Classical Music Breaks Bad: Mozart’s Downfall in Amadeus
In today’s society, mental illnesses are slowly being recognized as serious health problems that require some sort of treatment, whether the treatment is therapy, medication, or both. In the 1700s, however, mental illnesses were not acknowledged as a problem and were simply brushed off. Such is the case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a (real life) character in Peter Shaffer’s heavily fictionalized play Amadeus. Mozart is a child prodigy, a man who is destined for great things. As a result of his upbringing at the hands of a strict and inflexible father, Mozart’s mental health is rather delicate. Antonio Salieri, one of Emperor Joseph’s court composers, views Mozart as extremely dangerous competition. In order to “win” fame and fortune, things Salieri believes that God has destined him for, Salieri uses Mozart’s mental problems to slowly and systematically destroy Mozart’s life. Salieri uses Mozart’s mental issues to methodically alienate Mozart from his companions and to destroy his career.
Salieri destroys Mozart’s career by emphasizing Mozart’s character flaws to his employers and by increasing Mozart’s mental instability. Mozart was a child when he began to play tours of Europe with his father, a fact noted by Emperor Joseph’s exclamation, “You will not recall it, but the last time we met, you were also on this floor!…This young man-all of 6 years old…” (Shaffer 31). Mozart’s father toured with him, parading Mozart around like a show pony and teaching Mozart to be overconfident and showy. When Mozart does not get what he wants, he responds like a spoiled child and burns bridges with those around him. These traits do not help Mozart in his chosen career path, initially leading him to act rudely towards the emperor and eventually to his downfall at Salieri’s hands. When Mozart first meets the emperor, he revises Salieri’s Welcome March, adding in a “third above”, completely changing the piece (Shaffer 35), offending Salieri, who begins to plot Mozart’s murder. When plotting Mozart’s murder, Salieri believes that “by killing Mozart, he is not only solving his own Jobean dilemma” (Bidney), a scenario in which Salieri is tested by God. Mozart’s constant immaturity grates on Salieri’s nerves; after all, Mozart insulted Salieri’s music and isolated Mozart from a true friendship with Salieri. Murdering thoughts aside, within the first few minutes of meeting the emperor and his court, Mozart manages to insult the Italian opera system, caustically remarking that real operas do not have “…male sopranos screeching. Or stupid couples rolling their eyes. All of that Italian rubbish” (Shaffer 33). Mozart’s ways lead him to offend several prominent figures in the Italian court, including the so-called “Lord Fugue”. While the audience sees that Mozart initially offends the court during his first meeting with them, Salieri manipulates Mozart into burning bridges beyond repair, as “self-serving calculation is Salieri’s absolute, not music” (Bidney) When Mozart is in need of a teaching position within the court, Salieri subtly points out Mozart’s lothario ways in an attempt to stop Mozart’s tutoring sessions from happening, remarking that “one hears too many stories…Not pleasant, Majesty, but true” (Shaffer 64). Had Mozart not been confident and showy with his adulterous ways, Salieri would not have been able to further discredit Mozart.
Even Mozart’s opera, one of his greatest creations, was initially ruined by his overconfidence. Mozart wrote a fantastic opera but, because he irritated Salieri, his opera was ruined by Salieri’s meddling. Mozart did not think about the content of his opera, as he was overconfident in his operatic abilities. An integral scene was cut out of the opera because Mozart thought that he was above all of the Italian opera rules. The rules do not allow for any ballet and Mozart’s ballroom scene cut corners. Salieri noticed the oversight on Mozart’s part and was able to report this to the courtier in charge of the opera. When the scene was cut, Mozart threw a temper tantrum because he could not believe that he did not get his way, screaming “I’ll hold a rehearsal! You’ll see! The Emperor will come! You’ll see!” (Shaffer 74). Mozart’s temper burned the rest of the bridges between himself and the Italian court. Another way that Salieri subtly manipulates Mozart into further mental insanity is by getting Mozart kicked out of the Masons. Towards the end of his life, Mozart, destitute and practically a beggar, has to resort to relying on his Masonic brothers handouts in order to survive. Salieri puts the idea of a vaudeville show centered around the Masons in Mozart’s head. Salieri knew that the Masons would not take kindly to their customs being paraded in front of common folk for all to see. After Mozart puts on the opera, the Masons decide to relinquish Mozart’s membership in the face of the recent events, declaring that they will “ensure that no Freemason or person of distinction in Vienna” will ever trust Mozart again (Shaffer 100). Mozart, quite simply, is ruined. Salieri “does not poison Mozart, he starves him to death by insuring that Mozart receives no money from patronage” (Bidney). Mozart finally has no money coming into his house, whether from teaching or from Masonic handouts. Salieri uses Mozart’s overconfidence and flamboyance to cut short Mozart’s professional musical career.
Salieri manipulates Mozart into alienating himself from his family and friends by furthering Mozart’s mental illness. When Salieri first hears of Mozart’s great talent, Salieri is wary of Mozart. After Mozart rewrites Salieri’s Welcome March, Salieri is no longer just wary of Mozart, he hates Mozart for stealing his glory and fame. Salieri is “weak, dependent, primarily a receiver instead of a creator” (Bidley), so Salieri decides to exact his revenge on Mozart for Amadeus’ musical inclinations. All of the pain in Mozart’s life, his mental insanity, his eventual death, could have been avoided if Mozart had reined in his less than desirable personality traits. Salieri had to have known that Mozart would try to improvise on Salieri’s score, but Salieri played the march anyway. Before he even met Mozart, Salieri had started manipulating him. For most of his life, Mozart had obeyed his father’s every word. When Mozart began to court Constanze, he was hesitant to propose to her as his father did not approve of the match. Salieri talks to Mozart and slyly suggests that Mozart defy his father for once in his life. After Mozart marries Constanze, Salieri goes to great lengths to try to destroy Mozart’s life, even trying to seduce Constanze, telling Constanze “Princess Elizabeth needs a pupil” and that Constanze should come “and see [him] alone tomorrow” (Shaffer 51). Salieri, a “strict disciplinarian and self-renouncer” (Bidley), decided that breaking a few of his rules would be for the greater good, as he could kill two problematic birds with one stone. Towards the end of Mozart’s life, he is living with his son and pregnant wife in a pauper’s apartment. Constanze and Mozart have several fights over money and their fights culminate in Costanze leaving Mozart temporarily, “just for a while, she says. She’s taken the baby and gone to Baden” (Shaffer 96).. She was frustrated by his refusal to write any music other than the Requiem and his lack of breadwinning for the family. Salieri visits Mozart and sees all of the ruin that he has caused to happen to Amadeus. At that moment, Salieri was “ready to commit murder for the sake of justice or morality” (Bidley). Even while suffering a mental breakdown and being destitute, Mozart is still composing beautiful music, a fact that Salieri considers unjust. Drawn by some unknown phenomena, Salieri feels the need to apologize for all of the hardships that Mozart has suffered at Salieri’s hands. Salieri fails in this attempt, however, as he reminds Mozart of his continual failures in his family’s eyes. Mozart had a complete mental breakdown when Salieri tries to apologize. By alienating Mozart’s friends, Salieri is able to further Mozart’s mental breakdown.
Throughout Amadeus, Salieri makes able use of Mozart’s mental issues in order to instigate Mozart’s breakdown. Mozart’s overconfidence and flamboyance play into Salieri’s hands, allowing him to subtly manipulate others into ruining Mozart’s professional career. Mozart’s personal life was ruined as well; Salieri systematically destroyed Mozart’s relationships with his family members. Mozart’s mental issues would have been considered taboo in polite society in his lifetime, but Salieri has no problem manipulating Mozart into his eventual demise.
Bidney, Martin. “Thinking About God and Mozart: The Salieris of Puškin and Peter Shaffer”. The Slavic and East European Journal 30.2 (1986): 183–195. Web. Dec. 6, 2015.
Shaffer, Peter. Amadeus. New York: Perennial, 2001. Print.
As William Shakespeare once said “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” In several cases this holds true, and we believe so as we are constantly searching for ways to better our futures and distinguish our destiny from those of others. The methods in which we search for such ways exist in our understanding of how cause and consequence plays out in the world. It is believed that employing kindness is a tool for receiving kindness, thus we follow a system of being kind to those who are useful to us. In Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, Antonio Salieri follows exactly this system in his treatment towards the world renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with an underlying motive of attempting to shape out his future destiny in a world without Mozart. Salieri’s bitter treatment towards Mozart in the beginning is contrasted with his false kindness and hospitality when Mozart is in need, and highlights Salieri’s recognition of employing kindness to achieve personal gain for himself. Shaffer uses Salieri’s changing treatment of Mozart to explore the idea that the role of kindness becomes increasingly more important when an individual attempts to determine and better their destiny; however, this determination can only remain as merely an attempt.
With a burning desire to create an image of greatness and to essentially be the best there is, there is often little that can get in the way, especially for an individual as strong-headed as Salieri. When Mozart enters the grandiose life of Court Composer Antonio Salieri, bitterness and discontent replace Salieri’s happiness and joy, quickly turning Salieri into one of Mozart’s greatest enemies. With a dream to create a destiny that would lead him to be the greatest composer there is, Salieri became jealous of the stolen spotlight Mozart held, and fought to regain every shred of fame that he had once had. The understanding that Mozart was in fact a much more talented and superior music maker to himself drove Salieri into insanity, and thus his destiny to be the greatest was quickly destroyed. Salieri initially continued to believe that Mozart was merely a bump in his road to success; however, he soon realized that the increasing talent of Amadeus Mozart would only cover his work with more and more layers of tasteless notes and inharmonious chords. Salieri began working more furiously towards his success as a composer, using his political status and knowledge of the Emperor to fight off the incredible threat that was Mozart. These acts against Mozart, and the overall developed hatred of Mozart’s musical ability was Salieri’s defense to the belief that his destiny was being harmed. The kindness and respect that Salieri gives to the Emperor, and figures of equal status, contrasts the bitterness that Salieri treats Mozart with, and also highlights Salieri’s understanding of the kindness required to achieve personal gain. Salieri bows down to the Emperor and meets his every request in an effort to gain more and more status, which works temporarily, but does not get him to the status that pure talent got Mozart to. The desire to shape his destiny in the direction of pure, individual fame pushed Salieri to think of more creative ways to eliminate Mozart, leading eventually to an idea that mirrors, instead of contrasts, his Salieri’s treatment towards the Emperor, however with the hope of a slightly different result.
False understandings of success can be quite a convincing motive for continuing to pursue the current method of action, and Salieri’s several backdoor moves were examples of this. When the realization that Mozart’s fame could not be avoided by ignorance and passivity, Salieri began taking action to eliminate Mozart through false kindness. The seemingly corruptive results of Salieri “helping” Mozart pushed Salieri to continue to walk Mozart into danger zones of defeat and demise, hoping for a complete eradication of Mozart and all his fame, leaving only Salieri’s own work to shine through. To gain the trust of Mozart and lead him to his death, Salieri worked on befriending Mozart, giving him seemingly good job opportunities and helping him compose while he was sick. The kindness and hospitality that Salieri treated Mozart with during this time was completely a result of Salieri’s attempt to help his own cause, and was employed for personal gain only. Each of Salieri’s actions hurt Mozart a little more every time, and Mozart’s naivety to the cause of such harmful actions led him to seek comfort in the conveniently available Salieri. Salieri’s corrupt behavior and manipulative nature led Mozart into a pitfall of disaster, taking him from fame and security, to complete disaster and demise. Mozart’s disaster and demise however, was exactly what Salieri was in search of. Salieri’s belief that Mozart’s death would bury himself into non-existence allowed Salieri to also believe that he would be able to regain his fame as the top composer with no obstruction. With this being his only desired destiny, and Salieri’s previous experience with using kindness to achieve personal gain, the decision to falsely help Mozart was inevitable. Salieri believed that his continuous success at harming Mozart would give him the destiny he desired, however this was not necessarily the case, and Salieri’s realization of this came too late. From the dependency that Mozart developed towards Salieri, it was clear that Salieri’s methods of kindness and backdoor deceit were working well to harm Mozart, and this represents Shaffer’s explanation of how kindness becomes more important in attempting to develop destiny.
The deceptive success that comes from a disfigured understanding of the truth can often result in more consequence than success, and such was the case for Salieri. The understanding that Mozart’s death would bring Salieri success pushes Salieri to continue acting the way he does, ultimately leading him to insanity not success. The way Shaffer develops Salieri is reflective of a power-hungry individual whose sole desire is to have personal fame. This is apparent in the extreme measures that he takes to secure his power when he feels it is being threatened. Salieri’s understanding of the manipulative measures he needs to take in order to get what he wants pushes him to act in irrational manners, despite the risk he is taking against his own morals and image. After realizing the need to manipulate Mozart, Salieri pushed it further, eventually indirectly killing him through the harm he imposed. The sole motive for these actions was a result of Salieri’s personal desire and attempt to create a foolproof destiny that would lead to fame. Not only was Mozart treasured more fervently, but Salieri was looked down upon as crazy and out of his mind. Salieri’s actions of false kindness were clearly indicative of his desire for fame, however as Shaffer illustrates, the desired result is not always the case. The increasing role of kindness in Salieri’s treatment towards Mozart gave him the image of success that was needed to keep going; however, it also provided a false image of the reality for Salieri, which led him to his own eventual demise. By understanding the true consequences of Salieri’s actions, it can be seen that an increasing role of kindness only gave Salieri an attempt at shaping his destiny to fit his desires, and was unsuccessful overall.
Antonio Salieri’s intense desire for fame and power is unwavering, and quite often harmful to his success. As a result, living under the shadow of a much more talented and revered composer proved to be quite difficult for Salieri, and resulted in Salieri’s attempt to destroy this roadblock to success. The motivation to try and reshape his destiny to one that leads to fame came from Salieri’s joy and happiness of being the Emperor’s respected and well-loved Court Composer. The threat that Mozart posed to this joy and happiness caused uproar within Salieri’s internal being, and he refused to live his life under this threat. Salieri’s destiny was following a path of success, and when this path was blocked by Mozart, Salieri began to seek out methods of re-aligning the path. This included the false kindness that Salieri presents to the Emperor, and brought a sense of false success that Mozart would disappear and Salieri’s work would be all that was left. The kindness that Salieri gave to Mozart increased as this false success increased; however, as Shaffer highlights, this success was false and led to the demise of Salieri, defining the role of happiness as a contributor to attempting to determine destiny, and the determination of destiny as the only thing it can be: an attempt.