Revisiting Amadeus

Charlotte SmithMon 22nd March 2010

The classic film still packs an emotional punch

The other night as I was flicking aimlessly through television channels I happened upon one of my favourite films of all time, Milos Forman’s Amadeus. The film has been referenced in Gramophone regularly of late by our former – and much missed - columnist Simon Callow (well, he did star in it after all…), so I decided to refresh my memory.

Now I know that there have been various criticisms levelled at this film throughout the years – the gross licence taken with historical fact, Tom Hulce’s broad American accent (though if you wanted strict accuracy then the language would be German), Constanze’s insistence on calling Mozart “Wolfy”…

Yet there is no denying the reverence with which it treats Mozart’s music. As a tool for convincing those new to the composer of his skill and musical sincerity, you can’t beat this film. The musical excerpts have been expertly chosen and are deftly performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – indeed so convincing are these interpretations that to this day I find it difficult to listen to other versions of the Requiem. I vividly remember the first time I watched Amadeus and how easily it transformed my attitude to Mozart’s music. As a young violin student, I had always had a difficult relationship with the composer – the purity of his music requires such precision and delicateness of touch, and because of these challenges I would avoid it at all costs. But this film convinced me that it was definitely worth the effort to overcome such hurdles.

Add to this, there is no denying the brilliance of the acting (especially from F Murray Abraham as Salieri and Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II), the juiciness of Peter Shaffer’s script and the perfect pacing of the storytelling.

And here’s where I took issue with my recent viewing experience. For this was Amadeus with a difference – not the original theatrical version, but the director’s cut. The added sections – and they were numerous – did to my mind interrupt the flow of the film, robbing it to some extent of its sparkle and dexterity.

But more than this, the additional material affected the tone too. Salieri in the director’s cut is a much darker proposition, scheming to undo the poor unsuspecting Mozart in active and unsavoury ways. To be robbed so completely of my hero of “mediocrity” was disconcerting - and more so, when upon searching for Amadeus on Amazon, I discovered the director’s cut is much more readily available than the theatrical version. On BluRay it is the only option.

Still, I suppose none of this really affects the musical experience, which was just as rich as I remembered. Some might say that Amadeus denies its audience the emotional and intellectual journey of the complete work. That it’s like reading the crib notes to an entire oeuvre. But the sensation of being bombarded with one perfect melody after another is a powerful one, and surely this is valid too.

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