directed by Milos Forman
February 27, 2006: Mozart's 250th birthday. He's looking good for someone his age. But then, he should look good --- he's immortal.
Mozart's immortality is different for us than it was, say, for those who witnessed the last big Mozart revival a century ago. Back then, there was only the music, and in live performance at that.
In l979, however, a play called 'Amadeus' opened. It was a huge success. And, in l984, it spawned a movie that was even more successful --- 'Amadeus' won seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and, the ultimate, Best Picture.
Everybody wanted to be in the film by Milos Forman --- even Mel Gibson auditioned to play Mozart. Tom Hulce got the part, and he was completely convincing as a talented brat who was obsessed with busty women and flatulence jokes. All would have gone well for him --- he wrote so fluently that his first drafts were occasionally his final drafts --- except for the jealousy of Salieri, a rival composer who could not stand to be eclipsed by this vulgar genius. And so he set about ruining Mozart, who died poor and was buried in a pauper's grave.
If you have seen the film, you know that how convincing it was; if you didn't, you may well have encountered this view of Mozart elsewhere. It is, as Peter Gay points out in his 163-page biography, very far from the truth.
Mozart was no ladies man; there were perhaps four major women who figured in his 35 years, and one of them was his sister, in a relationship that revolved completely about music. Was he extremely interested in sex? Yes, and, in his wife, he found a willing and loyal partner. If there was a powerful male who oppressed him, it was his father, not Salieri. Mozart wrote his first symphony when he was just nine, and he had an uncanny gift for mastering instruments and composition, but the boring fact is that he worked steadily and regularly throughout his life. (He did write the "Jupiter' symphony in just 16 days and may well have written the overture to 'Don Giovanni' the night before the opera's premiere.) Upon his death, he was put in a pauper's grave, but it was the custom of his time not to care much about the disposal of corpses. The only undeniable truth about the Mozart we think we know? His anal fixation.
The music, in contrast, is sublime. And grows more so with time. Mozart took standard forms and expanded them --- he made more music more lyrical, more varied. Listening to him, you can see how much of a foundation he laid for Beethoven.
In giving us pleasure, he apparently also does us good; studies have show that Mozart's music reduces anxiety and fosters creativity. But writing about music is not fruitful --- not, anyway, when the music is this great. A selection of Mozart's greatest hits appears below. If these are not mainstays of your collection....get going.
To buy 'Mozart', a brief biography by Peter Gay, from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy the DVD of 'Amadeus' from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy Mozart's Piano Concertos from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy Mozart's Violin Concertos from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy Mozart's Symphonies 35, 36, 38, 39, 40 and 41 from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy Mozart's Requiem from Amazon.com, click here.