Amadeus, 1845-90, king of Spain (1870-73), duke of Aosta, son of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. After the expulsion (1868) of Queen Isabella II, Juan Prim urged the Cortes to elect Amadeus as king. He accepted the crown reluctantly. Just before the new king arrived in Spain, Prim was assassinated. The upper classes were opposed to Amadeus, who belonged to the anticlerical house of Savoy, and he was unable to gain significant support in any segment of society; repeated attempts were made on his life. When a new rebellion by the Carlists began, Amadeus abdicated and returned to Italy. A year later Alfonso XII was proclaimed king.

Amadeus is a stage play written in 1979 by Peter Shaffer, loosely based on the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Amadeus was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin and later adapted into an opera of the same name by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Shaffer then adapted the play for a film released in 1984.

Significant use is made of the music of Mozart, Salieri and other composers of the period.

Plot synopsis

Since the original run, Shaffer has extensively revised his play, including changes to plot details; the following is common to all revisions.

At the opening of the tale, Salieri is an old man, having long outlived his fame, and is convinced he is the assassin of Mozart (by poison). He then speaks directly to the audience, promising to explain himself. The play then flashes back to the late eighteenth century, at a time when Salieri has not met Mozart in person, but has heard of him and his music. He adores Mozart's compositions, and is thrilled at the chance to meet Mozart in person, during a salon at which some of Mozart's compositions will be played. When he finally does catch sight of Mozart, however, he is deeply disappointed to find that Mozart's personality does not match the grace or charm of his compositions: Mozart is crawling around on his hands and knees, engaging in sexual talk with Constanze Weber who would later become his wife.

Salieri cannot reconcile Mozart's boorish behavior with the massive genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him. Indeed, Salieri, who has been a devout Catholic all his life, cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri rejects God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart.

Throughout much of the rest of the play, Salieri masquerades as Mozart's ally to his face, while at the same time doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have. On more than one occasion it is only the direct intervention of the Emperor himself that allows Mozart to continue (interventions which Salieri opposes, and then is all too happy to take credit for when Mozart assumes it was he who intervened). Salieri also humiliates Mozart's wife when she comes to Salieri for aid, and smears Mozart's character with the Emperor and the court. A major theme in Amadeus is Mozart's repeated attempts to win over the aristocratic "public" with increasingly brilliant compositions, which are always frustrated either by Salieri or by the aristocracy's own inability to appreciate Mozart's genius.

The play ends with Salieri attempting suicide in a last pathetic attempt to be remembered, leaving a false confession of having murdered Mozart with arsenic. He survives, however, and his confession is disbelieved by all, leaving him to wallow once again in mediocrity.

Historical background

Shaffer took dramatic licence in his portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri, but there is debate as to just how much. Documentary evidence suggests that there was some antipathy between Mozart and Salieri, but the idea that Salieri was the instigator of Mozart's demise is not given academic credence. While there may have been real rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, there is also evidence that they enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect. For example, Salieri tutored Mozart's son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart in music.


Surviving letters by and about Mozart give examples of his boorish and often crude sense of humour, with a penchant for coprophilic jokes (shown in the film), which was shared by his mother, at least in their letters to one another. Mozart was extremely childlike, almost never able to sit still, even during others' performances. He was self-confident to the point of arrogance and his stubbornness and penchant for juvenile indulgences often annoyed his more staid peers. His sense of humour can be seen in some of his compositions, such as the canon Leck mich im Arsch (literally: "Lick me in the ass"; idiomatically: "Kiss my ass").

Extant records show Mozart was not a good money manager and suffered from large debts (he loved clothing and spent huge sums on it) and also favoured partying, drinking, gambling and possibly other drugs. As portrayed in Amadeus, Mozart actually comes off as fairly tame. Mozart's relationship with his father as portrayed in the film seems to be accurate, judging from the subtext of their letters to each other.

David Cairns called Amadeus "myth-mongering" and argued against Shaffer's portrait of "two contradictory beings, sublime artist and fool" in favour of a "fundamentally well-integrated" Mozart. He also rejects the "Romantic legend" that Mozart always wrote out perfect manuscripts of works already completely composed in his head, citing major and prolonged revisions to several manuscripts.

As for the Requiem, Hildesheimer points out that one or more of Mozart's pupils and/or friends helped him transcribe it, as he became too sick to write. There is still no solid conclusion on how much Mozart actually wrote, especially in certain parts, such as the "Lacrimosa", which is thought by some to have been completed by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

Recent studies suggest that Mozart died of some form of rheumatic fever, and not from any poison. A similar fate befell Felix Mendelssohn who also demonstrated prodigal gifts for composing - and, like Mozart, did not survive to his 40th birthday.


Amadeus was first presented at the National Theatre, London, in 1979, directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Paul Scofield as Salieri, Simon Callow as Mozart, and Felicity Kendal as Constanze. It later transferred in modified form to the West End, starring Frank Finlay as Salieri.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Salieri and Tim Curry as Mozart. It ran for 1,181 performances and was nominated for seven Tony Awards (best actor for both McKellen and Curry, best director for Peter Hall, best play, best costume design, lighting, and set design for John Bury), of which it won five (including a best actor Tony for McKellen).

Mark Hamill was cast as Mozart in the 1983 Los Angeles production.

Adam Redfield and Terry Finn appeared as Mozart and Constanze Mozart, respectively in the 1984 Virginia Stage Company production. Performed at the Wells Theatre in Richmond, the drama was directed by Charles Towers.

The play was revived in 2000, and received Tony Award nominations for best revival and best actor (David Suchet).

To celebrate Mozart's 250th birthday in 2006, BBC Radio broadcast an eight-part first-person adaptation (by Neville Teller) of Shaffer's play as read by F. Murray Abraham in the narrative role of Salieri.

In 2004, a modified production of Amadeus premiered in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania at the historic playhouse. The considerably shorter production was directed by Will Stutts, Mount Gretna Playhouse's artistic director. The show was stage managed by Joseph Borkovich and featured Robert Campbell (Asylum 11) as Mozart. Dan Olmstead (Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate) played Salieri. Duffey Westlake (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Anchorman) played one of the Venticelli.

On July 20, 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a production of the latest revision of the play at Hollywood Bowl. Neil Patrick Harris starred as Mozart, and Michael York as Salieri; Leonard Slatkin conducted the Philharmonic.

It was performed in December 2007 at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. This production was unique as it was performed on the Crucible's thrust stage. Director Nikolai Foster reportedly contacted Peter Shaffer for consultation on changing his stage directions of Amadeus, to adapt to the new stage. The ending of the production was also edited. In the original script, Salieri dresses as the mysterious, grey figure who commissions the Requiem Mass and goes to see Mozart. At the end, Mozart pulls off the mask Salieri wears and discovers him. In this performance, Salieri goes to visit Mozart, but never pretends to be the figure, and simply ends up confessing.

In their 2008 season the Marin Shakespeare Company performed Amadeus at the Dominican College’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is currently staging the play.

Film adaptation

The 1984 film adaptation was released, winning Academy Award for Best Picture. It starred F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (winning the Oscar for Best Actor for this role), Tom Hulce as Mozart, and Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze. The play was thoroughly reworked by Shaffer and the film's director, Milos Forman with added scenes and characters not found in the play. While the focus of the play is primarily Salieri, the film goes further into developing the characters of both composers.

Differences between the play and film
Play Film
Salieri doesn't attempt suicide until the end of the not play. At the beginning of the movie, Salieri attempts suicide and is brought to a mental hospital where he tells his story to a priest.
The Archbishop Colloredo does not appear. Mozart is chided by Colloredo after Salieri steals into the room and watches his and Constanze's obscene play.
Cavalieri is a silent part. Cavalieri has lines, but her singing lesson is not in the play.
Mozart's father does not appear. Leopold Mozart begs Colloredo to take Mozart back to his service. He later stays with Mozart and Constanze, and is shown to have a great influence on Mozart's personality, even after Leopold's death.
There is a scene where Salieri tries to seduce Constanze, with promises of a teaching position for Mozart, eventually humiliating her, as she offers herself to him. This scene is not in the 1984 version, but the Director's Cut does contain it.
Mozart is angered by Constanze's game, in which her calves are measured by two men. The scene is cut and replaced with Mozart, Leopold and Constanze going to a masquerade party.
Mozart tells Salieri about a figure in grey who has commissioned him to write the Requiem mass in D minor - it is not Salieri, though he consequently appears to Mozart in this guise. Salieri disguises himself as the figure in grey (black, in the film version) and commissions Mozart to write the Requiem mass in D minor.
Salieri speaks directly to the audience to tell his story. Salieri speaks to a priest.

Awards and nominations

  • 1979 Evening Standard Award for Best Play
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1981 Tony Award for Best Play


External links

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