Despite the constant changes and developments made within music, one name still remains highly respected and admired for being one of the greatest Classical composers in history, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film Amadeus is a 1984 period drama that portrays a fictionalized rivalry between Mozart and Italian composer, Antonio Salieri. This movie is set in Vienna, Austria during the late 18th century where music existed as fully orchestrated performances. From watching this movie, the audience is able to see a different kind of music industry that eventually developed into the industry we are familiar with today.
Along with Joseph Haydn, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, Mozart was one of the most influential composers during the Classical Period (1730-1820). This was a time in Western society where a new style of art and literature was created that emulated the ideals of Classical antiquity. Quite often, Composers would take Greek and Roman ideals and incorporate them into their own symphonies, concertos, operas, or requiems.
During this era, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made a name for himself due to his musical talents. By the age of five, he had already started composing his own music and was performing in front of European Royalty. Despite his early death on December 5, 1791, Mozart was one of the most accomplished composers for having composed over 600 works by the age of 35. Joseph Haydn praised Mozart for his talents by saying, “Posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”
Amadeus, adapted from Peter Shaffer’s stage play, was written to acknowledge the genius of Mozart and his work. The film is a theatrical drama that portrays the perspective of Antonio Salieri who reminisces about his youth and the rivalry he had with Mozart. While Salieri is providing a biased opinion of his rival, the audience is able to see the two sides of Mozart. We are shown the young, immature man that Salieri believes doesn’t deserve this God-given gift for music. However, despite Salieri’s hatred for Mozart, he cannot help but respect his music and admire its greatness. Amadeus is not only meant to show Mozart’s genius and how it influenced others, but also how he suffered from an unfortunate life of poverty. And despite his fame and talents, his lack of money led to him being placed in an unmarked grave, its location to remain forever unknown.
Salieri describing one of Mozart’s composition:
Salieri: 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 the very voice of God.
In order for a musician’s work to be recognized during this time, he would need the support of a benefactor. Amadeus highlights the life of Mozart during his time in Vienna where he was employed by Emperor Joseph II. With the help of the Emperor, Mozart was able to create some of his most famous operas and concertos, The Marriage of Figaro, The Abduction from the Seraglio and Don Giovanni. These benefactors were quite similar to the modern-day record label. These people of title and wealth would employ great composers so they could serve them. In return, the benefactors would pay the composers to write and create performances and operas. The only difference, however, is that record labels employed artists for the sake of creating more money. The benefactors, on the other hand, employed composers mostly because of their own personal enjoyment for the composers’ music.
Mozart existed during a time where music was always a live performance. There were no recordings that allowed a musician’s work to be shared. At that time, the only way one would be able to listen to music in a more intimate setting is if the listener was knowledgeable of a composer’s composition and was able to play the music himself. However, despite being a part of a large audience, operas, concertos and symphonies allowed the listener to experience music beyond stereos and headphones. Instead of hearing the music from an mp3 file or a record, you were able to watch as the musicians performed the song in front of you. Live musical performances have the ability to create a reaction within the listener that a digital copy cannot. The passion of the musician flows from the sound of their instruments and into the ears of the audience. Sharing the stories and emotions that were intertwined in the music became a much more intimate experience when the music was performed or conducted by the composer himself. While it was not intimate in setting, the listener had a greater connection to the composer through these live performances.
Mozart conducting his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio:
Even though a live performance created more intimacy between the listener and composer, it unfortunately lacked the convenience and profit from selling records. Despite his talents and reputation as a great composer, we see in the movie that Mozart struggled financially. This was a common problem during this time. Even though a musician achieved great fame for his music, there was no way to profit from composing beyond creating successful concertos and operas (which was difficult to produce without a wealthy benefactor), or by teaching pupils.
Mozart: I must have pupils. Without pupils I can’t manage.
Salieri: You don’t mean to tell me that you’re living in poverty?
Mozart: No, but I’m broke.
Salieri: How is this possible? You give concerts don’t you? I hear they’re quite successful.
Mozart: They’re stupendously successful. You can’t get a seat.The only trouble is no one will hire me. They all want to hear me play but they won’t let me teach their daughters as if I was some kind of fiend.
By observing the struggles of the great, classical composer, we are able to see how much technology has benefited the music industry in regards to expanding music on a global level and generating profit. It brings forth the question on whether Mozart would have achieved greater success if that type of technology was available during the Classical Period. Would he have been able to live a comfortable life financially if he was able to sell recordings of his music? Would his name, reputation and music have spread to countries beyond Austria during that century?
However, it also questions whether technology has diminished the art of composing music. Mozart was considered a genius for how he constructed his compositions. In one scene of the movie, we see how Mozart composed music in a way that was on a level beyond other composers. He could hear how his music would sound when played by an entire orchestra in his mind, even before it was written on paper. With the use of synthetic sounds and recorded voices today, orchestras no longer hold as much importance as they once did. Does the use of modern technology and the need to create profit eliminate the passion and art of creating music which Mozart’s works are famous for?
Mozart’s attempt to complete his Requiem Mass in D Minor before his tragic death:
While I am not a huge fan of classical music, I am a fan of Mozart and the other composers of his time. While today’s music involves computer-produced beats and studio-recorded vocals within a three-minute time frame, composers like Mozart created music that could be played for hours. Mozart’s music was seen as an art form where each note was important and was carefully arranged in a way that resulted in the construction of a masterpiece. This was a time in history where this music was highly respected for creating beautiful and complex masterpieces that told stories for the audience to enjoy. My appreciation for the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has encouraged me to listen to other great composers of the Classical era like Beethoven and Haydn and to discover the ways they have influenced the world of music as well.