Masaryk university of brno faculty of education


The characters of Salieri and Mozart



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The characters of Salieri and Mozart

It is the character of Antonio Salieri that guides the play and is the mast of the dramatic climax. He steers the wheel of his and Mozart’s destiny and sets familiar environment thanks to the technique of flashback through which Shaffer allows Salieri to share his inner processes with the audience or reader in the form of a number of monologues (Shaffer “Longman” xxiv).

Since the very beginning of the play Salieri reveals the heaviness of his thoughts, providing the audience with the opportunity to browse through his conscience and understand the way he behaves. He is very agile in negotiating with the Viennese aristocracy, in his soliloquy, however, reveals his desires and reproach that makes him more intelligible. In his rococo style outfit he presents a serious, respectful and rather pompous court composer, but the misery and burden he drags behind has been growing in dimensions as the play is progressing.

This is now the very last hour of my life. You must understand me. Not forgive. I do not seek forgiveness. I was a good man, as the world calls good. What use was it to me? Goodness could not make me a good composer. Goodness could not make me a good composer. Was Mozart good? . . . Goodness is nothing in the furnace of art. (Shaffer “Amadeus” 52)

Salieri appears to take on a role of a theatrical performer, an illusionist manipulating with others and giving an impression of reality. He is, in fact, a covert figure disguised in a mask of pretence, desperately fighting for the values he deserves. Mozart, on the other hand, presents himself naturally, effortlessly. It is somewhat like a concept of a theatre in the theatre under Salieri’s conducting. Despite the freakiness of a man dressed into an attire of a schemer, Salieri remains very human and natural, and ought to be treated with a respect of a man who experiences betrayal and behaves accordingly. Mentally despondent, he becomes an agent interrogating his venticellos, a gossip collector, but primarily, a victim of his jealousy.

From the beginning of the play Salieri acts as a God’s servant. Since he has made an agreement with God and is bound to Him as his debtor, he promises to fulfil the God’s will by composing the best music ever. For the exchange he requires a post of the most respected composer. Salieri has to face a challenge in the personality of young Mozart, which he is incapable to deal with. As a representative of conformity and conservatism, he is far from the acceptance of any innovative thoughts and relies purely on God’s will to impose geniality on him. Since no response comes, he feels betrayed and jealous. The voice of God, the ‘Magic Flute’ is not his own but is produced by the childish, disrespectful Mozart. Confused, Salieri does not understand the point that such a foolish, crazy, unwitty boy has been gifted a talent of God, whereas him, highly-regarded, reputable composer is supposed to become reconciled to the average. As a resolution of his mental processes he begins to trace Mozart the pace to death by a moral assassin. Salieri is sly but he is also a cultivated representative of a high class society, and by this respect he is managing his revenge as by no means can he get his reputation destroyed. Nevertheless, the prime purpose of Salieri’s revenge is not to remove Mozart as such as it is the retribution to God through Mozart’s existence (Shaffer “Longman” xvii).

On that dreadful Night of the Manuscripts my life acquired a terrible and thrilling purpose. The blocking of Go in one of his purest manifestations. I had the power. God needed Mozart to let himself into the world. And Mozart needed me to get worldly advancement. So it would be a battle to the end – and Mozart was the battleground. (Shaffer “Amadeus” 52)

The appearance of the phantom raises a schizophrenic-like split of Salieri’s personality and further develops the dramatic turn in the play. The first Salieri's half is unctuous, slimy, imposing a favour to Mozart, it is pretence of being a close friend and helpful companion to turn to in times of troubles, and on whom the increasingly desperate Mozart can rely and find a support in. The mastery of Shaffer's dramatization is fully realized in revealing Salieri´s second role in the form of the mysterious phantom. It may well be regarded as Salieri´s metamorphosis from a human being into a cold, abstract, bloodless illusion, a dark side of Mozart´s soul, his silent reproach. This portrayal of abstractness fits the character of Salieri with a new dimension. His jealousy steps out of a Salieri composer and takes a form of a disguised figure. Envy lurking beneath the windows of Mozart´s apartment, snooping around the dark streets of classicist Vienna. Salieri's envy is inventive, creative, constantly emerging new ways of self-realization, yet it is obviously much more pitiful than all Mozart's miserable life. Therefore, it is the matter of consideration how would Mozart behave being in Salieri’s position (Shaffer “Longman” xvi).

Mozart ought to be viewed as the character of a supplementary importance in the play. He is the victim of Salieri’s cruel ambitions, and is in a complete contrary to Salieri by all respects. A childish nonconformist possessing a very crazy, insane-like manners, absent-minded by nature, yet gifted an extra aspect which Salieri is shortened of. Having Mozart coated deliberately in the crust of madness, Shaffer sets a dramatic contrast in order to oppose the serious pompousness which characterizes his rival. Mozart by his attitude breaks the well-established orders of the Enlightenment era and the etiquette constrained to face the arrogance of Viennese citizens, as expressed in the Introduction to the play:

Mozart’s clash with the so-called enlightened society of his day raises some important issues. He cannot, after all, help being either who or what he is: unvarnished son of a small- town Kapellmeister – yes – but also (to use Salieri’s words) ‘a voice of God’, the Magic Flute through whom is breathed a music so sublime that it cannot fail to survive in a world where most else must inevitably pass away. He cannot be the one without being the other – but that does not stop society demanding that he should. (Shaffer “Longman” xvii)

Being more or less under Salieri’s supervision, Mozart’s pace through the play is fully dependent on Salieri’s own manoeuvres. Since they are introduced to each other, Mozart has been embodied in a role of a puppet with a very limited space of self-employment which is supported by his ruffled wig and foolish discourse he possesses. He sets a mirror to the members of aristocracy which irritates them, thus Mozart is sentenced to remain a misunderstood outsider. Despite the tragic disharmony in both protagonists’ characters they still bear some kind of similarity - it is their need to speak through music. Neither handles the ability to balance their consciousness other way but exposing their music. Salieri exploits Mozart’s talent in the planned assassination, which approaches slowly and sneakily.

The scene in which Salieri is relaxing in an upholstered armchair, sophisticatedly relishing delicious confections of sorbetti-caramelli and crema al mascarpone in the Baroness Waldstadten’s library depicts the discreetness of Salieri’s and the playfulness of Mozart’s characters. This theatrical spectacle serves a load of comical performances within a moment the two gentlemen appear in the room. Salieri, a loyal attendant to the Austrian Emperor in contrast to Mozart who presents himself as a cat - a hunting animal romping around the room. He is frisky and playful and indulges his spontaneity. Such a stark contrast in the presentations of both composers emphasizes the ratio of total inconsistencies and character contradictions.

MOZART. I’m going to pounce-bounce! I’m going to scrunch-munch! I’m going to chewpoo my little mouse-wouse! I’m going to tear her to bits with my paws-claws!

CONSTANZE. No!

MOZART. Paws-claws, paws-claws, paws-claws! OHH! . . .





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