Watching Amadeus (1984) for the first time since I saw it on its release, I was struck by the cleverness of the central idea, that of basing the story on Salieri, and his blasphemous contempt for God and his profligate ways with artistic talent. He cannot get over or forgive God for bestowing on a a frivolous and vulgar boy the transcendent musical talent that he can recognize, but not approach. And so, he plots to kill Mozart and steal his last work.
Such a conceit would not be possible were it not for the development of 19th century romanticism: notions of the artist as seer, visionary, gifted with special insight to the ways of beauty and God are not those of Mozart’s time. He was a servant, a music maker. Brilliant and talented at that, but just that. The fact that he could write symphonies in his head..? Well, such people appear now and then. But in the 19th century, the view of Mozart underwent a change, once his music was reassessed: He became The Artist, touched by God. J.S. Bach may have written his beautiful music to glorify God, but neither he nor anyone in his day, claimed that he was a god.
The Salieri of Amadeus, the consummate courtier-musician, is also a complete anachronism. He is a full-blown Romantic, seeing Mozart and his music through the eyes of a later period, one that is still with us as we worship artists as celebrities. As a romantic critic, one who appreciates but cannot produce, Salieri sees Mozart as a divine idiot, akin to the madman geniuses of romantic folklore, from whom we have weak descendants in the alcoholic and drug-addled fraternity of bohemians and wannabees. And then there’s all that Freudian father-complex material that he uncovers.
Pretty clever stuff by the playwright, Peter Shaeffer, but I found the movie, on this second viewing, way too long, and a bit monotonous. But then, perhaps I’ve shed my earlier romanticism.