Notes on Movies and Music: Amadeus and Mozart’s Requiem

 

This one’s inspired by Anuradha’s blog post on her memories of acting in plays staged as part of the Metroplus theatre fest. She has this to say about Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus in which she played Constanze Mozart —

When Wolfgang dies in my arms, my voice broke and my eyes prickled as I blinked back hot tears and told myself, “it’s just the lights so say your lines Anu” and somewhere far away, I heard people applauding as they thought the play was over. Whenever I think about “Amadeus” it’s the requiem that was played in that scene, that comes to mind and it fills my heart with an intense hurting sadness.

The story of “Amadeus” had affected me deeply. My throat was full of giggles as, an 18-year old slip of a girl, I  hid under  the grand piano playing mouse, while Wolfgang ‘meowed’ and chased me into marriage and a short period of bliss. And then dragged me to witness his debauchery and downfall. I don’t know what my co-actor Arun went through but that play left me all churned up and emotionally troubled for months.

This brought back memories of my own adolescent love affair with Mozart’s Requiem and my discovery of Milos Forman’s Amadeus. The Requiem came into my life just when the curtains were going down on the last “glorious” year of my life in school. So it wasn’t surprising that I poured all my adolescent uncertainties into it. Some may consider this odd; a Requiem is, after all, by definition “a sung mass for the dead”. My adolescent self, though, craved the “intense hurting sadness”, the momentous tragedy that Mozart so beautifully captures in his last incomplete work, his Swan Song. In retrospect, my first reaction to the Requiem, though tinged with the infatuation of an adolescent, does not seem unwarranted. Though tragic, the Requiem is the kind of musical composition that inspires awe by its sheer energy. It remains and will forever remain one of my favourite pieces of music.

Sometime in 2004, after pestering the staff at Landmark bookstore into getting us a VCD of Amadeus, we (my brother and I) finally got to watch Milos Forman’s vision of Peter Schaffer’s play. And what a vision it turned out to be! Peter Schaffer blows up the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri into epic proportions, to create a fable that counterpoints casual genius with methodical mediocrity and delves into moral questions associated with the nature of genius. Forman paints this on a magnificent baroque canvas, filling in tiny details and adding copious quantities of the most crucial element: music. From the dramatic opening sequence accompanied by the 1st Movement of Symphony No. 25* to Mozart’s first “German” opera, filled with “German values”, the terrifying score of Don Giovanni, and the final act of the tragedy played out to the Requiem, in which Salieri effectively kills Mozart by driving him into exhaustion, each piece of music, conducted by Neville Marriner, is a perfect performance in itself. F. Murray Abraham as the passionate but frustrated Antonio Salieri and Tom Hulce as the rash, mischievously vulgar, but consistently brilliant Mozart, play their parts to perfection. Historical accuracy isn’t one of the virtues of Schaffer’s play. His intention, and Forman’s too, is to create a dramatic fable using a minor historical detail. And we knew this. Nevertheless, I vividly remember how on that sunny afternoon when we watched the movie for the first time, my brother, with an indecipherable expression on his face, refused to watch the last act and went into hiding in his bedroom! He didn’t want to see Mozart “die”. I stuck with it until the credits started rolling and have to confess that the experience left me mildly disturbed. But then, I think that’s the power of both the play and the movie. They lay bare the dark deeds that the human mind is capable of when confronted with raw genius.

*A part of the 1st Mvmt of Symphony No. 25 (one of only two of Mozart’s G minor symphonies, the other being No. 40) must, I guess, be familiar to every Indian as the Titan theme music.
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