffer could convey his intentions. Another element that was controversial in the release of the play is how Mozart’s character is portrayed. In “Amadeus” there are examples of Mozart using inappropriate language, lacking respect for the emperor and behaving like a child. However, it is said that at that time, if he behaved the way he does in the play towards the emperor, it would result in banishment from the court.
At that time, it was impossible to imagine someone addressing an emperor the way he did. Mozart is portrayed as a “spiteful, sniggering, conceited, infantine” man. However, Shaffer himself tells that this portrait of Mozart was indeed excessive: “The theatrical portrait of Mozart in “Amadeus” is clearly excessive and one-sided, at least in the expositional first act. It has been made so deliberately by crowding together into an hour’s time instances of Wolfgang’s most unattractive behavior, so as to provide ever-increasing fuel for Salieri’s equally mounting sense of outrage. This is dramatically essential, because at the end of the act, Salieri has to explode in a furious, pain-racked, violently aggrieved address to his God, upbraiding him for choosing a patently unworthy man to be his divine instrument.” But what is documented is that Mozart was “extremely irritable. A sort of child. All his sentiments had more violence than depths.” – 1804.
So Mozart personality was exaggerated in order to convey the plot. Being like this, we would give a minimal reason for Salieri being jealous. It was intentional to make Mozart as a silly person so that Salieri’s rage would have a motif. With these discussed elements of the play, it seems noticeable that a playwright or any writer is free to use any ornament needed to convey what he wants to transmit to the readers. Shaffer, although being a Mozart scholar, used some fictional elements to write his story about the relation between the two composers.