“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 a voice of God.”
Mozart died way too young, but I always console myself with the thought that he might have never been born. And then we wouldn’t have known the sound of God’s voice.
The transcript above belongs to one of the most beautiful movie scenes from one of the greatest American movies, and was played by one of the most majestic actors of our times.
I’d need several pages just to start writing about Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984). It wouldn’t do, so instead here are a few interesting details.
The movie was based on a play “Amadeus” by Peter Shaffer. Forman, who was invited to see it, but hated music biographies, told Shaffer after Act One, “If the second act is as good as first, I’ll make a movie of it.”
The play itself was inspired by Pushkin’s poetic drama “Mozart and Salieri” (1830), and it relayed on lots of rumors and very little facts. It looks like the relationship between the two composers was far from what Pushkin’s play suggested. The court composer Antonio Salieri was popular and respected. Mozart, back then, less so. Salieri wouldn’t have felt threatened by the much younger, less known and troublesome Mozart. There is much proof that Salieri helped and supported Mozart. And his music was, well, decent.
The movie was filmed in Prague, in then Czechoslovakia, because the city core is a time capsule – it hasn’t changed much since Mozart’s time. The film crew only had to hide electric streetlights. Prague, of course, ‘played’ Vienna.
The actor who played Mozart, Tom Hulce, learned to play piano for his role. Even backwards. If you’ve watched the movie, you’ll immediately know which scene I’m talking about. The music was prerecorded, but the playing of it is authentic. The music experts were later watching and rewatching Hulce’s playing, and couldn’t find a single mistake.
Mozart’s music is not only divine, it was coming as such from his head. Fully composed. He never made corrections. It would be as if Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings” or Tolstoy his “War and Peace”– and everything else they wrote– never even correcting a single word or comma.
Watch the documentary “The Making of Amadeus”. Watch the movie if you already haven’t. Watch it again if you have. It’s magical, sensual and seductive, like its main character, like the time he lived in. It’s also funny. You’ll laugh, and cry, and you’ll never forget Mozart’s giggle. Watch the scenes, there are plenty of them on Youtube– ‘Amadeus’ is a string of brilliant scenes woven into absolute perfection.