The MHS Review 343 Vol. 9, No. 1 • 1985
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David M. Greene
Amadeus, the Milos Forman-Peter Shaffer film, which I've just seen, is a gorgeous piece of cinema, but one that, like most such works, plays fast and loose with history. Nevertheless, it has about it a decided ring of truth. It suggests that there is no necessary link between intellectual superiority and creative genius, an idea supported by the examples of any number of artists from Blind Tom to Maurice Utrillo. Mozart, in his usual scatological language, likened his composing to an excretory function. It matters not whether Salieri was the intellectual he is portrayed as being. There must have been dozens of brilliant men, would-be composers who had mastered every rule of their craft, who looked on Mozart's work and despaired.
Shaffer's Mozart, however, incredibly gauche, is not wholly a caricature. Anyone who has moved in musical circles can recall fools and bores who turned demonic when practicing their craft. Mozart may have been more intelligent than depicted-he wrote more lucidly than most of my students do-but the facts make it clear that, out from under the thumb and mantle of his father, he was quite unable to manage his own affairs. He was frivolous, he was gullible, he was vain. At precisely the most crucial point in his career he allowed foxy Frau Weber to manipulate him into a marriage he had not Intended. Once he had, thanks to his own undiplomatic chutzpah, been literally kicked out of the Arch episcopal place in Salzburg, he was never able to command a job, or even independent work, that paid him a living wage.
Mozart's ineptitude as a human being and his irresistibility as a composer are admirably underlined by the works on this record. On reaching his majority, the ex-Wunderkind, his Mama in tow, set out to seek his fortune. In Mannheim he found friends and admiration, but no solid employment. He went on to Paris. There he wrote a symphonie concertante for some of the Mannheimers to play at the Concert Spirituel. Somehow, however, he got on the wrong side of the intendant, who scotched the performance and lost (or destroyed) the score.
Mozart found a few pupils, mostly bad to hear him tell it. One of the better ones was the young Countess de Guines, a harpist. Her flutist-father commissioned a concerto they could play together. As Mozart was finishing it, the Countess suddenly married and gave up her music. The Count grudgingly settled for half her lessons and refused the concerto.
The great choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre got Mozart a commission to write a short ballet (on "horrid old French tunes" the composer told his father). It was produced and repeated with much success. Mozart got no credit in the program nor a sou of payment, and the score disappeared in the dust of the Bibliotheque nationale for more than a century. As Leopold Mozart's Paris friend Baron Grimm wrote him, "With half his talent and twice his brains, your son might have succeeded here."
Today, considering its popularity, Amadeus might have made a pile on record royalties from Eine k/eine Nachtmusik (best translated as "A Small Nocturne"). It is the last piece of party-background music he was to write-in the middle of composing Don Giovanni. Such works were often a source of income, and doubtless that is why he interrupted his busy schedule here. Why did he break off such activities? One guesses that he was no longer thrown with people who would want his service. We do not know the occasion for this one. It was written for string quintet, but, the first minuet having been lost, it looks like a four-movement symphony and is played in that spirit here.
Review of Well-Known and Enjoyable: Wolfgang A Mozart pg 3