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Amadeus Playbill.jpg
Playbill, 1981
Written by Peter Shaffer
Characters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Antonio Salieri
Constanze Weber
Katherina Cavalieri
Emperor Joseph II
Count Orsini-Rosenberg
Baron Gottfried van Swieten
Giuseppe Bonno
Count Johann Kilian von Strack
Teresa Salieri
Vienna Citizens
Date premiered 1979
Place premiered National Theatre
London, England
Original language English
Subject Biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Genre Drama, tragedy
Setting 1783-1825; Vienna, Austria; the Court of Joseph II
IBDB profile

Amadeus is a stage play written in 1979 by English author Peter Shaffer, loosely based on the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Amadeus was inspired by Mozart and Salieri, a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin and later adapted into an opera of the same name by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Shaffer then adapted the play for a film released in 1984.

Significant use is made of the music of Mozart, Salieri and other composers of the period.


Plot synopsis

Since the original run, Shaffer has extensively revised his play, including changes to plot details; the following is common to all revisions.

At the opening of the tale, Salieri is an old man, having long outlived his fame, and is convinced he used poison to assassinate Mozart. Speaking directly to the audience, he promises to explain himself. The action then flashes back to the eighteenth century, at a time when Salieri has not met Mozart in person, but has heard of him and his music. He adores Mozart's compositions, and is thrilled at the chance to meet Mozart in person, during a salon at which some of Mozart's compositions will be played. When he finally does catch sight of Mozart, however, he is deeply disappointed to find that Mozart's personality does not match the grace or charm of his compositions. When Salieri first meets him, Mozart is crawling around on his hands and knees, engaging in smutty talk with his future bride Constanze Weber.

Salieri cannot reconcile Mozart's boorish behavior with the genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him. Indeed, Salieri, who has been a devout Catholic all his life, cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri rejects God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy him.

Throughout much of the rest of the play, Salieri masquerades as Mozart's ally to his face while doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have. On more than one occasion it is only the direct intervention of the Emperor himself that allows Mozart to continue (interventions which Salieri opposes, and then is all too happy to take credit for when Mozart assumes it was he who intervened). Salieri also humiliates Mozart's wife when she comes to Salieri for aid, and smears Mozart's character with the Emperor and the court. A major theme in Amadeus is Mozart's repeated attempts to win over the aristocratic "public" with increasingly brilliant compositions, which are always frustrated either by Salieri or by the aristocracy's own inability to appreciate Mozart's genius.

The play ends with Salieri attempting suicide in a last pathetic attempt to be remembered, leaving a false confession of having murdered Mozart with arsenic. He survives, however, and his confession is disbelieved by all, leaving him to wallow once again in mediocrity.

Background and production

Factual accuracy

Shaffer used dramatic licence in his portrayals of both Mozart and Salieri, but there is debate as to just how much.[citation needed] Documentary evidence suggests that there was some antipathy between Mozart and Salieri, but the idea that Salieri was the instigator of Mozart's demise is not given academic credence. While, historically, there may have been actual rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, there is also evidence that they enjoyed a relationship marked by mutual respect.[1] As an example, Salieri later tutored Mozart's son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart in music.

Writer David Cairns called Amadeus "myth-mongering" and argued against Shaffer's portrait of Mozart as "two contradictory beings, sublime artist and fool", positing instead that Mozart was "fundamentally well-integrated". Cairns also rejects the "romantic legend" that Mozart always wrote out perfect manuscripts of works already completely composed in his head, citing major and prolonged revisions to several manuscripts; see Mozart's compositional method.[citation needed]

Amadeus the play

Amadeus was first presented at the Royal National Theatre, London in 1979, directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Paul Scofield as Salieri, Simon Callow as Mozart, and Felicity Kendal as Constanze. It was later transferred in modified form to the West End, starring Frank Finlay as Salieri.[citation needed]

The play premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart and Jane Seymour as Constanze. It ran for 1,181 performances and was nominated for seven Tony Awards (best actor for both McKellen and Curry, best director for Peter Hall, best play, best costume design, lighting, and set design for John Bury), of which it won five (including a best actor Tony for McKellen).[2] During the run of the play McKellen was replaced by John Wood,Frank Langella, David Dukes, David Birney, John Horton, and Daniel Davis. Curry was replaced by Peter Firth, Dennis Boutsikaris, John Pankow, Mark Hamill, and John Thomas Waite. Also playing Constanze were Amy Irving, Suzanne Lederer, and Maureen Moore.

Mark Hamill was cast as Mozart in the 1983 Los Angeles production.[citation needed]

Adam Redfield and Terry Finn appeared as Mozart and Constanze Mozart, respectively in the 1984 Virginia Stage Company production. Performed at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, the drama was directed by Charles Towers.[citation needed]

The play was revived in 2000, and received Tony Award nominations for best revival and best actor (David Suchet). [3]

In July 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a production of the latest revision of the play at the Hollywood Bowl. Neil Patrick Harris starred as Mozart, and Michael York as Salieri. Leonard Slatkin conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra.[citation needed]

In December 2007, the Sheffield Crucible Theatre mounted a presentation of the play. The production was unique as it was performed on the thrust stage of the Crucible, different from Shaffer's staging directions of a Proscenium Arch. Director Nikolai Foster reportedly contacted Peter Shaffer for consultation on changing his stage directions of Amadeus, to adapt to the new stage.[4] The ending of the production was also edited.

Film and other adaptations

The 1984 film adaptation won an Academy Award for Best Picture. It starred F. Murray Abraham as Salieri (winning the Oscar for Best Actor for this role), Tom Hulce as Mozart, and Elizabeth Berridge as Constanze. The play was thoroughly reworked by Shaffer and the film's director, Milos Forman with scenes and characters not found in the play.[5] While the focus of the play is primarily on Salieri, the film goes further into developing the characters of both composers.

To celebrate Mozart's 250th birthday in 2006, BBC Radio 2 broadcast an eight-part adaptation by Neville Teller of Shaffer's play narrated by F. Murray Abraham as Salieri.[6]

Awards and nominations

  • 1979 Evening Standard Award for Best Play
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1981 Tony Award for Best Play

See also


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Amadeus is a 1984 film about the lives of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, two composers who lived in Vienna, Austria, during the latter half of the 18th century.

Directed by Milos Forman. Written by Peter Shaffer (from his stage play of the same name).
The Man... The Music... The Madness... The Murder... The Motion Picture... (taglines)



  • I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint.
  • While my father prayed earnestly to God to protect commerce, I would offer up secretly the proudest prayer a boy could think of: Lord, make me a great composer. Let me celebrate Your glory through music and be celebrated myself. Make me famous through the world, dear God. Make me immortal. After I die, let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote. In return, I will give You my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life, Amen.
  • 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.
  • So rose the dreadful ghost from his next and blackest opera. There, on the stage, stood the figure of a dead commander. And I knew, only I understood that the horrifying apparition was Leopold raised from the dead! Wolfgang had summoned up his own father to accuse his son before all the world!
  • That was Mozart. That! That giggling dirty-minded creature I had just seen, crawling on the floor!
  • From now on, we are enemies... you and I...


  • It's unbelievable, the director has actually torn up a huge section of my music. They say I have to rewrite the opera. But it's perfect as it is! I can't rewrite what's perfect!
  • Forgive me, Majesty. I am a vulgar man! But I assure you, my music is not.


Mozart: "Confutatis maledictis" - when the wicked are confounded. "Flammis Acribus Addictis." How would you translate that?
Salieri: Consigned to flames of woe.
Mozart: Do you believe in it?
Salieri: What?
Mozart: A fire which never dies, burning you forever?
Salieri: Oh, yes.

Mozart: Why must I submit samples of my work to some stupid committee just to teach a thirteen-year-old girl?
Count Von Strack: Because His Majesty wishes it.
Mozart: Is the emperor angry with me?
Count Von Strack: Quite the contrary.
Mozart: Then why doesn't he simply appoint me to the post?
Count Von Strack: Mozart, you are not the only composer in Vienna.
Mozart: No. But I'm the best!

Constanze Mozart: Stop it!
Mozart: I am stopping it! Slowly. There? See? I've stopped. Now we're going back.
Constanze Mozart: No!
Mozart: Yes, yes! You don't know where you are! Here, everything goes backwards. People walk backwards, dance backwards, sing backwards, and even talk backwards.
Constanze Mozart: That's stupid.
Mozart: Why? People fart backwards.


  • The Man... The Music... The Madness... The Murder... The Motion Picture...


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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



From Latin amo love + deus god.

Proper noun




  1. A male given name.

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