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Amadeus: A Play by Peter Shaffer by Peter…

Amadeus: A Play by Peter Shaffer (edition 2001)

by Peter Shaffer

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Title:Amadeus: A Play by Peter Shaffer
Authors:Peter Shaffer
Info:Harper Perennial (2001), Edition: 1, Paperback, 160 pages
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Amadeus by Peter Shaffer



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  kutheatre | Jun 7, 2015 |
I loved this play, but I think I prefer the movie. Maybe if I saw a performance of the play I'd change my mind. Amadeus is told from the villain's point of view, or is he actually the protagonist? It's hard to tell, since Mozart isn't really either. I did sympathize a bit with Salieri; how did he work so hard all his life to be shown up by some potty-mouthed, goofy child prodigy? Salieri tries the best he can to ruin Mozart, whom he sees as God's special instrument, to get back at God for overlooking him and wasting such talent on a nincompoop.

Shaffer brings history to life. This is a side of Mozart you'd never imagined before, complete with making fart noises and pretending he's a cat. I'd love to read some biographies of Mozart to see how accurate Shaffer was. ( )
  __Lindsey__ | Apr 17, 2013 |
One of my all time favourite movies. I had this on VHS tape (yes remember them?)and played it so much the tape stretched,warped,crackled, buckled and finally stuck inside the player. Must get around to grabbing a copy on DVD. At long last Sydney Opera House is playing Don Giovanni in September 2011 and I aim to make my opera viewing debut - it's been an unbearable wait since 1984..of course the Sydney Opera isn't playing a bawdy house version like the film and I may be disappointed with the visuals, but not the music. Now I better track down this book in preparation. I have my opera glasses at the ready. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Peter Shaffer

A Play in Two Acts

Penguin Classics, Paperback, 2007.

8vo. 112 pp. Second version. Author's Notes [pp. 5-6]. Postscript The Play and the Film [pp. 108-112].

First published, 1980.
Revised edition, 1981.
Reprinted with postscript and illustrations, 1985.
Published in Penguin Classics, 2007.

Antonio Salieri
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Constanze Weber, wife to Mozart
Joseph II, Emperor of Austria
Count Johann Kilian von Strack, Groom of the Imperial Chamber
Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg, Director of the Imperial Opera
Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Prefect of the Imperial Library
Two ''Venticelli'' - ''Little Winds'', purveyors of information, gossip and rumor
A Majordomo
Salieri's valet (Silent part)
Salieri's cook (Silent part)
Kapellmeister Bonno (Silent part)
Teresa Salieri, wife of Salieri (Silent part)
Katherina Cavalieri, Salieri's pupil (Silent part)
Citizens of Vienna

The action of the play takes place in Vienna in November 1823 and, in recall, the decade 1781-1791.

First presented by the National Theatre in London on 2 November 1979. It starred Paul Scofield as Salieri, Simon Callow as Mozart and Felicity Kendal as Constanze.

The revised version was first produced at the Broadhurst theatre, New York City, on 17 December 1980. It starred Ian McKellen as Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart and Jane Seymour as Constanze.

The Director in both cases was Peter Hall.


Spoilers Ahead!

Random notes on the Penguin Classics edition, mostly.

This edition reprints, so to say, the second version of Peter Shaffer's amazing Amadeus. The Third version was the one adapted for the screen, by the dramatist himself together with the director Milos Forman. Later Shaffer made numerous other corrections which finally amounted to some six different versions altogether. The last one of these, the final and definitely definitive as declared by its author, even included some additional touches that have never seen a stage; it was first published in 2001 by Harper Perennial. Interestingly, though published six years later, Penguin Classics have chosen to reprint only the second version, first produced in 1980, that is only one year after the premiere of the original play.

In a long preface written especially for the 2001 edition of the most final of all final versions, Peter Shaffer discusses in a somewhat tedious detail the gestation of all six versions. He explicitly states that what he has relentlessly reworked through the years is chiefly the final confrontation between Mozart and Salieri. Indeed, having read this version from cover to cover as well, I have not been able to discover any other significant difference; but I should like to mention that there are numerous subtle changes throughout the whole play. Much as I am dissatisfied with the last version of the final scene - way inferior to the movie - it is certainly better than this one: in addition to singing a childish song, here we have Mozart crawling under the table and screaming ''PAPAAAA''. Peter Shaffer apparently thought this effective and appropriate. I think it a cheap and shoddy melodrama that may be a fitting conclusion to many a play but certainly not to Amadeus. But otherwise the play makes the same stirring and thought-provoking read. Given the choice though, I'll definitely take the later version over this one - and the movie over both, for that matter.

But there is one fascinating bonus in this edition which, I cannot imagine why, is omitted from the Harper Perennial edition. This is Peter Shaffer's beautifully written Postscript, a superb piece of writing following the transformation from play into movie, and a very touching tribute to the latter indeed. Now I am going to lapse into shameless quoting again. But how can one resist those opening paragraphs? They certainly are among the funniest and the most perceptive I've ever read:

The cinema is a worrying medium for the stage playwright to work in. Its unverbal essence offers difficulties to anyone living largely by the spoken word. Increasingly, as American films grow ever more popular around the world, it is apparent that the most successful are being spoken in Screenspeak, a kind of cinematic Esperanto equally comprehensible in Bogota and Bulawayo. For example, dialogue in heavy-action pictures, horrific or intergalactic, now consists almost entirely of the alternation of two single words - a cry and a whisper - needing translation nowhere on the planet: 'Lessgidowaheer!' and 'Omygaad!'. Mastery of this new tongue is not easy for older writers

Equally dismaying has to be the endemic restlessness of film-goers. In his mind's ear as he writes for the live theatre, the dramatist can presume the attentiveness of his audience: its mutual agreement to listen, and remain in one place while the performance is going on. No such agreement exists among movie audiences. Indeed the very word 'movies' nowadays can as accurately describe the viewers of films as films themselves. I never really understood the meaning of the phrase 'upward mobility' until I had experienced a Manhattan cinema on a recent Saturday night.

So it is hardly surprising that Peter Shaffer was immensely sceptical when he was approached by Milos Forman with an offer to adapt his play for the screen. But since ''persistence was coupled with perceptiveness'', the dramatist was finally convinced to try the Forman method: more than four months of continuous work in a Connecticut farmhouse: five days a week, twelve hours a day, seeing no one else, spiced up with lots of ''tussles, falterings and depressions''. But Peter Shaffer's vivid description of the process is far more evocative:

We acted out countless versions of each scene, improvising them aloud. I sat at a long refectory table extracting, writing down, and polishing all dialogue. In the process I filled at least twenty thick notebooks. Some of the talk is inevitably simpler in the film than in the play, but none of it, I hope, is Screenspeak. At my urging, Mr Forman set out to investigate an unfamiliar world of music; at his, Mr Shaffer set out to investigate an equally unfamiliar one of screen technique. If nothing else were to come out of this frenzied seclusion, we each discovered a new discipline and a new friendship.

Now for the record I should like to quote Peter Shaffer's own words concerning the obvious that many a moron have missed completely:

From the start we agreed upon one thing: we were not making an objective Life of Wolfgang Mozart. This cannot be stressed too strongly. Obviously Amadeus on stage was never intended to be a documentary biography of the composer, and the film is even less of one. Certainly we have incorporated many real elements, new as well as true. [...] But we are also blatantly claiming the grand licence of the storyteller to embellish his tale with fictional ornament and, above all, to supply it with a climax whose sole justification need be that it enthralls his audience and emblazons his theme. I believe that we have created just such a climax for the film of Amadeus.

They certainly did. And it can't be stressed too strongly how superior the ending of the movie is. But this is not the point here. Numerous conceited people have foamed at their mouths how historically inaccurate Amadeus is. As if it mattered! Shaffer and Forman used historical truth simply as a basis to build their ''black fantasia'' about genius and mediocrity, most of all about Man and God. The same far from intelligent folk, or at least painfully lacking common sense, have rambled that the movie misrepresented Salieri as a monster and mediocre composer. Well, most of Salieri's character and actions are purely fictional, probably much more so than Mozart's, but that he was a mediocre composer there is no doubt about. Now mediocre doesn't mean bad. Far from it. Salieri was not for nothing among the most famous musicians of his time: prolific composer, eminent pedagogue, Court Composer for ages. He had integrity, industry and talent. But our world is so appallingly subjective that we must always compare things in order at least partly to appreciate them: and in comparison with Mozart, Salieri was just that: total mediocrity. Who plays Salieri today? Very few people, purely out of historical curiosity. Who plays Mozart? Everybody, everywhere, anytime. The conclusion is simple: genius easily survives the test of time, mediocrity does not. Last and least, all scholars now agree that Salieri's poisoning of Mozart is nothing more than myth, and indeed neither in the play nor in the movie did Salieri anything of the kind, despite his numerous machinations.

Further in this compelling postscript, Peter Shaffer has something to say about the famous ending of the movie, entirely different from that of the play and infinitely more effective and moving. Indeed, the dramatist himself all but confesses that. His sole excuse not to employ the same scene in the play is that it would not have been ''half as effective'' on stage; he's probably right of course, but I am sure that it would have been a great deal more effective than the play's alternative ending (including its final version which was printed more than 15 years after the movie but has nothing to do with it, alas). As he himself puts it very nicely:

What pleased me best about this resolution is that we were able to construct a scene which is highly effective in cinematic terms, yet wholly concerned with the least visual of all possible subjects: music itself. I do not believe that a stage version of this scene would have been half as effective.

When he gets to the difficulties they experienced with the shooting behind the Iron Curtain, in what once was Czechoslovakia, Shaffer is both dead serious and stupendously amusing at the same time. His tribute to Prague and the people of Central Europe is touching, even affecting; his description of their naivety is thoroughly hilarious:

Architecturally, Czech buildings provide a perfect background for the story, just as aesthetically Czech faces provide a perfect foreground. The people of Central Europe are not embarrassed by wearing period costume: the smallest bit-player on a day's leave from the factory looks absolutely natural in perruque and pelisse. Contemplating the audiences of extras assembled in the Tyl theatre to watch Mozart operas being played - the very theatre where Don Giovanni was first produced! - one experiences the miraculous feeling of time being reclaimed from oblivion. I hope profoundly that this eerie and exquisite sensation will seep through the print on to the screen

[It did, Peter!]

Inevitably the very act of making a two-and-a-half-hour costume picture entirely behind the Iron Curtain became something of an ordeal for all concerned. I keep meeting people who imagine that the business of setting up cameras and turning them on sets and actors is somehow a romantic and liberating occupation. It is impossible to convince them that the daily activity of a camera crew is just about as liberating as that of Sisyphus.

Now that's cute. So are the final two paragraphs of this remarkably rich piece; generous and sensible, they establish the movie as the masterpiece and the end in itself which in fact it is:

I am extremely grateful to him [Saul Zaentz, the producer] for this example of poise, as I am to the entire team for its endurance, and above all to Milos Forman for showing me how you can hold every detail of a long film in your head simultaneously for six frenzied months - provided that you have first prepared it properly over another six. Fine directors do not appear by accident, nor do fine pictures.

Nevertheless, despite this and all his other dazzling demonstrations to me, which may yet result one day in my attempting an original film script, our joint movie is definitely the first and last of the metamorphoses of
Amadeus. Unlike Equus it will not also become a ballet; unlikeThe Royal Hunt of the Sun it will not become an opera. Above all, and no matter how fortunate our effort may provide in its reception, it will spawn no sequels. There will be no television series of half-hour dramas in which Salieri plots different method of murdering Mozart each week, only to be frustrated by the wily little genius in the twenty-ninth minute. Even Mr Forman will agree that there can be a limit to adaptation.

Amadeus is one of those movies I regularly watch when I want to be reminded that a film may very well be a work of art. It is sublime and overwhelming in each and every aspect. Its most amazing asset is that it virtually has no weak points. Not only has Peter Shaffer adapted his play for the screen in the best possible way but, having taken advantage of everything the cinema can offer, he has actually improved his original creation. Milos Forman's genius for direction hardly needs to be mentioned at all: he makes the best out of every single scene. Then there is the fabulous cast. F. Murray Abraham as the menacing, chilling and almost horrifying Antonio Salieri together with Tom Hulce as the childish, scatological, flippant and unbearably brilliant Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart make one of the most unforgettable partnerships on the screen. The supporting cast is downright wonderful too, if quite a bit simplified in comparison with the play; Elizabeth Berridge as the very down-to-earth Constanze, Roy Dotrice as the cranky old Leopold Mozart, Jeffrey Jones as the enlightened Emperor Joseph, with his constantly repeated wise words ''Well, there it is'', they all fit their characters to perfection. The costumes, the sets, the lightning: everything to the tiniest detail could hardly have been done better. And of course the music; conducted and supervised by no other than Neville Marriner himself, it is another essential part done splendidly.

By way of conclusion, I discuss briefly here some of my favourite lines in the movie or in the play which cannot be found in the other medium; or if they can, they are very different.

One of the strangest things about Amadeus is that, for all its artistic licence to manipulate history, the character of Mozart seems to be far more accurate historically that one may reasonably expect. Of course it is exaggerated - much more in the play than in the movie - for the purposes of drama, but it's obvious that Peter Shaffer has done his homework with Mozart's famous personal letters. One of the most startling features - apart from his infantile giggle and childish behaviour, not to say anything about his drunkenness and somewhat loose morals - that regularly outrages prigs and prudes is Mozart's scatological humour, or an idea of humour at least. My personal favourite in this category, and I really think it a good joke, occurs in the scene when Mozart is accused of wasting his talent with vulgar farce like The Marriage of Figaro, instead of choosing more ''elevated subjects'' concerned with gods, legends and ''the eternal in us'' that's supposed to ennoble us because this is the purpose of opera and so on and so forth, the usual crap of Baron Van Swieten, you know. Finally ''Wolfi'' burst out:

MOZART: Come on now, be honest! Which one of you wouldn't rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules? Or Horatius, or Orpheus... people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!
[Everybody is profoundly shocked. He giggles charmingly.]

This happens in front of the whole court, or at least in front of the VIPs: Orsini-Rosenberg, Bonno, van Swieten, von Strack, not to say the Emperor himself. And it leads to what is probably the greatest description of Mozart and his music in three short sentences.

MOZART: Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not.

I regret the omission of Father Vogler from the play - or, to be more accurate, I appreciate his inclusion in the movie - but I guess in the theatre it is much more dramatically effective if Salieri addresses the audience directly. Yet, in the movie Salieri's monologues crushing the priest, slowly but mercilessly, makes for an enthralling experience too. Their opening conversation and the brutal ending scene through the corridors of the asylum - both completely missing from the play of course - are pure masterpieces; so are many of Salieri's words that seem to have gained brevity and power in comparison with the original:

SALIERI: Leave me alone.
FATHER VOGLER: I cannot leave alone a soul in pain.
SALIERI: [slightly annoyed] Do you know who I am?
FATHER VOGLER: It makes no difference. All men are equal in God's eyes.
SALIERI: [leans in mockingly] Are they?

[Explaining his background.]
SALIERI: While my father prayed earnestly to God to protect commerce, I would offer, secretly, the proudest prayer a boy could think of: ''Lord, make a great composer! Let me celebrate Your glory through music - and be celebrated myself. Make me famous through the world, dear God, make me immortal. After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote. In return, I would give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.''
[After his father's death.]
Of course I knew God had arranged it all. It was obvious. One minute I was a frustrated little boy in an obscure town, and next I was here, in Vienna, the city of musicians. [...] In a few years I was Court Composer.
[About his vow to God.]
And believe me I honoured it. I was a model of virtue. I kept my hands off women. I work every day teaching students, many of them for free. [...] Work and work and work. That was all my life. And it was wonderful. Everybody liked me. I liked myself. [With a sudden change in the voice.] Until he came!

[After the shock of first hearing Mozart's music.]
SALIERI: On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God. But why? Why would God choose an obscene child to he his instrument? It was not to be believed. This piece had to be an accident. It had to be.... [Pause. Then with a lower, menacing voice.] It'd better be.

SALIERI: All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing... and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?

SALIERI [laughing maliciously]: Your... merciful God. He destroyed His own beloved, rather than let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of His glory.

[Addressing a crucifix.]
SALIERI: From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.
[During the above he takes the crucifix off the wall and puts it into the fire.]

SALIERI: I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint.

[last lines]
[SALIERI is wheelchaired through the insane asylum]
SALIERI: Mediocrities everywhere... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you all.

(As a matter of fact, the play does contain very similar lines about Salieri's absolving all mediocrities in the world or being their patron saint, but outside the asylum it all sounds much weaker indeed.)

As far as Mozart's supreme self-confidence goes, the short scene with the Royal Chamberlain is among my greatest favourites. It is unfortunately diluted in the play and doesn't really convey Mozart's singular lack of self-consciousness. He is so astonishingly convinced in his own staggering superiority over all other composers that it never occurs to him what pain he might cause by bluntly mentioning it as regularly as he does. This is of course most devastating for Salieri in their mutual conversations. It's a weird situation indeed: Mozart is just as much unconscious of how lethal his genius can be as Salieri is self-conscious of his mediocrity. Here are extracts from both scenes.

MOZART: Why must I submit samples of my work to some stupid committee just to teach a thirteen-year-old girl?
COUNT VON STRACK: Because His Majesty wishes it.
MOZART: Is the emperor angry with me?
COUNT VON STRACK: Quite the contrary.
MOZART: Then why doesn't he simply appoint me to the post?
COUNT VON STRACK: Mozart, you are not the only composer in Vienna.
MOZART: No. But I'm the best!

MOZART: What did you think of it yourself? Did you like it at all?
SALIERI: I thought it was marvelous.
MOZART: Of course! It's the best opera yet written, I know it... Why didn't they come?
SALIERI: [Chuckling, mildly excited.] I think you overestimate our dear Viennese, my friend. You know you didn't even give them a good bang at the end of songs, to let them know when to clap?
MOZART: I know, I know. Maybe you should give me some lessons in that...
SALIERI: [His smile vanishes completely and so does the eagerness in his voice] I wouldn't presume.

One of the traits of the play conspicuously missing from the movie is that Salieri is turned into something of a humorist. Although I do think this is a severe dramatic mistake - Salieri is there to be frightened of and pitied, not to serve as a source of light amusement - I cannot but be vastly entertained by it. Two early examples are his gluttony and his reference to the old Kapellmeister Bonno after whose post he hankers. Salieri's gluttony is made explicit in the movie too, but never in such phrases as these:

[He sits again in his wheelchair, moves himself over to the cake-stand, selects a cake and eats it.]
SALIERI: It's a little repellent, I admit, but actually, the first sin I have to confess to you is gluttony. Sticky gluttony at that. Infantile, Italian gluttony! The truth is that all my life I have never been able to conquer a lust for the sweetness of Northern Italy, where I was born. From the ages of three to seventy-three, my entire career has been conducted to the taste of almonds sprinkled with sifted sugar. [Lustfully.] Veronese biscuits! Milanese macaroons! Snow dumplings with pistachio sauce!... Do not judge me too harshly for this. All men harbor patriotic feelings of some kind...

SALIERI: My ambition burned with unquenchable flame. Its chief goal was the post of First Royal Kapellmeister, then held by Giuseppe Bonno [Indicating him], seventy years old, and apparently immortal!

Speaking of Bonno, I cannot resist quoting also Salieri's introductory remarks of the other big wigs in the Austrian court. These are witty gems par excellence:

SALIERI: [To audience] Johann von Strack. Royal Chamberlain. A court official to his collarbone.
ROSENBERG: [Loftily] Why in German? Italian is the only possible language for opera!
SALIERI: Count Orsini-Rosenberg. Director of the Opera. Benevolent to all things Italian - especially myself.
VAN SWIETEN: Yes, but why comic? It is not the function of music to be funny.
SALIERI: Baron van Swieten. Prefect of the Imperial Library. Ardent Freemason. Yet to find anything funny. Known, for his enthusiasm for old-fashioned music, as ''Lord Fugue.''

But my personal favourites of Salieri's delicious, if misplaced, sense of humour come in the beginning in the Second act when he wonders how God will punish him for his dark plans to hinder his creations on earth. The most unforgettable gem, though, is the passage about Rossini and the cats; actually, these are the first lines of Act 2:

SALIERI: I have been listening to the cats in the courtyard. They are all singing Rossini. It is obvious that the cats have declined as badly as composers. Domenico Scarlatti owned one which would actually stroll across the keyboard and pick out passable subjects for fugue. But that was a Spanish cat of the Enlightenment. It appreciated counterpoint. Nowadays all cats appreciate coloratura. Like the rest of the public.

One thing I knew of Him. He was a cunning Enemy. Witness the fact that in blocking Him in the world I was also given the satisfaction of obstructing a dislike human rival. I wonder which of you will refuse that chance if it is offered.
[He regards the audience maliciously and takes off the dressing gown and cap. He wears a hat and a shawl.]
I felt the danger at once, as soon as I'd spoken my challenge. How would He answer? Would He strike me dead for my impiety? Don't laugh. I was not a sophisticate of the salons. I was a small-town Catholic, full of dread.

By way of conclusion - another one - I should like to quote some of the play's most profound and shattering lines which never occur in the movie. This is just one among many reasons why both the play and the movie should be experienced separately - for they are extremely different experiences indeed. Certainly, both are worth the time of anybody seriously interested in some not altogether unimportant matters of speculation that easily transcend history. One last note: all quotes from the play below, as well as the ones above, are taken from the final version published by Harper Perennial in 2001; so some of them may be - and often are - slightly different than the ones in this Penguin Classics edition; all italics and stage directions, except in one indicated case, are Peter Shaffer's:

SALIERI: Every Sunday I saw Him in church, painted on the flaking wall. I don't mean Christ. The Christs of Lombardy are simpering sillies, with lambkins in their arms. No: I mean an old candle-smoked God in a mulberry robe, staring at the world with dealer's eyes. Tradesmen had put him up there. Those eyes made bargains, real and irreversible. ''You give me so - I'll give you so! No more. No less!''

SALIERI: I own a respectable house and a respectable wife - Teresa.
[Enter TERESA: a padded, placid lady who seats herself uprightly in the upstage chair]
I do not mock her, I assure you. I required only one quality in a domestic companion - lack of fire. And in that omission Teresa was conspicuous.

SALIERI: I wanted Fame. Not to deceive you, I wanted to blaze like a comet across the firmament of Europe! Yet only in one especial way. Music! Absolute music! ... A note of music is either right or wrong absolutely! Not even time can alter that: Music is God's art.

[He speaks very directly to the audience.]
SALIERI: You, when you come, will be told that we musicians of the eighteenth century were no better than servants: the willing slaves of the well-to-do. This is quite true. It is also quite false. Yes, we were servants. But we were learned servants! And we used our learning to celebrate men's average lives.
We took unremarkable men - usual bankets, run-of-the-mill officials, ordinary soldiers and statesmen and wives - and sacramentalized their mediocrity. We smoothed their noons with strings divisi! We pierced their nights with chitarrini! We gave them processions for the strutting, serenades for their rutting, high horns for their hunting and drums for their wars! Trumpets sounded when they entered the world, and trombones groaned when they left it! The savor of their days remain behind because of us, our music still rememebered while their politics are long forgotten.
Tell me, before you call us servants, who served whom? And who, I wonder, in your generations, will immortalize you?

SALIERI: These are my Venticelli. My ''Little Winds,'' as I called them. [...] The secret of successful living in a large city is always to know to the minute what is being done behind your back.

SALIERI: This is now the very last hour of my life. You must understand me. Not forgive. I do not seek forgiveness. I was a good man, as the world calls good. What use was it to me? Goodness could not make me a good composer! ... Was Mozart ''good''? Goodness is nothing in the furnace of art.
On that dreadful Night of the Manuscripts my life acquired a terrible and thrilling purpose. The blocking of God in one of His purest manifestations. I had the power. God needed Mozart to let Himself into the world. And Mozart needed me to get him worldly advancement. So it would be a battle to the end - and Mozart was the battleground.
One thing I knew of Him. He was a cunning Enemy. Witness the fact that in blocking Him in the world I was also given the satisfaction of obstructing a disliked human rival. I wonder which of you will refuse that chance if it is offered.

[After violently rejecting Constanze's offering her flesh - A.A.]
SALIERI: You see how it was! I would have liked her - oh, yes, just then more than ever! But I wanted nothing petty! ... My quarrel now wasn't with Mozart - it was through him! Through him to God, who loved him so. [Scornfully] Amadeus!... Amadeus!...

MOZART [...] [Excitedly to VAN SWIETEN] That's why opera is important, Baron. Because it's realer than any play! A dramatic poet would have to put all those thoughts down one after another to represent this second of time. The composer can put them all down at once - and still make us hear each one of them. Astonishing device - a vocal quartet! [...] I bet you that's how God hears the world! Millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us! [To SALIERI] That's our job! That's our job, we composers: to combine the inner minds of him and him and him, and her and her - the thoughts of chambermaids and Court composers - and turn the audience into God.

SALIERI: And God's response to my challenge remained as inscrutable as ever. ... Was He taking any notice of me at all?...

SALIERI: What use, after all, is Man, if not to teach God His lessons?

SALIERI: We were both ordinary men, he and I. Yet he from the ordinary created legends - and I from legends created only the ordinary.
Could I have not stopped my war? Shown him some pity? Oh yes, my friends, at any time - if He above had shown me one drop of it! Every day I set to work I prayed - I still prayed you understand - ''Make this one good in my ears! Just this one! One!'' But would He ever? ... I heard my music calmed in convention - not one breath of spirit to lift it off the shallows. And I heard his - month after month -
[We hear the exquisite strains of the terzetto ''Soave il vento from Cosi Fan Tutte.]

SALIERI: And so I stayed in the City of Musicians, reverenced by all: On and on and on for thirty-two years. And slowly I came to understand the nature of God's punishment. [Demanding directly to the audience] What had I asked for in that church as a boy? Was it not fame? Well now I had it! I was to become, quite simply, the most famous musician in Europe! ... I was to be bricked up in fame! Buried in fame! Embalmed in fame! This was my sentence - I must endure thirty-two years of being called ''distinguished'' by people incapable of distinguishing! And finally - when my nose had been rubbed in fame to vomitting - Receptions, Awards, Civic Medals, and Chains - suddenly, his masterstroke!
It would all be taken away from me - every scrap.
Mozart's music would sound everywhere - and mine in place on earth. I must survive to see myself become... extinct ... [Calling up savagely] Nemico dei Nemici! Dio implacabile!

SALIERI: Well, my friends, now they all know for sure! They will learn of my dreadful death - and they will believe the lie forever! After today, whenever men speak of Mozart's name with love, they will speak of mine with loathing. As his name grows in the world, so will mine - if not in fame, then in infamy. I'm going to be immortal after all! - And He will be powerless to prevent that! [He laughs harshly.] So, Signore - see now if man in mocked!
Amici cari I was born a pair of ears, and nothing else. It is only through hearing music that I know God exists. Only through writing music that I could worship. ... All around me men hunger for General Rights. I hungered only for particular notes. They seek Liberty for Mankind. I sought only slavery for myself. To be owned - ordered - exhausted by an Absolute. This was denied me - and with it all meaning.
[He produces a cutthroat razor from his dressing gown pocket, and carefully opens it.]
Now I go to become a ghost myself. I will stand in the shadows when you come here to this earth in your turns. And when you feel the dreadful bite of your failures - and the taunting of unachievable, uncaring God - I will whisper my name to you: ''Antonion Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities!'' And in the depth of your downcastness you can pray to me. And I will forgive you. Vi saluto.
[He cuts his throat, and falls backwards into the wheelchair. MOZART's sombre Masonic Funeral Music sounds in the background.] ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Feb 6, 2011 |
Peter Shaffer

A Play in Two Acts

Harper Perennial, Paperback, 2001.

8vo. xxxiv+124 pp. First edition of the Sixth version. Introduction by Peter Hall [vi-xiii]. Preface Amadeus: The Final Encounter by Peter Shaffer [xv-xxxiv].

First produced, 1979.
First published, 1980.
Sixth version, 2001.


Antonio Salieri
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Constanze Weber, wife to Mozart
Joseph II, Emperor of Austria
Count Johann Kilian von Strack, Royal Chamberlain
Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg, Director of the Imperial Opera
Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Prefect of the Imperial Library
Two ''Venticelli'' - ''Little Winds'', purveyors of information, gossip and rumor
A Majordomo
Salieri's valet (Silent part)
Salieri's cook (Silent part)
Kapellmeister Bonno (Silent part)
Teresa Salieri, wife of Salieri (Silent part)
Katherina Cavalieri, Salieri's pupil (Silent part)
Citizens of Vienna

The action of the play takes place in Vienna in November 1823 and, in recall, the decade 1781-1791.


I am not the one to beat about the bush, so I'll say it directly: Peter Shaffer's play is a very fine piece of drama - but it is certainly inferior to Milos Forman's movie. This may sound heretic, but I have a number of reasons and I shall presently state them with as much clarity as I am capable of. Comparing a movie and a play is of course a silly business, but in this particular case it is all but inevitable: both works have become classics; rightly so, for they deal with eternal issues in a most powerful way. Two things should never be forgotten: 1) Peter Shaffer had a lot to do with the movie as well; after all, together with Milos Forman, he adapted his own play for the screen; and 2) a play is written to be played on stage and a movie is a great deal more than a mere screenplay; since I have seen the latter quite a few times but never the former, I am naturally biased in favour of the screen version - but not unnecessarily so, I should like to believe. Last but not least, be warned:

Spoilers ahead!

Let me start with the mundane details. This Harper Perennial edition is by way of being a historical one. It contains a long, and somewhat dull, preface by Peter Shaffer in which he describes in slightly intolerable detail how the play passed through at least six versions between its London premiere in 1979 and one of its many revivals some two decades later; incidentally or not, both were directed by Peter Hall. Almost all of the numerous revisions through the years were concerned with the crucial final scene between Mozart and Salieri - rightly indeed, as it is the most unconvincing one in the whole play. The version printed here is regarded as last, final and best by both the author and the director. (By the way, the preface by Peter Hall is completely fascinating and does show that sometimes directors really know what they are doing - and why they are doing it.) So let's see how great the play really is and how it stands a comparative analysis with the movie.

The play is very ingeniously constructed. It has only two acts, but each of them consists of numerous scenes that change with amazing speed: Schönbrunn, the Prater, Mozart's or Salieri's apartments, opera houses, and many others; the movement of the characters, physically and through the years, ''freezing'' and ''releasing'' them constantly, as well as the superb dialogue, are by no means less swift and incisive. Peter Shaffer himself describes the stage vividly in a short note in the beginning, titled simply ''The Set'' and inspired by Jonh Bury's original concept from 1979. He specifically declares that, though the entire design is modern, costumes and objects are, and should be, sumptuous and typical for the period no matter where the play is produced.

The whole set actually consisted of a large rectangle of patterned wood, changing almost out of recognition under various lights, on which virtually the whole action takes place; in addition, of course, there are period pieces like a fortepiano, a chandelier and a cake stand; these are changed accordingly to the scene by actors in eighteenth-century livery who have nothing else to do. The action is continuous. The constant changes of place and time - in addition to various locations the play spreads over a period of some forty years - are indicated by changes in the lighting. Most remarkably of all, there is in the back a grand proscenium with grand curtains that could rise to reveal an additional space into which superb projections show boxes of opera, a masonic lodge or a street at night, the splendours of Schönbrunn or the scandal-mongering citizens of Vienna; Peter Shaffer charmingly calls the device ''an immense Rococo peepshow'' and refers to it in the text as the Light Box. Together with fine acting and lots of great music, carefully selected and played exactly at the right place, Amadeus must be an amazing experience live in the theatre.

The funny thing is that the play is eminently readable and immensely entertaining on paper as well. Shaffer's stage directions are copious but never excessive, bringing to life both the characters and the surroundings with staggering vividness. One doesn't need any great imagination to visualise easily everything to the last detail. Enthralling read. One of Shaffer's most brilliant touches are the two fellows called ''Venticelli'', or ''Little Winds'', described as ''purveyors of information, gossip and rumour.'' From time to time they rush on the stage and give Salieri, speaking rapidly and always trying to outdo each other, tons of important information that makes the play much more coherent and plausible. Another advantage of the play over the movie is that the secondary characters - van Swieten, Orsini-Rosenberg, von Strack, emperor Joseph - are much better drawn and adroitly included in the action; the only exception is the Kapellmeister Bonno whose part is silent but it's no loss at all. On the whole, the play is vastly amusing, immensely powerful and not a little disturbing; it is visionary and overwhelming. It certainly makes fantastic read not to be forgotten soon - for it would bear a good deal of re-reading as well. Yet, for all its greatness, the play falls short of the movie, and I don't mean the visual side at all. I don't think I would have been able to rate Peter Shaffer's Amadeus as highly as possible even if I had never seen the movie. The next few paragraphs try to explain the paradox. But first - be warned again:

Tons of Spoilers Ahead

To begin with some major flaws, the play does overemphasize Mozart's infantile personality. Now, don't get me wrong; I am not at all concerned with historical accuracy here, even though Shaffer's Mozart has a great deal to do with the one who lived two centuries ago; I absolutely agree that a dramatist is at perfect liberty to manipulate the historical facts as he chooses. It is obvious that Peter Shaffer has searched for a dramatic contrast here, and the great disparity between the musical genius and the vulgar man offers him an excellent opportunity. The problem is not with Mozart's inanity but with Shaffer's grossly overdoing it; we see much too much of Mozart's idiotic behaviour and way too less of the great composer. The same, though on smaller scale of course, goes for Constanze as well. Apart from colourful language such as ''you shit'' and ''you bitch'', which is fairly rare, there are much too many ''conversations'' between Mozart and his wife that are incomprehensible babbling worthy of five years old kids (like that hideous playing of cat and mouse in Act 1, with Mozart's unforgettable line ''Miaouw!'' - the same word repeated thrice in the very next line).

Certainly I don't want realism, nor do I expect it in such a play, but Shaffer gives too minor a place to Mozart's musical genius. Of course there is a lot of music which deeply affects Salieri, making him terribly conscious of his mediocrity, but there are at best just a few vague hints that these glorious sounds might possibly have come from that giggling and obscene little creature. Indeed, there are many moments in the play when the profound issues it is generally concerned with - mediocrity and genius, above all the incomprehensible nature of God - are actually lost in vacuous banter or simply idiotic exchange of meaningless phrases.

This aspect is handled masterfully in the movie. Without making a perfect idiot of Mozart, he is shown to be a dissolute bohemian, with foul-mouthed tongue and scatological idea of humour. But he is also rather forcefully presented as a musical genius who composes impromptu masterpieces with ease that is literally unbelievable. Now we can much better understand why Salieri is consumed with envy and vitriol out of proportion. This is almost completely missing in the play. The magnificent music is there all right and Salieri's reaction is brilliantly conveyed, but there is hardly any hint that such music could ever have been composed by this Mozart.

The character of Salieri is much better done. Of course it is the main character in the play - and in the movie for that matter; I have read opinions that the film shifted the focus from Salieri to Mozart: to such people I can only say to watch it again, for such claim as theirs is nonsense. I am probably influenced by F. Murray Abraham's mesmerising performance, but it seems to me that Salieri in the movie is much more sinister a figure, yet one who deserves a great deal of sympathy, even compassion. Salieri in the play displays the same utterly fascinating dichotomy, but on far smaller scale. Here Shaffer has diluted the character with totally inappropriate brilliant sense of humour and a certain amount of inanity à la Mozart family. To take but one example: Salieri's attempts to seduce, not to say rape, Constanze are frankly preposterous; and hardly essential for the action indeed. The same scene in the movie (available only in the Director's Cut) is mercilessly chilling and dramatically very effective without making ridiculous either Salieri or Constanze.

Then there is the final confrontation of course. I am ready to believe Peter Shaffer that his final revision - printed here for the first time - is the best he could ever get to, but I should like to add: only as far as different versions of the play are concerned. For the final scene in the movie is infinitely more affecting. Who can forget that dictation of Confutatis from Mozart's Requiem, with the composition of all vocal parts and all layers of the instrumentation and the final result - music of terrifying horror - accompanying Constanze's carriage through the night? Nowhere else in the whole movie is the huge difference between the genius of Mozart and mediocrity of Salieri more brilliantly conveyed. Just compare this with the puerile conclusion of the play: Salieri confesses his crimes and Mozart - babbles a childish song. Peter Shaffer finely describes the ending of the movie as ''utterly improbable, and in many ways entirely fitting.'' I daresay he is right that it would not have worked on the stage. But I, for one, would rather take this tremendous ending, no matter how lamely rendered on the stage, than the last and best revision of the original scene.

Perhaps the best way to show the superiority of the movie is to discuss few of the most memorable scenes and how they are significantly improved on the screen. Of course the movie is ''vastly different from the play'', as Peter Shaffer himself was only too well aware, but there are numerous scenes common for both versions which offer us a truly irresistible opportunity for an extremely revealing comparison. There are also - naturally - many unforgettable lines transferred verbatim, like Mozart calling his wife ''shitwit'' or the Emperor's profound phrase ''Well, there it is'', but even here on a number of occasions the movie appears to me distinctly superior. Peter Shaffer has ''mourned the frequently banal simplification of the language'', but in the next few paragraphs I intend to show that the dialogue in the film is by no means less powerful than the one in the play. Quite on the contrary indeed!

One of the most compelling scenes in the movie is Mozart's making a stupendous fun of Salieri's hackneyed march turning it into his famous one from Le Nozze di Figaro on the harpsichord. The whole scene is taken almost verbatim from the original play. But with one very important difference. In the movie Mozart's bravado takes place in the presence of all big wigs from the court: Bonno, Orsini-Rosenberg, Strack, van Swieten and even the Emperor himself. Thus the mortification for Salieri is enormous; everybody comes closer to the harpsichord to listen to Mozart's virtuoso performance of his own music and for a moment - for one everlasting moment - the ''illustrious Court composer'' falls into humiliating oblivion. It's a scene one can always see another time. Now, the one important difference in the play ruins it completely - for there the whole thing takes place only in the presence of Mozart and Salieri themselves. This is what I call very poor sense for dramatic effect. Why did Peter Shaffer make all others leave the stage I cannot even imagine.

Another caveat is that Peter Shaffer is often prone to verbosity. That's why his dialogue in the play, effective and stirring as it certainly is, almost never has the brevity and the power of the one in the movie. One excellent example of this unfortunate tendency is another of those scenes that, once seen, enter your head and never ever leave it. I am talking about Salieri's monologue when he declares that God is from now on his enemy and that he shall block Him in any possible way. Spellbinding, in both versions, but consider the differences. In the play the monologue is placed in the very end of Act 1. It's full one page long, fiercely dramatic and intense, and it certainly makes a great read worthy of extensive quotation (I have preserved the original italicised passages accurately):

SALIERI: Capisco! I know my fate. Now for the first time I feel my emptiness as Adam felt his nakedness.... [Slowly he rises to his feet.] Tonight at an inn somewhere in this city stands a giggling child who can put on paper, without actually setting down his billiard cue, casual notes which turn my most considered ones into lifeless scratches. Grazie, Signore! You gave me the desire to serve You - which most men do not have - then saw to it the service was shameful in the ears of the server. Grazie! You gave me the desire to praise You - which most men do not feel - than made me mute. Grazie tante! You put into me the perception of the Incomparable - which most men never know! - then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre. [His voice gains power.] Why?... What is my fault?... Until this day I have pursued virtue with rigor. I have labored long hours to relieve my fellow men. I have worked and worked the talent You allowed me. [Calling up.] You know how hard I've worked! Solely that in the end, in the practice of the art, which alone makes the world comprehensible to me, I might hear Your Voice! And now I do hear it - and it says only one name: MOZART!... Spiteful, sniggering, conceited, infantile Mozart - who has never worked one minute to help another man! Shit-talking Mozart, with his botty-smacking wife! Him You have chosen to be Your sole conduit! And my only reward - my sublime privilege - is to be the sole man alive in this time who shall clearly recognise Your Incarnation! [Savagely] Grazie e grazie ancora!
So be it! From this time we are enemies, You and I! I'll not accept it from you - do you hear?... They say God is not mocked. I tell you, Man is not mocked!...I am not mocked!... They say the spirit bloweth where it listeth: I tell You no! It must list to virtue or not blow at all! [Yelling] Dio inguisto - You are the Enemy! I name Thee now - Nemico Eterno! And this I swear: To my last breath I shall block You on earth, as far as I am able! [He glares up at God. To audience.] What use, after all, is Man, if not to teach God His lessons?

''What use, after all, is Man, if not to teach God His lessons?'' Fabulous writing all right! It is shocking and frightening what heights human envy and hatred can reach, yet one cannot but pity the poor Salieri. He has passion, industry, integrity (artistic at least) and a good deal of talent; but no matter how many hours, days or years he toils, never can he reach the heights of genius. His curse is that he has the perceptiveness and sensitivity to clearly recognise it in the others - as well as the mediocrity in himself. The monologue, I am sure, is a haunting experience when experienced in the theatre and rendered by great actor - indeed, it is haunting on paper as well - but in the end it starts to drag and it smacks of self-conscious rhetoric. It also illustrates one other unpleasant feature of the play: there are many phrases in Italian or French, sometimes several lines long, which not only make the reading more difficult, but they do sound pompous and pretentious.

In the movie the monologue is - of course - greatly shortened and simplified. For my part, however, it is even more chilling and compelling. Parts of it surface several times at different places, but the main portion is rendered succinctly and devastatingly thus:

[Addressing a crucifix, with sinister calmness.]
Salieri: From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.

And there is something more in the movie, one of the most haunting images in all of its 170 minutes or so. For the words quoted above are accompanied with something which is difficult to forget: Salieri takes off the wooden crucifix from the wall and - puts it into the fire. I wish Peter Shaffer had written that in his stage directions.

An even better example for the wonderful, but no less affecting, succinctness of the dialogue in the movie is another terrific scene: Salieri's description of his first shocking collision with Mozart's music, meticulously indicated in the stage directions as the Adagio from the Serenade for thirteen wind instruments, K. 361:

SALIERI: It started simply enough: just a pulse in the lowest registers - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. It would have been comic except for the slowness, which gave it instead a sort of serenity. And then suddenly, high above it, sounded a single note on the oboe.
[We hear it.]
It hung there unwavering, piercing me through, till breath could hold it no longer, and a clarinet withdrew it out of me, and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight it had me trembling. The light flickered in the room. My eyes clouded! [With ever-increasing emotion and vigour.] The squeezebox groaned louder, and over it the higher instruments wailed and warbled, throwing lines of sound around me - long lines of pain around and through me. Ah, the pain! Pain as I had never known it. I called up to my sharp old God, ''What is this?... What?!'' But the squeezebox went on and on, and the pain cut deeper into my shaking head, until suddenly I was running -
[He bolts out of the chair and runs across the stage in a fever, to a corner, down right. Behind him in the Light Box, the library fades into a street scene at night: small houses under a rent sky. The music continues, fainter, underneath.]
- dashing through the side door, stumbling downstairs into the street, into the cold night, gasping for life. [Calling up in agony.] ''What?! What is this? Tell me, Signore! What is this pain? What is this need in the sound? Forever unfulfillable, yet fulfilling him who hears it, utterly. Is it Your need? Can it be Yours?...''
Dimly the music sounded from the salon above. Dimly the stars shone on the empty street. I was suddenly frightened. It seemed to me that I had heard a voice of God - and that it issued from a creature whose own voice I had also heard - and it was the voice of an obscene child!
[Light change. The street scene fades.]

Just compare this with the much more concise and restrained version in the movie and you will know what I mean by ''intolerable verbosity'':

SALIERI: On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons, basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, until a clarinet took it over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.

And there is something else in the movie that I like rather more than the play. Instead of agitated young Salieri storming the streets, we have the old and feeble composer, sitting in his wheelchair and getting unusually excited at his painful memories. The so much more effective text in the movie additionally benefits from the simply sublime performance of F. Murray Abraham; note the significant pause and the menacing change in the tone at the last sentence (emphasis added by me):

SALIERI: But why? Why would God choose an obscene child to be His instrument? It was not to be believed. This piece had to be an accident. It had to be.... It'd better be.

Even in small details the movie often appears, quite simply, better done than the play. One fine example is Mozart's famous conceit and enormous assurance in his own abilities. Perhaps the most telling scene in this respect is Mozart's begging, if that's the word, for a permanent post with fixed salary. In the play he addresses Orsini-Rosenberg thus:

MOZART: Do you know I am better than any musician in Vienna?... Do you?
[ROSENBERG leaves. MOZART calls after him.]
Italians!... I'm sick of them!... Italians everywhere!

Now, this sounds to me oddly self-conscious, almost extravagantly so. Much as he was pleased with himself, I don't think Mozart ever really was self-conscious; he considered himself too much above all other composers for that. But this is neither here nor there. The same scene in the movie occurs between Mozart and von Strack. It's amusing yet dramatic, showing Mozart at his self-confident best. And in a single sentence (emphasis added by me):

Count Von Strack: Mozart, you are not the only composer in Vienna.
Mozart: No. But I'm the best!

When all is said and done, the bottom line is that each version is compelling in their own way, and a very different way too. The movie is visual tour de force and the play is incredibly visionary. Yet there is in both cases a great deal more than that, most notably an overwhelmingly powerful discourse on God and his inscrutable ways, motives, nature - and very existence. Not the least among the many attractions is the remarkably faithful portrait of Mozart's complicated, incoherent and ever-fascinating personality, somewhat over-dramatized in the play and much bettered balanced in the movie. If I have been somewhat unkind to Peter Shaffer in what I have written above, I intend to excuse myself by reading some of his other plays, most notably Equus and The Royal Hunt of the Sun which are available from Penguin Classics. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Feb 6, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060935499, Paperback)

0riginating at the National Theatre of Great Britain, Amadeus was the recipient of both the Evening Standard Drama Award and the Theatre Critics Award. In the United States, the play won the coveted Tony Award and went on to become a critically acclaimed major motion picture winning eight Oscars, including Best Picture.

Now, this extraordinary work about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is available with a new preface by Peter Shaffer and a new introduction by the director of the 1998 Broadway revival, Sir Peter Hall. Amadeus is a must-have for classical music buffs, theatre lovers, and aficionados of historical fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:43 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

An extraordinary play about the life and death of the notoriously brillant muscial genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

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