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2.4 The view of the artist

One aspect of Amadeus is the changing role of the artist in society. Salieri represents the passing epoch in which the artist was regarded as a craftsman whose task was to produce works that pleased his employer. Composers, like most artists, depended for their livelihood almost solely upon patronage dispensed by the Church and the aristocracy. They were looked upon as servants, and as such were often required to wear uniformed livery. Mozart stands for the new image of the artist as a free, God-like creature who fights the restrictions put upon him by society. This opposition is already mentioned in Alexander Pushkin's verse drama Mozart and Salieri, and it is further developed in Amadeus:

The (historical) figures of Salieri and Mozart serve as personifications of two opposing concepts of the artist: the craftsmanlike composer who is a master in his own right but never goes beyond the limit of accepted tastes; and the (divinely) inspired genius, the original, and therefore more successful, innovator of the art." (Huber and Zapf, 303f.)

Salieri fully realises his limitations and accepts them. He represents the conventional musical aesthetics of the time and knows that his success is built upon them:

Yes, we were servants. But we were learned servants! And we used our learning to celebrate men's average lives! We took unremarkable men: usual bankers, run-of-the-mill priests, ordinary soldiers and statesmen and wives -- and sacramen-talized their mediocrity. We smoothed their noons with strings divisi! We pierced their nights with chitarrini! We gave them processions for their strutting -- serenades for their rutting -- high horns for their hunting, and drums for their wars!" (Play, 18f.)*

He embodies the typical rational man of the Enlightenment. He realises, though, that Mozart's music is based on completely different principles, and that those principles oppose his own. In spite of that, he must admit to himself that his own well-structured music is dull and empty in comparison to the work of Mozart. Nonetheless, the court society does not recognise Mozart's genius. To them, "it is Mozart's music itself that gives the most radical offence, since it is in his music that he expresses the dimension of 'real life' which is stifled in the world of the Court." (Huber and Zapf, 308) On the surface, the Emperor and the courtiers like Mozart's music, but they feel somehow at a loss as to the feelings that it evokes in them:

MOZART: Did you really like it, Sire?
JOSEPH: I thought it was most interesting. Yes, indeed. A trifle -- how shall one say? [To ORSINI-ROSENBERG] How shall one say, Director?
ROSENBERG [subserviently]: Too many notes, Your Majesty?
JOSEPH: Very well put. Too many notes. (Play, 37)

In the Romantic age that followed, Mozart's music was to receive the highest acclaim. In his own time, however, he was still regarded as "a young fellow trying to impress beyond his abilities" (Play, 21). It was only later that the artist was allowed eccentricity in both his life and his work.


* I am using a non-proportional font  for the quotations from the play and the film in order to emphasise their spoken character.

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