Amadeus: a Classic Tragedy-Comedy


Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducting one of his pieces

Selina Pi, Editor

When you hear “Mozart,” what do you think about? Piano? Classical music? Child prodigies?

The 1984 movie Amadeus, centering on the life of Wolfgang “Wolfie” Amadeus Mozart, fills out the traditional 2-D image of a historical musical figure with a bouncy, mischievous personality. The  movie tells “Wolfie’s” story from the point of view of rival musician Antonio Salieri. Tom Hulce, who played Mozart, and F. Murray Abraham, who played Salieri, were both nominated for Academy Awards. Abraham won Best Actor. The film also won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Makeup, and Best Sound Mixing.

Be prepared for crude humor, elaborate costumes and wigs, Wolfie’s clown-like laugh, and a few historical inaccuracies. Historical evidence does not support the existence of strong enmity between Salieri and Mozart, but such a rivalry, based on Alexander Pushkin’s 1830 play Mozart and Salieri, makes for the structure of an interesting drama. As the movie progresses, it brings forward issues of religious faith, money, relationships, egotism, and jealousy. Salieri, once a famous Italian musician, begins to lose his faith in God as a result of his jealousy of Mozart, whose middle name, Amadeus, means “God’s Beloved.” Meanwhile, Wolfie’s reluctance to teach piano and his excessive spending leave him and his wife, Constanza, in financial turmoil. After his father dies, Mozart’s grief and guilt leave him prone to a plot by Salieri to steal his fame and eventually his life.

In the movie, Mozart’s fatal flaw is his arrogance, mixed with perfectionism. His sensitivity and high confidence cause him to look down on critics, even the Austrian king. As a result, he develops a great potential to make enemies. Salieri has noble qualities, such as respect and appreciation for Mozart and his wife, but he is morally scarred by disillusionment at his perceived mediocrity compared to Mozart. Salieri’s inferiority complex endlessly pains him and drives him to insanity. By contrasting these two characters, the movie advises viewers to strike a careful balance between rude overconfidence and envious insecurity.

Amadeus is a 30-year old movie, but its story and visual spectacle still have appeal today.