All but Sloth

Posted on October 18, 2011

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Antonio Salieri, old and infirm, sat alone in his bare white-walled dormitory at a piano, playing a lonely tune. A priest visited him at the asylum in which he’d been detained. Salieri stopped playing and spent a moment looking bitterly at his guest, before saying simply, “Leave me alone.” Why would he treat this priest with such coldness? Salieri no longer had any respect for the God that he once revered and in turn, was not going to have respect for his representative. The priest came to get the confession of the broken old man to give him peace. The indignant expression on Salieri’s face showed that he had nothing but contempt for him. So instead of a confession, he offered a debate on God and said everything he could to offend the man who still honoured Him. What would make a man turn so harshly toward his once beloved God? Salieri’s is a story of wrath, greed, pride, lust, envy and gluttony; six of the seven deadly sins.

“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,” Salieri prayed. His false piety was to serve himself in his own want of fame, never really caring if God got any glory for his music. This is illustrated in his egoistical nature one notices starting from the beginning of the film, in his first few words with the priest. He asked, “Do you know who I am?” and then played a couple of his pieces on the piano. When the priest confessed ignorance, Salieri grew indignant that he didn’t recognise his music that “brought down the house”. This young priest, who studied music in Vienna as a child, had never heard of Antonio Salieri’s work – insufferable! Salieri, said, “You must know this,” and turned slightly toward the piano, pecking out a simple tune on it while looking at the priest and smiling as if they’d have something between them once the priest figures out that this old man was the writer. When all he got in return was a blank, oblivious look and, “I can’t say that I do. What is it?” Salieri looked back at the priest, disbelieving and insulted. “It was a very popular tune in its day! I wrote it.” Thus, Salieri’s pride.

Salieri dedicated his life to music, and never achieved more than mediocrity. Then there was Mozart, infinitely more talented, but to him he was nothing but a dirty-minded sex fiend. The first time Salieri ever laid eyes upon him, Mozart had chased a young woman into an empty room, giggling and playing a perverse little game with her. He was pulling her underneath a table and crawling around on the floor like some sort of animal, stroking and caressing her leg suggestively. It was for this reason Salieri asked, “Why would God choose this obscene child to be his instrument?” The title of the movie itself is even fitting with the line of reasoning that God favoured Mozart. “Amadeus”, in Latin, means “beloved of God”; he received that love from God, becoming His beneficiary. Michiko Kakutani wrote in a New York Times article, “How can a just God bestow the gift of genius of a foul-minded buffoon like Mozart, while giving a devout man like Salieri only enough talent to recognise his mediocrity,” which is exactly what Salieri felt. Thus, Salieri’s envy.  Through the whole recounting of his dealings with Mozart, Salieri did nothing but denounce God for his adversary’s ‘blessing’ and success. He swore to God, “From now on, we are enemies, you and I. Because you choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy, and give me only the ability to recognise the incarnation. Because you are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block you. I swear it.”

Despite Salieri’s feeling that God was torturing him, he adopted the same ‘cruelty’ in his dealings with Mozart. While at his mercy, Salieri dangled money and work commissions over Mozart’s head. When Mozart asked him for a loan, Salieri told him “I don’t think you should become known in Vienna as a debtor, Mozart. However, I know a distinguished gentleman I can recommend, and he has a daughter.” This was part of his disgracing Mozart, veiled behind ‘throwing him a bone’. Mozart is standing in the parlour of the aforementioned “distinguished gentleman” when five dogs barge in, jumping on him, barking excitedly. Mozart sat at the piano and started playing. One of the dogs started yipping, stopping Mozart suddenly. “Stop! He always howls when he hears music. We’ve got to break him of that habit,” the gentleman boisterously proclaimed. The loud parents of this pupil and their herd of noisy, rambunctious dogs was more than Mozart wanted to handle. This job was a joke. He was irritated the whole time he was there, and he soon walked out on them, quitting. Salieri made life as difficult as possible for Mozart, trying to disgrace and destroy him. Mozart thought it beneath him to have to show anyone samples of his work in order to get employment, so in secret, his wife went to Salieri with a folder of sheet music. He looked at the papers and could hear the perfect melody in his head. He got lost in it; he was in complete rapture just reading printed notes on page. The music was such a major part of this film that the writer, Peter Shaffer, commented, “The music is becoming the third character of this film.” That is extremely evident in scenes like this one, where Salieri looks at “meticulous ink strokes” in black and white, and hears its beautiful melody in his head. The music talks to him. It dances with him. It seduces him. Salieri could not deny that Mozart was a musical genius, and in fact, stated, “He was my idol.” However, his jealousy and disdain for Mozart made him proposition Mozart’s wife, telling her, “Some service deserves service in return,” and that’s the price she’d have to pay to get her husband a job. He didn’t think she’d come back and take him up on the offer, and he had the satisfaction of having her go away humiliated and insulted, and by association, Mozart himself. She did come back, however, and he denied her. Thus he humiliated her further by eluding that he never intended on granting Mozart any job, and even if she was willing to give her body to him, Salieri simply didn’t care to assist Mozart. Afterward, Salieri renounced his God and swore to stymie and ruin the “spiteful, sniggering, conceited infantine Mozart” to the greatest extent of his ability. Thus, Salieri’s wrath. He got to work on this immediately, speaking with Emperor Joseph II and starting a rumour that Mozart was not to be trusted and molested his young female pupils. Once the rumour got out, no one wanted to hire him to teach their daughters and Mozart was unable to make any money.

Salieri had no intention to have Mozart’s wife because of the vow he made to God to remain chaste. That vow, however, did not take away certain feelings. In speaking with the young priest, Salieri speaks glowingly of his vocal student, Katerina Cavalieri.  He waxes admiringly of her talent and her beauty, and admits that he was in love with her, “or at least in lust”. But when he realised that her fascination with Mozart had led to a tryst, he was devastated, and his hatred and bitterness grew substantially. He could not have this woman, but he would not want any other man to have her either, least of all his most hated rival. He wanted to possess her completely; mind, body, and soul. There was no real love in his desire, because love is not a jealous captor, but a generous and caring patron.  Thus, Salieri’s lust.

Though he’d vowed a life of chastity, Salieri did give in to one chief vice: confections. He used them as a substitute for his lack of relations. He replaced his sexual appetite with that of a sweet tooth, and in fact chased after them as other men would chase after women.  At a reception before the bishop, a marvellous feast is being laid out by servants, and as they walk by, Salieri’s eyes widen greedily upon seeing the decadent desserts. He watches the servants to see where all these delightful treats are being taken, and as the servants turn to leave, he pretends to only be admiring the hall’s construction. Once the servants are gone, Salieri, in a most undignified manner hardly befitting a grown man, sneaks into the room like a mischievous child, anxious to indulge his sweet tooth. We see several times throughout the movie when he both offers others and partakes himself in some of his sugary treasures. Even as an old man, his servants stood outside his door as he yelled in agony. They tried to get him to unlock the door and lure him out by offering him sweet cakes with cream. “Signore, we have something special for you, something we think you’re going to love!” Sweets are his one indulgence, his one weakness of the flesh. He always made sure to have great stores of them around, and ate them frequently and without regard to hunger, thus gluttony.

Finally, Salieri decided to work upon the frustrations and regrets of Mozart, in particular those he had with his father before he died. Knowing that Mozart loved his father, but felt utterly horrible for disappointing him, Salieri came to Mozart in disguise, the spectre of his beloved father, to commission a funeral dirge. Mozart, horrified at the sight of the ghost of his father, began to fall apart, working hard day and night to the point of exhaustion on the piece. His desperate need of money was outweighed by his innate desire to finish the work, and Salieri appeared in disguise again and again to drive Mozart even further into madness, torturing him with the vision of his past failures personified. At last, Salieri came undisguised, a ruse, coming to Mozart as a friend, offering to help him finish the requiem. As they worked through the night, he marvelled at the genius he transcribed to sheet as Mozart dictated the final movements. Salieri was roused by Mozart’s wife in the morning, as both he and Mozart had paused during the night to rest. Sick, exhausted, broke, and broken, Mozart died shortly after his wife arrived. Ultimately, it was Salieri’s relentless driving of Mozart that brought about the composer’s demise. Salieri’s plans with the composition were to take it and pass it off as his own work. He wanted the fame and notoriety that Mozart received. Thus, Salieri’s greed. His plan failed, however, as Mozart’s wife found out what they worked on all night. Agitated, she gathered the sheets of paper and quickly locked them in a nearby curio, forbidding Salieri from touching them again. For 32 years, Salieri lived with the murder of Mozart on his head, and with what comfort? Mozart’s complete destruction brought him little to no satisfaction, for Mozart was still far more famous than he would ever be. This was a hard pill to swallow for Salieri; after all these years, his work was forgotten, while Mozart’s was remembered and adored. And in the end, an aged Salieri, after wailing and crying out, “Mozart! Mozart! Forgive me! Forgive your assassin!” He tried to take his own life and ended up in an insane asylum. He didn’t even have the skill to kill himself. Truly, the fact that he believed himself mediocre became a self-fulfilling prophecy. His perception was very much his reality. Salieri went out naming himself the champion and patron saint of all mediocrities, which is exactly what he was.

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Posted in: movies