How True is Amadeus
July 6, 2016
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. If you're like me, you discovered the story of Mozart through the movie Amadeus.
Mozart Snob (vo): (snooty voice) Not true!
(NC grimaces as he hears this; cut to Doug Walker standing there wearing a plaid shirt and smoking a pipe; he is the Mozart Snob)
Mozart Snob: Not true! The movie is entirely not true.
NC: (sighs; rolls eyes) And if you're like me, you always encounter someone who says this.
Mozart Snob: Instead of trying to get all of your information from movies, why don't you just try knowing everything, like I do?
NC: It seems like if you even bring up that you enjoyed the film, somebody has to take about the historical inaccuracies.
(To a Mozart piece, "Eine kleine Nachtmusik", film footage is shown)
NC (vo): To its credit, Amadeus never claims to be a true story. Based on the play, Amadeus looks at the story of Wolfgang Mozart, from the point of view of another composer named Antonio Salieri. He claims he killed Mozart because he was jealous that such talent had fallen on what appeared to be a giggling, dirty delinquent. This is one for those movies that everybody could get behind: it's visually interesting, has dramatic intrigue, hilarious comedy, and introduced people to a part of music history that was phenomenally fascinating. Most people, when they hear Mozart, think his life is going to be one of just looking fancy and keeping up appearances. But many people, myself included, were enjoyably surprised to find out how weird, funny, brilliant, immature, and even kind of downright insane a person could be.
Mozart Snob: And none of it is true! So, you see, you actually know nothing about Mozart. Why don't you just "swipe left". (NC glowers at the Snob) That's what you see everywhere, isn't it? Just swiping iPhones, (he chortles a bit) that's you. (chortles some more as he puts his pipe back in his mouth)
NC: The movie got me so much into the life of Mozart that I decided to do a little research to see how accurate it actually was.
NC (vo): The best way to do this is to go for the common complaints that people swear must have been made up for the movie.
(Cut to a clip of a movie review show)
Historian: Scholars and musicians bristled at it's depiction of the composer as a... silly, overgrown child, with a hyena cackle.
NC (vo): And it probably goes without saying, but there are spoilers in this. And if you haven't see it yet, go check it out. It's said by many, including myself, to be one of the finest movies ever made.
NC: With that said, let's start on a topic that even The Simpsons addressed it.
NC (vo): Mozart was a lazy idiot.
(Cut to a shot of Bart Simpson as a classical composer in the season 15 episode Margical History Tour)
NC (vo): At the end of a very funny spoof The Simpsons did of the film...
(Cut to a shot of Lisa Simpson in the same episode, with a message appearing that the NC reads...)
NC (vo): ...Lisa points out that the film has a lot of inaccuracies, claiming Mozart worked very hard on his music, and Salieri was a respected composer.
Mozart Snob: Yes, they just make him look like a buffoon. Like brilliant music just came to him, and he put no effort into it whatsoever. (chortles again and puts the pipe back into his mouth)
NC: But, many people are just going by the impression it made, not what the film was actually saying.
NC (vo): It is documented that Mozart had an immature, even dirty, sense of humour. He loved fart jokes, and sex jokes, and he was boastful, and bad with money. This kind of attitude would certainly give the impression that he didn't know what he was doing, and that he was just a party animal, like how many saw him in the movie. But the film does explain that he works all the time. It doesn't just come to him out of nowhere; he's just constantly thinking of music 24/7, and is planning it out in his mind.
Salieri: Does he work at all?
Lorl: Oh, yes, sir.
Constanze Mozart: I don't mean that he's lazy, 'cause he's not at all. He just works all day long.
Lorl: He just sits there, writing and writing.
NC (vo): This makes a lot of sense when you see how much his father [Leopold] hammered music into his brain as a child. But, yes, they acknowledge that the music took time and effort.
NC: And in response to the other comment that Salieri was a respected composer, the movie never said he wasn't.
NC (vo): In the opening, we see more people remembered Mozart's music rather than his, but it's shown clearly that not only was Salieri's work adored in his day, but many loved it even more than Mozart's, as Mozart's work seemed too different and new at the time.
Emperor: It is the best opera yet written, my friends. You do honor to Vienna... and me.
NC: Which brings us to the next questionable subject. Did fellow composers, including Salieri, actually hate Mozart?
NC (vo): Mozart often wrote that he felt the other composers were blocking him, trying to stand in the way of his work reaching greater success. And, yes, the Emperor did famously say that his music had too many notes.
NC: Which is like saying a book has too many letters.
Emperor: There are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few, and it will be fine.
NC (vo): He was never given a position on the Emperor's court. One of the reasons being he didn't just write his music for the musical elite; he wrote it so that the everyman can appreciate it as well. There were also so many that saw Mozart as a one-trick pony, or a dancing monkey, seeing how his fame started when he was just a little kid. So, naturally, there were critics that said he was the equivalent of what we would call a fading child star. Still, he was popular for the most part, and able to calm down his wild attitude when he needed to. So, while this is more speculation, and it's impossible to figure out how far it went, it's still not without plausible possibility.
Mozart Snob: Ah, but what about the masked man that commissioned the Requiem from him? The person who was trying to steal the work for himself? Clearly, that is the work of Hollywood!
NC: Well, on that, you're correct.
Mozart Snob: (chortles) You see.
NC: He didn't wear a mask.
Mozart Snob: What?
NC (vo): Yeah, the part you'd swear was out of a lame Hollywood thriller actually contains a lot of truth.
(Paintings of the person the NC is about to talk about are shown)
NC (vo): A composer named Count Franz von Walsegg anonymously commissioned Mozart to compose a Requiem for his late wife. The Count had a history of taking compositions from famous composers and passing it off as his own...
(Cut back to Amadeus)
NC (vo): ...as he was an incredible pianist, but not the best composer. So it's incredibly likely that he was going to do the same with Mozart's work. He used servants and messengers to communicate with the ill Mozart, and as shown in the movie, he died in the middle of writing it. It was then handed off to other composers to try and complete it, so that his wife could still collect the money and pay off a lot of the debt that her husband accumulated. So, while it wasn't Salieri, as it said in the movie, it was still someone that had quite a devious plan, proving once again truth really can be stranger than fiction.
Mozart Snob: Yes, yes, but let's not tap dance around the biggest inaccuracy, the one that the whole film is centered around: Saleiri didn't claim that he killed Mozart!
Mozart Snob: Oh, come on, now, are we conspiracy theorists? (snorts)
NC: Oh, not at all. It's incredibly unlikely that Salieri did anything that he said he did in the movie.
Mozart Snob: (laughs) Very good.
NC: But he did claim that he killed Mozart.
(Mozart Snob lets out a strangled gasp in response)
NC (vo): In his later years, Salieri, just like in the film, tried to kill himself, and confessed that he was responsible for Mozart's death. And since there weren't really doctors of mental health back then, they called a priest, who would listen to him explain how he finished him off. Now, historians have dismissed his as mad ravings of a person whose sanity has clearly deteriorated.
NC: But this is where the film gets very clever: who's telling the story?
NC (vo): Saleiri. That means that the whole thing could be told under the guise that he believes what he's talking about really happened. If you look at it that way, even to the point where he convinces the priest that what he said is true, the story suddenly takes on a much more interesting angle. Mozart, even near the end of his life, swears he's been poisoned, and often says that he is writing the Requiem more for himself. But in terms of Salieri doing it, this is the part that's clearly historical fiction. This is where we enter Oliver Stone's JFK, or The Da Vinci Code. It's a fantasy told in a world of fact.
NC: But what makes this so clever is that you can just say everything around Salieri is mostly fiction, while everything around Mozart is mostly accurate.
NC (vo): He worked hard on his music, like the movie said. He could be immature, like the movie said. He was a debtor, a drinker, a boaster, but also one of the most unbelievable talents the world has ever known. So when someone says Amadeus is totally nonsense, you can say that the majority of it is true, except for the Salieri parts. Those parts are based on the theories and stories that spread over the years; deceitful stories so crazy and unbelievable, based off of a life so crazy and unbelievable, that it's hard to know where one ends and the other begins. That's the genius of the movie: it blends fiction and reality so well that, even years later, people still confuse what really happened and what didn't. It's just easy to label it as one thing, and dismiss people who see value in its historical relevance.
NC: But the life of Mozart can't be labeled as one thing. It's just too strange for that.
NC (vo): This movie did its homework in getting a lot of the history correct, and intentionally incorporate fiction to enhance a life that is very hard to get a grasp on. It's funny when you see people boast about how many things the movie got "wrong", as if the creators didn't know what they were doing, very similar to how the composers in the movie assumed Mozart didn't know what he was doing because he was too strange and new.
(Cut again to the shot of Lisa Simpson and her quote on the movie)
NC (vo): In fact, with a lot of people talking about those inaccuracies, even though they got a lot of those inaccuracies wrong...
NC: ...you could argue that they are the ones who are misinformed.
Mozart Snob: Oh-ho! A fouler phrase has never been spoken, oh-ho-ho! (faints dramatically)
NC (vo): There are still things left unknown about Mozart and his work. And even what we do know is subject to some speculation, so nobody will ever get the full story. But only a life as strange as this could blend truth and fiction, honesty and deceit in such a way. Mozart's life never could, and never should, be told straightforward. It's a maddening spin that has to be experienced and challenging, exactly like his music does. It's bizarre yet humanizing, dark yet bright, funny yet serious, something to have on in the background or listen to by some of the greatest musicians of our time. The film is a masterwork that deserves to be honored as much as Mozart himself is. And, if anybody tells you shouldn't enjoy because of its "inaccuracies", you can tell them that your reason for liking it simply has too many notes for them to understand.
Mozart: Well, there it is.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)