The film begins in 1823 as Salieri, as an old man, attempts suicide by slitting his throat while loudly begging forgiveness for having killed a long-deceased Mozart. Placed in a lunatic asylum for the act, he is visited by a young priest who seeks to take his confession. Salieri is sullen and uninterested but eventually warms to the priest and launches into a long “confession” about the relationship between himself and Mozart. As the scenes later cut back to this dialog, it seems as if the telling of the story with the listening priest goes on through the night and into the next day.

Salieri reminisces about his youth, particularly about his devotion to God and his love for music and how he pledges to God to remain celibate as a sacrifice if he can somehow devote his life to music. He describes how his father’s plans for him were to go into business, but Salieri suggests that the sudden death of his father, who choked to death during a meal, was “a miracle” that allowed Salieri to pursue a career in music. In his narrative, he is suddenly an adult joining the 18th century cultural elite in Vienna, the “city of musicians.” Salieri begins his career as a devout, God-fearing man who believes his success and talent as a composer are God’s rewards for his piety. He is content as the court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

Mozart arrives in Vienna with his patron, Count Hieronymus von Colloredo, the Archbishop of Salzburg. While Salieri secretly observes Mozart at the Archbishop’s palace, they are not properly introduced. Salieri see that Mozart off-stage is irreverent and lewd. He also first recognizes the immense talent displayed in the adult works of Mozart. In 1781, when Mozart meets the Emperor, Salieri presents Mozart with a little “March of Welcome,” which he had toiled to create. At this meeting, Mozart first displays a childish high-pitched laugh which is heard, at times, throughout the rest of the film. After hearing the march only once, Mozart spontaneously “improves” this piece with minimal effort, transforming Salieri’s “trifle” into the “Non più andrai” march from his opera The Marriage of Figaro.

Salieri reels at the notion of God speaking through the childish, petulant Mozart, whose music he regards as miraculous. Gradually, Salieri’s faith is shaken. He believes God, through Mozart’s genius, is cruelly laughing at his musical mediocrity. Salieri’s struggles with God are intercut with scenes showing Mozart’s own trials and tribulations with life in Vienna: pride at the initial reception of his music, anger and disbelief over his subsequent treatment by the Italians of the Emperor’s court, happiness with his wife Constanze and his son Wolfgang, and grief at the death of his father Leopold. Mozart becomes more desperate as the family’s expenses increase and his commissions decrease. When Salieri learns of Mozart’s financial straits, he finally sees his chance to avenge himself, using “God’s Beloved” as the instrument.

Salieri hatches a complex plot to gain ultimate victory over Mozart and over God. He wears a mask and costume similar to one he had seen Leopold wear and “commissions” the young composer to write a requiem mass, with a down payment and the promise of an enormous sum upon completion. Mozart begins to write perhaps his greatest work, the Requiem Mass in D minor, unaware of the true identity of his mysterious patron and his scheme: to somehow kill him when the work was complete. Glossing over any details of how he might commit the murder, Salieri dwells on the admiration of his peers and the court as they applauded the magnificent Requiem when he claims that he is the author of the piece. Only Salieri and God would know the truth – that Mozart wrote his own requiem mass, and that God could only watch while Salieri finally received the fame and renown he felt he deserved.

Mozart’s financial woes continue and the composing demands of the Requiem and The Magic Flutedrive him to the point of exhaustion as he alternates work between the two pieces. Constanze leaves him and takes their son with her. His health worsens and he collapses during the premiere performance of The Magic Flute. Salieri takes the stricken Mozart home and tricks him into working on the Requiem. Mozart dictates while Salieri transcribes throughout the night. As Constanze returns that morning, she tells Salieri to leave. Constanze locks the manuscript away despite Salieri’s objections, but as she goes to wake her husband, Mozart is dead. The Requiem is left unfinished, and Salieri is left powerless as Mozart’s body is hauled out of Vienna for burial in a mass grave.

The film ends as Salieri finishes recounting his story to the visibly shaken young priest. Salieri concludes that Godkilled Mozart rather than allow Salieri to share in even an ounce of his glory, and that he is consigned to be the “patron saint of mediocrity.” Salieri absolves the priest of his own mediocrity and blesses his fellow patients as he is taken away in his wheelchair. The last sound heard before the credits roll is Mozart’s comical laughter.


I know that most people these days don’t listen to classical music, and some may not even know who Mozart is. That is quite a sad fact of today’s society. I know this film, with all its historical inaccuracies, is often showed to classes as a way to show them the music of Mozart.

Tom Hulce may best be known as the voice of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame,but he was nominated for a best actor Oscar in this role. After you watch this film, you’ll see why. He gives a riveting performance as the fun-loving and sometimes conflicted Mozart. It’s a shame we haven’t seen more of him since this film.

F. Murray Abraham does a pretty good job of making Salieri the villain of the film, even though history tells us that he had nothing but the utmost respect for Mozart. Abraham best moments are those when he is the aged Salieri, though. It is no wonder he won the Oscar for best actor.

The biggest issue with this film is the historical inaccuracies. As a student of music history, these irk me, but I still enjoy the film.

The opera scenes are done so well, that I actually wanted to go out and see an opera. If you’re going to make a film about a musician, especially Mozart, you better be sure to do his music justice, and they manage to do just that, even in the abbreviated forms that are used.

This film won the Oscar for best picture in 1985 and is listed as one of the best movies of all time. It’s not very hard to see why. As I’ve said before, I’m not really into “artsy-fartsy” movies, but I am a fan of music and Mozart, so of course I was going to watch and love this film. Although it is based on a play and not the actual story, it is very enjoyable and the 3 hours are gone before you know it. I recommend this fully for anyone.

5 out of 5 stars

7 Responses to “Amadeus”

  1. […] don’t make the music front and center, what is the point? Picture Ray without the concerts or Amadeus without the operas. Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you […]

  2. […] film takes some liberties with the history, but then again, don’t all biopics? Just think of Amadeus, Ali, Immortal Beloved, and Radio, Rudy for examples. None of which are exactly what happened in […]

  3. […] a matter similar to Amadeus, they took many liberties with her history in order to forge a better, more entertaining story. […]

  4. […] can I say about 1776? Well, for starters, it is in the same vein as Amadeus in terms of historical accuracy, but nowhere near as good. Come to think of it, I believe this film […]

  5. […] class, but sometimes it is ok to fudge the facts for entertainment purposes. Anyone remember Amadeus and how far removed it is from the […]

  6. […] I’m not one to sit down and watch long flicks unless they keep my attention all the through. Amadeus and Titanic are a couple of examples that manage to do that for me. Close, but no cigar would be the […]

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