Amadeus Essay Questions

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    SUBJECTS — Biography/Mozart; Music/Classical; World/Austria;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Humility; Alcohol; and Drug Abuse; Talent;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.
    Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG; Drama; 1984; 158 minutes; Color. Available from

    Description:     Antonio Salieri was a contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791). An accomplished musician, Salieri competed with Mozart for recognition and employment. This film is a fictional exploration of how Salieri might have felt when he realized that despite all his hard work, talent, and popularity at the time, he could not hope to approach Mozart's genius. Driven out of his mind by jealously, Salieri is confined to an insane asylum, and fantasizes that he has killed Mozart.

    The movie is a screen version of the play written by Peter Shaffer who also co-authored the screenplay.

    Benefits of the Movie:     "Amadeus" provides a thoughtful exploration of an existential and moral dilemma: if you are talented, if you spend years in training, if you work hard and if you are acclaimed by your peers for your achievements, how do you react when faced with true genius that easily outshines anything you can hope to accomplish, especially when that genius takes the form of a vulgar little imp? The movie also explores the concept of music as the voice of God, a recurrent theme in Western civilization. In the meantime we learn much about the life of Mozart and get a glimpse of aristocratic life in Vienna in the late 18th century. Throughout the film we are treated to Mozart's splendid music.

    Possible Problems:    MINOR. "Amadeus" is not history. While Salieri and Mozart were rivals in some respects, Salieri did not pay Mozart for a requiem that Salieri could pass off as his own. Someone else did that. Nor was Salieri implicated in Mozart's death, which was from natural causes. "Amadeus" is a creative work about the jealousy, rage, and cosmic betrayal felt by some talented and accomplished human beings who have not been graced with true genius.

    The movie opens with Salieri, razor in hand, just after he has attempted to slit his own throat. It is a fleeting and moderately bloody scene. Salieri's suicide attempt is not a success and he is not shown as a role model in the movie.

    Mozart is shown as an immature, puerile individual who delights in puns and riddles with sexual innuendos. Mild profanity is used on occasion in this film. Mozart drinks far too much wine. He was probably, as shown in the film, an alcoholic. His alcohol abuse is shown as contributing to his death.

    Mozart as a Child Prodigy
    playing piano accompanied by his father

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

    Parenting Points:     Amadeus shows Mozart to be a young and particularly goofy artist who provoked awe and jealousy among his compatriots. Your child may think this portrayal is silly, but he or she will nonetheless understand the points being made in the film. You may want to talk about jealousy and envy and the differences between these two powerful and destructive aspects of character. In his essay Self Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that envy is suicide. Reflect on this notion with your child in relation to the events of the film. If your child is interested, ask and answer the Quick Discussion Question.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:1984 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Abraham), Best Director (Forman) Best Make-up, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound; 1985 Caesar Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1984 Directors Guild of America Awards: Best Director (Forman); 1985 Golden Globe Awards: Best Film-Drama, Best Actor-Drama (Abraham), Best Director (Forman), Best Screenplay; 1984 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Director (Forman), Best Film, Best Screenplay; 1984 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Actor (Hulce), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing. This film is ranked #53 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006).

      Featured Actors: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Eliza Berridge, Simone Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones, Kenny Baker, Cynthia Nixon, Vincent Schiavelli.

      Director: Milos Forman.

    Mozart as a child
 QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   Many of Mozart's compositions were so beautiful that they seemed to be the "very voice of God." Salieri was appalled by the fact that such beauty could be created by "a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy," while a person like Salieri, who worked hard and who had an excellent education, could only compose nice, but essentially mediocre music. Salieri objects to the fact that the gift of extraordinary talent has nothing to do with whether the recipient of that gift is a deserving individual. What does this conundrum tell us about God and/or the nature of the Universe?

Suggested Response: There are several possible strong responses, some secular and some religious. The religious perspective is that we cannot fathom the will of God and that God does not always seem just to us. This is the lesson from the Book of Job in the Bible. Salieri is a modern Job, but instead of being cursed with misfortune, he is cursed with being able to see genius in front of him but not being able to achieve it himself. For Salieri, this is similar to the misfortunes that befell Job. The real difference between Salieri and Job is that Job accepts his fate and Salieri does not, instead he retreats into insanity. The secular perspective is that some people are graced with genius and some are not. Genius doesn't come in neat little packages and a person with a genius for making music might be an obnoxious little imp like the Mozart character in "Amadeus."

This dilemma is not just a figment of the imagination. When Leonardo da Vinci was a child, he was apprenticed to a great master painter called Verrochio. In those days apprentices were allowed to paint small figures in the larger paintings produced by their masters. Leonardo was permitted to paint an angel in Verrochio's "Baptism of Christ" and his work was so much better than his master's that Verrochio resolved never to paint again. (Source: Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Man at the web page of the Boston Museum of Science.)

    Helpful Background:

    Before his death, Mozart was obsessed with the idea that he was being poisoned by rivals who, with cruel irony, had commissioned the Requiem. With some premonition of his own death, Mozart worried that he was writing the Requiem for himself. Mozart's fear that he was being poisoned is discounted by historians who attribute his suspicions to depression and melancholy.

    The anonymous person who commissioned the Requiem Mass was a Count named Walsegg. For years after Mozart's death, Walsegg claimed that the Requiem was his own work. Apparently, he fooled no one.

    Mozart was constantly in financial distress. At his death, he told those near him that his major regret was that he had not provided for his family. In fact, the wealthy of Vienna and the government saw to it that Mozart's family could exist in comfort. His wife produced a series of concerts and sold his original manuscripts. She was able to pay Mozart's debts, live comfortably, and accumulate a small amount of money.

    Mozart was buried according to his own instructions, in a common grave with several other persons. He was sewn into a linen sack, and his body was carried to the grave in a reusable wooden coffin. The white powder sprinkled into the grave was quicklime, used to hasten the decomposition of the body. Mozart's interment was a standard third class burial, costing about eight and 1/2 florin. The customs of the time discouraged large funerals, and the burial was sparsely attended. There were, however, memorial services for Mozart in several cities including Prague and Vienna. It was generally recognized at the time that a great man had died.

    Many cultures believe that music, particularly sacred music, is the voice of God. Many people still believe this. Other movies which explore this theme include The Jazz Singer.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: majesty, requiem mass, "Il Signore," vaudeville, censorship.

Mozart at the Piano
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed some of the world's greatest music. He was a child prodigy who was dragged from one royal capital of Europe to another beginning at the age of four. From 1771 - 1781 he was concert master to the Archbishop of Salzburg. He moved to Vienna in 1787 and became court composer to Emperor Joseph II. He died four years later at the age of 35. He was a prolific composer during his short life.

    Antonio Salieri (1750 - 1825) was beloved and respected by most musicians and by his public. He became court composer for the Holy Roman Emperor and later served as Kapellmeister (conductor of the court orchestra) for more than fifty years during which time he influenced most aspects of Viennese musical life. For a time his work dominated the Paris Opera. He taught music to Schubert, Beethoven, and Liszt. Despite his success, Salieri's musical talent did not approach that of Mozart. Of the Viennese Court that Mozart served, only Salieri attended Mozart's burial. This paragraph adapted from Angermueller, R. (1980). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

    Joseph II (1741 - 1790) was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and a patron of the arts. Founded by Charlemagne in 962 C.E., the Holy Roman Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries included Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Low Countries and portions of Czechoslovakia. It was much reduced in size by the late 18th Century and destroyed by Napoleon.

    In the 18th Century, great artists were kept on retainer by great nobles. There was a century's old rivalry between the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. In "Amadeus" the Emperor and the Archbishop of Salzburg are shown competing for the services of Mozart. One of the reasons the Emperor decided to offer Mozart a commission to write an opera was to lure him away from the Archbishop.

    In the 18th Century, artists were strictly controlled. The stories they could present and the manner in which they were presented were subject to the whim of the sovereign. Thus the Emperor had banned "The Marriage of Figaro" and "ballet."

    "Il Signore" is Italian for "God."

    On a map or a globe, show your child the location of Vienna and its relationship to Germany and Rome. If you can find a map of the Holy Roman Empire, show that as well.


    Some modern musicians believe that Mozart's music is over-glorified and that contemporary composers are not given the credit they deserve because their music remains in the shadow of Mozart's popularity. Others, doubt that Mozart's compositions are works of genius. The great opera star, Maria Callas, once said that "most of Mozart's music is dull," and concert pianist, Glenn Gould, proclaimed that Mozart's 40th Symphony was "eight remarkable measures . . . surrounded by a half-hour of banality."

    Mozart was a popular musician in a culture that existed over 250 years ago. Very often, what is thought to be beautiful, interesting, and innovative will change over the centuries. Most new compositions in the "classical" music genre have moved away from the 18th century paradigm, appealing to academics who do not mind the jarring dissonance that often characterizes these works.

    Still there is something about Mozart that a large majority of classical musicians and listeners alike consider to be extraordinarily beautiful. The current popularity of Mozart may be due, not only in the sheer beauty of the music, but also to the fact that it is similar to modern popular music with regard to simplicity, clean structure, and predictable harmonic transitions. Popular musicians have drawn inspiration from his work. See for example, Pop goes Mozart: New marriage of classical and rock by Julia Stewart from The Independent 9/12/2007. Even video game composers have borrowed his famous melodies and fused them into something new. See Giant Bomb article on the video game "Princess Debut"

    It's interesting to think about what music Mozart would compose if he were alive today. Mozart adopted ideas from his numerous travels and synthesized a style of his own. Mozart's genius lay in his ability to create music that was adaptable, popular, and innovative for its time and which continues to delight and inspire future generations of music makers.



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Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

    2.  What should Salieri have done when faced with Mozart's genius? Suggested Response: Salieri should have continued to explore and develop his own talent while, at the same time, appreciating Mozart's genius. Salieri could not tell what future generations would think of his music. But even if Salieri knew that he couldn't aspire to equal Mozart, he should have accepted this fact and appreciated Mozart's genius.

    The next three questions should be prefaced with the following:
    Salieri was a very religious man. He called Mozart's music the "very voice of God." But then he burned his crucifix and said to God, "From now on we are enemies, you and I. Because you choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because you are unjust [and] unkind, I will block you. I swear it. I will hinder and harm your creature on earth. As far as I am able, I will ruin your incarnation."
    3.  Compare Salieri to Job from the Bible. How were they alike and how were they different? Suggested Response: See suggested response to the Quick Discussion Question.

    4.  Compare Salieri to Professor Lambeau in Good Will Hunting. How were they alike and how were they different. Suggested Response: They both recognized genius in a young man that allowed him to effortlessly surpass all of their achievements despite all their training and hard work. Professor Lambeau sought to nurture and develop Will's talent for Will's benefit, for the benefit of the study of mathematics, and perhaps for Lambeau's own personal benefit. It may not have been the right time for Will to focus on math and work and Lambeau obviously missed this point. However, he was nurturing. Salieri on the other hand wanted to kill Mozart and claimed that God had done Salieri a great injustice by creating a Mozart and giving Salieri enough talent and understanding to recognize what a genius Mozart was.

    5.  How does the figure of Salieri relate to the devil in Milton's Paradise Lost? Suggested Response: Salieri suffers from pride, which was a sin of the devil in Paradise Lost. His pride will not permit him to acquiesce to God's decision to give genius to Mozart and not to him.

    6.   Why do so many people believe that music is the voice of God? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. A strong answer will mention: (1) the strong feelings that music evokes; (2) its timeless quality; (3) its capacity to remove one from the cares of daily life; (4) its universal quality (most everyone can understand the emotions evoked by music).

    7.  Would you say that this statement was Salieri's conversion to the "dark side" of "the Force" described in the Star Wars movies? Suggested Response: If Salieri tries to interfere with the creation of something beautiful, he has gone over "the dark side."

    8.  What did the Emperor mean when he said that his court should make some effort to "acquire" Mozart? Suggested Response: In the seventeenth century artists worked for rulers and were thought of as an adornment to their courts. The various rulers competed to see who could attract the best artists. It was a matter of prestige.

    9.  Did you admire the Emperor for trying to learn music or did you object to the fact that someone of so little talent had power over people of much greater talent? Or did you have both feelings?

    10.  In the movie "Amadeus," what was the use to which the screenwriter put the Emperor's musical aspirations? How did it relate to the themes of the play? Suggested Response: The Emperor's musical aspirations were comical relief but they also related to the themes of the play in that compared to Mozart's genius, Salieri was like the Emperor was to a talented professional musician, i.e., not very good at music.

    11.  What was the meaning of the Emperor's yawn during the performance of Mozart's opera? Suggested Response: It meant that the production didn't excite him. The practical effect was a very bad review and since the Emperor was very powerful, it meant that others would copy his evaluation, even it they disagreed.

    12.  The Emperor criticized Mozart's opera as having "too many notes." Why did Salieri agree with this absurd statement? Suggested Response: He was trying to flatter the Emperor.

    13.  If Mozart were alive today, would he compose the same music that he wrote in the 18th century, some 250 years ago? Explain your answer. Suggested Response: Mozart would not compose the same music as what he wrote when he was alive. The music he wrote in 18th-Century Europe was successful because that is what people wanted to hear at that time and place. Today, he would probably be inspired by the music of the past and present and from that, he would create something entirely new. Mozart was essentially a pop star of his time; if he were alive today, he would be known for starting new trends, not following old ones.

    14.  Think of all the musical artists you have listened to. Which contemporary artist (e.g. singer, band, rock/pop star, etc.) do you think will have a lasting presence in musical history? Why? Suggested Response: Responses will vary. Answers should include a musical artist (roughly from 20th Century to the present, such as the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Tupac, etc.) and why their music will still be heard and played in the future (i.e. because their music is interesting, is meaningful, has inspired other artists, etc.).


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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Mozart's wife

Salieri as portrayed in the film

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Click here for TWM's lesson plan to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:

    1.  Is the fact that most likely you have less talent than Mozart a reason for you to refrain from trying to compose music?

    2.  Was Salieri without talent? What was his problem?

    3.  What would our world have been like without Mozart?

    4.  Did God (or the universal intelligence) owe Salieri triumph over Mozart because Salieri had studied hard and worked assiduously?

    5.  Can you name some other people, in your own experience or in history, whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol or drugs?

    6.  There is an organization which has helped millions of alcoholics and drug abusers live a normal life. What is the name of this organization? Suggested Response: Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step programs.

    7.  Salieri recognized that Mozart was much more talented than he, but did this make him truly humble?

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS:The Jazz Singer also refers to music as the voice of God. Dennis, one of the main characters in "Out of Africa" plays Mozart on a phonograph in the African bush.

For younger children there is an excellent series of films which dramatize incidents in the lives of great composers. Films for children ages 6 - 12 include: Bach's Fight for Freedom, Bizet's Dream, Rossini's Ghost, Strauss: The King of Three Quarter Time, Liszt's Rhapsody and Handel's Last Chance . The other film in the series, Beethoven Lives Upstairs, has scenes which may scare younger children and we suggest it for ages 9 - 12. is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

Vienna, Mozart's Grave?

    Bridges to Reading:Amadeus was a successful play written by Peter Shaffer. The screenplay for the movie was written by Shaffer and Milos Forman, the director. Shaffer insisted that he have complete artistic control of the script. The film, while based on the play, is substantially different. If your child loves this movie and you can find a revival of the play, go see it. An older child might enjoy reading the play.


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Mozart and Salieri:

Professional Jealousy or ?


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart                                                     Antonio Salieri

Many of us at one time or another have heard the beautiful music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  We know he was a child prodigy who composed his first concerto at age 4 and his first symphony at 7.

But how many of us have heard of Antonio Salieri? Who was this man? And what was his relationship to Mozart?


Ever since the death of Mozart, it has been rumored that Antonio Salieri poisoned him. Salieri was a musician who taught many famous composers. But he lacked one thing:  the genius that was Mozart's.  In fact, it is said that Salieri even stole music from Mozart and passed it off as his own. Salieri was so jealous of the young gifted composer that he would do anything to get rid of him, even commit murder.


The government of Austria has put together an investigative team that will find out once and for all if Antonio Salieri did poison Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The team has three members: a musicologist (an expert in the history of music), a historian, and a movie critic.  Together, you will decide if the murder theory holds up, and you will report back to the Government of Austria as the country prepares a grand concert for the Anniversary of Mozart's birth.  Your report will be a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the team members.  


·        General Instructions:

1. You and your team must decide who will play what role in this WebQuest.  

2. Once this is decided, you will click on the links below that correspond to your particular role. 

3. You will visit each site. Answer the questions pertaining to your role.

4. Take careful notes, and during the last 10 minutes of each class period, report back to your team what you have found in the form of journal entries for each site visited. 

5. After you have finished your research, the team must come up with the answer to one question: Did Antonio Salieri poison Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? 

6. Prepare a PowerPoint Presentation for the Government of Austria.

The team must have a total of 15 slides in its presentation. Each team member will prepare 4 slides containing information gathered from the visited links according to each role.  You are to have no more than 6 lines on a page and no more than 6 words on a line. You must also include a title page and a bibliography page. You can add pictures and music if you like. You are also to have one slide that presents your conclusion.  

·        Roles:



Questions to be answered:

1. Who was Mozart? 

2. What kind of music did he compose? 

3. Briefly describe what you feel as you listen to his music. Be aware of how it is put together.

4. Who was Salieri?

5. What was his relationship to Mozart?

6. Briefly describe what you feel as you listen to Salieri's music. Be aware of how it is put together.

7. Does their music sound the same or different? Explain. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Biography and general Information on Mozart and his compositions.

Antonio Salieri - Biography and general Information on Salieri and his compositions. 

Listen to Mozart Music - Click on the Classical Midi Archives. Listen to various selections. 

Listen To Salieri Music - Scroll down the page to find the Salieri link. Click on the links to listen. 



Questions to be answered:

1. Write a short biography of Mozart.

2. Write a short biography of Salieri.

3. When do you think that Mozart and Salieri met?

4. What kind of relationship did they have?

5. What was the importance of composing music for the Emperor? 

6. What kind of music did they both write? 

7. Was there any jealousy between the two men? Explain.

The Mozart Page - Information on who Mozart was and what he thought during his last days. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Biography and general Information on Mozart and his compositions.

Antonio Salieri - Biography and general Information on Salieri and his compositions. 

Discussion about Salieri's Involvement in Mozart's Death

Brief Information about Salieri and Mozart


  Movie Critic:

Questions to be answered:

1. According to the critics, is the movie faithful to what really happened? 

2. How does the movie portray Mozart?

3. How does the movie portray Salieri?

4. Are the characters believable? Explain.

5. From your readings, does the movie answer any questions about Mozart's death?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Biography and general Information on Mozart and his compositions.

Antonio Salieri - Biography and general Information on Salieri and his compositions.

Discussion about Salieri's Involvement in Mozart's Death

Brief Information about Salieri and Mozart

The Movie "Amadeus" - Click on the links to read about the movie.

Read a Review of the Movie - Click on the link, then click on Selected Essays. Click on the first link, "Amadeus" and Mozart.

**** If you have the time, try to see the movie. This is not required.


Each team member will evaluate his journal, and as a team, you will evaluate the presentation. The teacher will use your evaluations for your grade.  Click on each link to see the evaluations that will be used. Your teacher will give you copies of each evaluation for you to fill out and hand in.

Self - Evaluation Form

Presentation Evaluation


Congratulations! You have successfully finished your WebQuest. In the process, I hope that you have learned how to work together with other students and how to research with a particular goal in mind.  You have had the chance to listen to some of the greatest music ever written. Perhaps we will never know if Salieri did poison Mozart or not. It really is a matter of opinion! I hope that you have become interested in WebQuests, as they are a fun way to learn about new and exciting things.

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