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Unlocking the experience of grief and guilt with Mozart. | Amadeus| Mozart, Requiem in D Minor,

What is Happening?

Mozart has just died after being taken ill after a performance of his opera, The Magic Flute. Salieri, a contemporary of Mozart and seen as his arch rival (and, as rumours would have it, his killer) looks upon the de

ceased Mozart and his grieving wife Constanze as he realises in his horror, the reality of the outcome of his Machiavellian plan to kill Mozart out of jealousy. The coffin is taken to Mozart’s resting place where his limp corpse is bundled into a mass grave whilst the pallbearers battle the elements and shovel quicklime into the grave. The scene ends with a priest who is pra

ying and listening to Salieri’s confession in the asylum where the ailing Salieri is residing due to a suicide attempt driven by his lingering guilt.

Salieri is a composer who has worked himself up the ranks from a humble background to Court Composer for Emperor Jospeh II of Austria. However, he feels that God has punished him for his desire for greatness through the d

elivery of a ‘performing monkey’ that, despite his clowning around, could produce music that Salieri could only dream of, reminding him that he is a mere ‘mediocre’ composer. Driven mad with Jealousy he decides to avenge God and hatches a plan to kill off his nemesis. This scene is the culmination of his plan.

Why does the music work?

Here, the music captures both the sense of tragedy of the loss to the world of a ‘gift from God’ and Salieri’s realisation of his ‘sins’; ‘God forsake me’. Meanwhile, the minor key and lethargic pace of this movement hones in on the blood Salieri has on his hands. It is also worth noting the sound of the rain and the dark colours of the hearse and coffin. We find the tears of the few mourners depicted in the whimpering strings and the arc of the soprano line ‘Lacrimosa’, together painting a picture of sadness and despair. The sequence of rising chords as the mourners stand and grieve is meanwhile incredibly powerful.

Note the opening of the scene: the horror on Salieri’s face as he suddenly realises what he has done with the backdrop of the strings. Also, notice how the major chord of the ‘Amen’ (a tierce-da-picardie) falls on that just as the image of the crucifix appears. Has Salieri, the music asks us, been forgiven now he has offered his confession?

The story behind the music

Ironically, Mozart only completed the 1st 8 bars of the Lacrimosa. In fact, a lot of the Requiem was completed by Sussmayer, a student of his. There is a lot of mystery behind the Requiem, but the most compelling story is that it was commissioned by a messenger in a cloak who is likely to have been a local count looking to pay Mozart to write a Requiem Mass for him to show his friends. However, there are conflicting views about this. Salieri was actually a great admirer of Mozart and, despite the odd disagreement, did nothing to spur on his death. Nobody knows exactly what killed Mozart. However, mortality was so high at that time that his premature death was not unusual.

The minimalist funeral was fairly standard of the day as Emperor Joseph, a staunch atheist, did away with the usual funeral ceremonies. The so called ‘economy coffin’ pictured here with the flap and the lack of procession was standard. The Mozart myth of the child prodigy driven to an early grave because of his genius was the inspiration befitting for the Romantic era and inspired Alexander Pushkin to write a short play called Mozart and Salieri. This, in turn, inspired Peter Shaffer to write Amadeus (1979) a more elaborate play that was used by Miloš Foreman in his film Amadeus.

Incredibly, his film was nominated for 53 awards and received 40, including 8 Academy awards, 4 BAFTA awards, 4 Golden Globes and A Director’s Guild of America award. Despite some historical inaccuracies, Amadeus is still considered one of the greatest films ever made due to its historical significance and cross-pollination of genius in the arts.


Film: Amadeus. 1984 [Film]. Miloš Foreman. dir. USA: Orion Pictures.

Music Supervisor: Sir Neville Mariner

Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756 – 1791: Requiem, K. 626: Lacrimosa (1791). Performed here by Orchestra of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Mariner.

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