Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mozart vs. Salieri

"Mozart! ... Mozart! ... I killed youuuu!"

F. Murray Abraham as Salieri
Those words, which open the movie "Amadeus", continue to haunt me.  This movie is like a black hole for an artist to enter and from which possibly never to return.  I wanted to talk about this movie's affect on me and on the way I approach my art.  

The movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1984.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the greatest European artist ever to walk the earth, and he wrote divine music.  The movie has a small but excellent sample of his work which punctuates the story in sublime ways. 

The film is essentially about an Italian named Antonio Salieri, who was the court composer of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna (perhaps the modern equivalent would be like being a movie director for Disney in LA - huge budget, large marketing apparatus, projects make money even if they suck).  Salieri admired Mozart, an Austrian, from afar for his whole life.  After he met Mozart, he became dangerously obsessed with him, sought to use his political influence to undermine him, cursed God and turned away from his faith because of him, and ultimately sought Mozart's death in a fit of jealous rage.  Yet all the while, Salieri was just smart enough to know that Mozart was a genius, and Salieri's punishment was to witness it.  

Tom Hulce as Mozart
Mozart, on the other hand, is young, undisciplined, and has no care for manners at court, or behaving politely, or any other norms of the high society of that time in the courts and salons of Europe.  He was a man who had no need to kiss ass - he just let his talent do his talking for him.  If you spend any significant time with Mozart's work, he has plenty to say.  There is one work of his - "Kyrie" from his Mass in C minor - where I can close my eyes and see the entire arc of man's life flash before my mind.  He begins the song with the pain of childbirth, leading to puberty, the joys of falling in love, the bliss of living with a woman, creating a new family, and then the long slow fade into old age and death.  I could write a whole post just on how that one piece affected my life!  Powerful stuff. 

Amadeus Directors Cut Blu ray Review

Mozart's art was daring for the time.  He took on projects no other artist could get away with, such as staging an opera in a Turkish harem, and another opera based on the book "The Marriage of Figaro" - which was at that time believed to undermine the common man's faith in monarchical rule.  With the beheadings in France a few short years away ("Let them eat cake," etc), and the rise of the United States, all the courts of Europe were sensitive to anything that would incite the populace.  Yet Mozart dared to tell the tale of Figaro through music - and got the Habsburg Emperor to pay for it!  He was thinking way ahead of his time, envisioning the future of man and culture with his work. 

Salieri?  He was the Emperor's piano teacher.  Back then, musician/composers made a living by teaching & tutoring, which Salieri did to fund his lifestyle and make connections.  He explains how, in working with the Emperor, he "corrected the royal sight-reading" and "trained the royal ear."  Then he said, "Actually, the man had no ear at all... But what did it matter?  He loved my music!!!" (With a big smile and hugging himself.)

I'd bet that 99 out of 100 people in Hollywood are just like Salieri.  People who are in show business and getting paid well for it - celebrities - are dying for praise and admiration.  It is wind in their sails, air in their lungs, cool water on their steaming hot day.  The other thing that you observe from watching is that Salieri, while a decent but unremarkable composer, is a very talented courtier.  He has the gift of gab, and he knows how to make money and influence important people.  So his power and influence has everything to do with his political skills, as opposed to his talent as a composer.  Yet he has the vanity to believe that he deserves from God the ability that God has given Mozart.  He prayed to God fervently, handed over his "chastity" to God as a young man, and in return, he expected God to give him amazing talent.  You don't make deals with God - you can only come to God on God's terms, not your own.  You make deals with the devil. 

And that is where the story really gets deep and complex.  When I watch "Amadeus" again and again, it becomes for me a reflection of the struggle between good and evil in modern man's heart.  Mozart represents God - untouchable, yet available to all; full of hope, joy, love, and playfulness; capable of surprise yet always willing to forgive if you meet him halfway.  He is the creative force in the universe.  Salieri represents the devil - full of lust for power, influence, money, acclaim.  Sensitive and vain.  Wants to destroy anything that makes him feel inferior or less adored.  Does not come close to God in the least.  He is a mere shadow - yet he is there always, tempting us with money and power, pushing us to leave our virtue and our ideals behind and turn away from God. 

A metaphor I like to ponder on, particularly when I am walking in the woods, is that a man is like a tree, while the devil is like the weeds.  The tree is born good, beautiful, strong; it provides shade, rest, comfort, and air to breathe.  It has roots deep in the ground.  Weeds seem like no match for a tree; they are ugly and twisted with shallow roots.  Yet if you walk around a forest enough, you can see places where weeds & vines grow so large that they wrap themselves around a tree and choke it, pulling it down to the ground.  If you are not careful to pull out those weeds regularly and keep the area around the tree clean, eventually the weeds will overcome the tree. 

Any artist who has been blessed with great gifts will face this crossroads at one time or another in his career.  He will have to choose whether he will take the path of Mozart or Salieri.  Now - I do not believe that this choice is between Money and No Money, or Success and No Success; to suggest that is in itself a choice.  An artist must define for himself what "Money" and "Success" means within the context of his own life.  Keep in mind as well that some of the world's greatest artists were unknown while they were alive.  If your concern is the pursuit of Truth and Beauty, then you must choose.  Will you live in the light?  Will you rest on your pillow and sleep soundly knowing that you can live with the choices you make?  I think a lot about these things... 

Mahalo ;)=~

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