The story begins in 1823 as the elderly Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) attempts suicide by slitting his throat while loudly begging forgiveness for having killed Mozart (Tom Hulce) in 1791. Placed in a lunatic asylum for the act, Salieri is visited by Father Vogler (Richard Frank), a young priest who seeks to take his confession. Salieri is sullen and uninterested but eventually warms to the priest and launches into a long “confession” about his relationship with Mozart.
Salieri’s tale goes on through the night and into the next day. He reminisces about his youth, particularly about his devotion to God and his love for music and how he pledges to God to remain celibate as a sacrifice if he can somehow devote his life to music. He describes how his father’s plans for him were to go into commerce, but suggests that the sudden death of his father, who choked to death during a meal, was “a miracle” that allowed him to pursue a career in music.
In his narrative, he is suddenly an adult joining the 18th-century cultural elite in Vienna, the “city of musicians”. Salieri begins his career as a devout, God-fearing man who believes his success and talent as a composer are God’s rewards for his piety. He is content as the respected, well-off court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones).
Mozart arrives in Vienna with his patron, Count Hieronymus von Colloredo (Nicholas Kepros), the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Salieri secretly observes Mozart at the Archbishop’s palace, but they are not properly introduced. Salieri sees that offstage, Mozart is irreverent and lewd.
He also first recognizes the immense talent displayed in the adult works of Mozart. In 1781, when Mozart meets the Emperor, Salieri presents Mozart with a “March of Welcome,” which he toiled to create. After hearing the march only once, Mozart plays it from memory, critiques it, and effortlessly improvises a variation, transforming Salieri’s “trifle” into the “Non più andrai” march from his 1786 opera The Marriage of Figaro.
Director: Miloš Forman
Year of Release: 1984
Character to watch: Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?