Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Music of "Amadeus" Part III

This is Part III of a three-part study of the use of music in Milos Foreman's 1984 film, Amadeus. (Part I, Part II.)

The final act of Amadeus begins with the death of Mozart's father, Leopold. When his passing is announced to his son we hear the "Don Giovanni chord" again and now it becomes the musical motive element for the movie. The chord doubles as the chord to the penultimate scene of Don Giovanni, which swiftly follows. As the scene of Don Giovanni's judgment plays out, Salieri perceives the risen Commendatore as a symbol of Leopold and assumes the memory of his demanding and overbearing father still haunts the young composer. Amidst the chaos and dissonance on stage with the resounding Commendatore (doubled by the winds for an eerie sonority), Leoporello sputtering on about his terror, and the Don defiantly refusing to repent, Salieri, narrating, discloses to his confessor that was the moment "the madness began in me."  Just as Salieri discovers his plan to "triumph over God," Don Giovanni realizes he will not.

Da qual tremore insolito
Sento assalir gli spiriti!
Dond'escono quei vortici
Di foco pien d'orror?

(di sotterra, con voci cupe)
Tutto a tue colpe è poco!
Vieni, c'è un mal peggior!

Chi l'anima mi lacera?
Chi m'agita le viscere?
Che strazio, ohimé, che smania!
Che inferno, che terror!
Terrors unknown are freezing me,
Demons of doom are seizing me,
Is hell let loose to torture me?
Or does it mock my sight?

(from below, with hollow voice)
Torments eternal wait thee!
Burning in endless night!

My soul is rent in agony!
Condemn'd to endless misery,
Oh, doom of wrath and terror,
No more to see the light!

The staging here is particularly spectacular. Instead of utilizing a strictly off-stage chorus, when the "hollow voices" enter the score, a dozen demons enter the stage, cloaked in black and carrying torches. With choreographed striding and spinning they confront and torment the scoundrel, forcing him back and, finally, down.

The following scene retains the grave mood of Don Giovanni. Winter has come and the streets once bustling to Mozart's happiest tunes are now snow-laden and empty to the "sinister syncopations" [Hutchings, 130] of the orchestral prelude to Piano Concerto No. 20 (in D minor, KV.466.) Once more Girdlestone concisely describes the piece:
None of the singing themes here. . . but one same note throbbing against the beat, whilst, under its monotonous pulsation a menacing bass emphasizes each bar with an uprush of three little notes–a formula usually expressive of passion and threatening. Repeated notes, piano, with a syncopated rhythm, and the formula of the rising triplet: with these two elements common to all the music of the time is built up this opening, one of the most personal and the most powerful in Mozart.

Out of this misty background a melodic outline arises and is at once swallowed up; after a further bar of repeated notes the figure begins again one degree higher. Then, cutting out the melodic motif, with heightened stress, thrusting home oever more swiftly and more truly, whilst the woodwind from horns to flute one after another add their colour to that of the strings, and still piano, the phrase rises, degree by degree, to the octave, where the strain is relaxed somewhat and whence we climb down again to the starting-point.

The fortissimo then breaks loose. [Girdlestone, 309.]
Personal indeed. The masks once dazzling and peacockish to the tunes from Die Entführung now unsettle us. Mozart, heretofore jovial and boisterous, is ill and warms himself before a fire. As he pours himself a drink for some more warmth the second subject enters piano in the oboe and bassoon and is taken up by the flute. This scene invokes a frightful pathos for the vulnerable Mozart, ill but still-composing as another figure, cloaked in black, makes his way toward him. The strings trade a three-note phrase back and forth as the camera cuts between Mozart and his uninvited guest. As rising and falling figures alternate in the score so might Mozart and the masked man contest, if only Mozart knew war had been declared against him. Ignorant, he works diligently at a score as the music and his nemesis march on. We are denied the closing subject of the concerto and the music breaks off into the Don Giovanni chord, more startling here than ever.

The masked figure breaks the roughly three minute absence of dialog by offering a commission for a requiem mass to Mozart. Though unnerved by the sight of the masked man, Mozart is pressed for money and accepts the commission.  The soundtrack resumes with the slow incipit from the Requiem Mass and we cut back to old Salieri who now formally lays out to Fr. Vogler his plan to kill Mozart as the Requiem's Rex tremendae plays. Imagining his plan coming together (that Mozart should write a requiem mass and Salieri, in the composer's death, take credit for writing it for "his dear friend" Mozart) Salieri fantasizes that people will finally say he has been touched by God. Pointing up in defiance, Salieri adds "and God forced to listen" as the music insists back, "Rex Tremendae Majestatis."

The parody ensemble that follows is a fun diversion in this otherwise serious act. It is essentially, "Mozart's Greatest Hits" set to a nonsense play. I have a mixed reaction to this scene. On the one hand it is gratifying to see Mozart's music achieving some success again. On the other, it is sad that pieces like Là ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni and the march from Act III of Figaro should have achieved success only in such a vulgar capacity. Had they been more successful outright, a parody would be more tolerable and not pathetic. Such observations are reactions strictly in the context of the film. As viewers in this world, we know Don Giovanni and Figaro are works of first-rank and as such this scene is a hoot. With this split, though, the scene plays two ways and I am not sure how effective it is.

Increasingly desperate for work (i.e. for students or commissions for pieces) Mozart returns to the house of the aristocrat he scorned earlier. Informed he cannot tutor the man's daugther as she has married and moved away, he presses the man for a loan. The last time he left this man's house, a delightful scene followed. This time, we cut to Mozart furiously and single-mindfully writing the Requiem. The Dies Irae movement plays loudly and a man pounds on the door but Mozart does not hear. This music is in Mozart's head and he is only shaken from his focus by the shouting of his wife. It is not the masked man, though, but Mozart's actor friend, Emanuel Schikaneder, with whom he is collaborating on another opera.

Lorl, Mozart's maid who is really spying on him for Salieri, returns to her true boss and informs him of the opera. The glorious overture to The Magic Flute begins on the soundtrack. Mozart is working ever diligently, but pauses to kiss his sleeping son. He walks about his apartment to the gentle, lofty opening notes of the overture. Coming out of his bedroom Mozart seems the model father, loving and working. Then he glances at his father's intimidating portrait and in a fit of defiance laughs at it and starts skipping around the room as the overture presents us with an appropriate dotted rhythm. Mozart thumbs his nose at the portrait and someone knocks on the door. The masked figure and the Don Giovanni chord cut short Mozart's fun. The mass is unfinished so figure departs and after a quarrel with his wife, Mozart resumes work on the mass, presumably the Rex tremendae as it underscores the scene. Mozart, though, is unable to continue working long and sneaks out to carouse with Schikaneder and his actress friends. In a cut that could not be more contrasting, the Rex tremendae is abruptly cut off by the melody to Papageno and Papagena's duet in Act II of The Magic Flute. Mozart plays it and other light tunes from the opera as he drinks and fools around with the theater gang. Again he plays the dotted rhythm from the overture which fades back into the Rex tremendae. No longer skipping but now half-dressed and drunk, he stumbles through the snowy streets to his apartment, where his mother-in-law informs him his wife, fed up with Wolfgang, has taken leave to a spa.

Toward a most humorous effect, her great whining is matched and cut directly to The Queen of the Night's stormy aria Der hölle rache, at what is presumably The Magic Flute's premiere.

[N.B. Salieri in the theater: his medal is tucked so as deliberately to keep it in the shot.]

Mozart passes out during "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" and is carried off and home to the tune of the duet from before, which gets cut off as we see the coachman leave Mozart in his bed with Salieri watching over him. The following scene of dialog feels all the more poignant for being unscored. In a highly scored movie and in an act with almost continuous music this scene feels as if it takes place in a vacuum, with just these two men. This penultimate scene, for all its complexity, achieves an apparent simplicity: Mozart is simply dictating music for Salieri to write down. But what a scene! One feels present at the creation of the music as we watch the way Mozart layers on each part of the Confutatis and as we hear each layer first separately then together.

We begin in A minor, first with the basses coming in at the 2nd beat of the first measure, then the tenors come in two beats later. The second bassoon and bass trombones double the bass voices and the first bassoon and tenor trombones double the tenors. The trumpets and timpani play tonic and dominant on the first and third beats and the strings play in unison a rising  five-note figure ostinato. Salieri stops to note how wonderful the music is but Mozart, in the full thrall of composition, hurries on.

Then the sopranos and altos come in singing in thirds, "voca me cum benedictis" sotto voce and pianissimo for the supplicative request, "count me among the blessed." Beneath that are simply arpeggios on the strings and adescending scale in eighth notes leading back to ostinato. Christoph  Wolff aptly points out the how the close of this movement is filled with many harmonic modulations. Each line of the second stanza modulates, the first from A minor to A-flat minor, the second to G minor, and the third from G-flat/F-sharp to F major. He points out that, "in the interests of increasing tension, the last two take place in an asymmetrical, seven-bar scheme." [Wolff, 102]

The full Confutatis is then played, inter cut with scenes of Mozart reviewing the completed piece in his head and scenes of Constanze hurrying home, the ostinato bass emphasizing her haste. Likewise, as the confutatis winds down with the treble-strings ostinato and half-notes in the voices, so too we see Mozart withering before us. Constanze returns home and quarrels with Salieri just moments before her husband dies. Mozart's burial is scored to the Lacrymosa of the Requiem.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Iudicandus homo reus;
Huic ergo parce, Deus
Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgment must prepare him.
Spare, Oh God, in mercy spare him.

Mozart created the most perfectly matched themes for this text. Against a simple dactylic figure in the strings (a quarter note in the 2nd violin and viola and two eighth notes in the 1st violin) the voices enter on a similar cadence:
Mozart. Requiem: Lacrimosa, 3m.

In Mozart's Requiem, Wolff quote's Nissen's precise observation, that this music, "most deceptively imitates a fearful quiet, broken by sobs and groans." [Wolff. 108.] For example below the quarter notes of the voices seem to penetrate an absence created by the soft string figure and the rests:

Mozart. Requiem: Lacrimosa, 5m.

Wolff himself also points out, ". . . the ascending line in the soprano, rising one and a half octaves, at first diatonically and then chromatically, underlines the main idea of stanza 18, the resurrection foretold in its second line ("qua resurget")."All of these themes are beautifully appropriate to the scenes they underscore, both the sadness over Mozart's passing and the hope of resurrection. Indeed it is Mozart who is saved and it is his music that lives on and grows more beloved to more people and it is Salieri who is forgotten, but "kept alive to be tortured."

[N.B. Watching the carriage carrying Mozart off, Salieri's coat is open despite the rainstorm, keeping his medal ever-visible.]

Mozart. Piano Concerto No. 20 KV.466. Romanza.
Mitsuko Uchida, piano.

Amadeus concludes with old Salieri, the self-described "patron saint of mediocrities," describing how he has watched his music growing fainter, "all the time fainter, til no one plays it at all. And his. . ." We leave Salieri as he is being carted off for breakfast to the romanza of Piano Concerto No. 20 (KV.466) and what an odd sight it is. The caretaker comes in, calling Salieri "professor." This is a particularly painful line: the man obviously knows Salieri not, but simply somehow heard he taught and thus calls him "professor," oblivious to his music. The composer who ever had the emperor's ear, who was the "brightest star in our musical firmament," who knew Mozart, who killed him. . . is being carted off to the water closet and sugar rolls at the asylum. The lyrical rondo is a humorous contrast to the on-screen world of the asylum and Salieri's disconcerting contentment. Girdlestone likened this movement to a calm after the storm, but a calmness in which some hint of what past ever hovers over. Just as Mozart's music and his genius hovered over the whole film, so they hover after.

Girdlestone, Cuthbert. Mozart and his Piano Concertos. 1964. Dover Publications, Inc. New York, NY.

Hutchings, Arthur. A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos. Oxford University Press. New York. 1948.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Requiem K.626. (Score.) IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library.,_K.626_%28Mozart,_Wolfgang_Amadeus%29

Wolff, Christoph. Mozart's Requiem. University of California Press. Berkeley, Ca. 1994.

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