Mozart and Salieri

So maybe I did I love it most for Elizabeth Berridge’s portrayal of Constanze Mozart, which was enhanced enormously, so to speak, in the director’s cut. C’mon, we’ve all heard the stories and suddenly we had a physical presence to go with the tales, good and bad, of Mozart’s wife, who knowing what we know about her husband and his music, must have been something of a…um…yeah, personality.

The winner of eight Academy Awards, Amadeus, the film of the Peter Shaffer’s hit play, did not, however, win for Best Original Score, an omission that boggles the mind—that honor went to Maurice Jarre and his score for Passage to India, though the music portion of the 57th Academy Awards was rescued when Best Original Song Score that same year went to Prince for Purple Rain.

For the first time the Amadeus soundtrack, which originally came out as a two-LP package, which was then followed by a single LP, More Music From Amadeus, is available in its entirety on three LPs in one set. Released by Concord Records, this Amadeus Deluxe Collector’s Edition, is a part of a new series they are calling Original Soundtrack Classics. Along with the three 180 gram LPs, this set also includes a 16 page booklet, a page of new liner notes from conductor Neville Marriner, and a theatrical poster of the film. The other two initial releases in this series are The Lord of the Rings and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest which features the disturbing, effective score by Jack Nitzsche.

Amadeus was produced by Saul Zaentz who lived a life in and out of the music business having worked early on for Norman Granz at Verve, and later becoming one of the owners of Fantasy Records in 1967; a tenure that was overshadowed by his epic, multi-year legal battle with John Fogerty. Zaentz, who died last year, is most widely remembered however for the three films he produced that won Best Picture Oscars: The English Patient, Amadeus and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The LPs in these new Concord sets are being pressed at RTI, and although I could only confirm that the original master tape was used in the Cuckoo set, the sound of all three is very good. George Horn and Anne-Marie Suenram at Fantasy Studios remastered the Amadeus soundtrack for this release.

The key to the film version of Amadeus being a success is that the music was synched to the script and recorded before the film was shot. To say it another way, the film was shot around the music rather than the reverse, which is the usual way film and music are joined. Consequently, while the acting of F. Murray Abraham, Jeffrey Jones and, of course, Tom Hulse as the irrepressible yet ultimately tragic W. A. Mozart was wonderful, the star of the film was and is the music. Recorded in 1982 in Abbey Road Studios in London, the soundtrack was conducted by Neville Marriner who marshaled the considerable forces of the Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields Orchestra and Chorus, the Ambrosian Opera Chorus and the Choristers of Westminster Abbey. The soloists came from Covent Garden and include such well-known and accomplished singers as soprano Felicity Lott and bass John Tomlinson. Ivan Moravec and Imogen Cooper are the chief pianists.

Soundtracks like this conjure in the mind and in the ear the concept of bleeding chunks, i.e. parts of larger classical compositions, taken out of context. While these bits may work completely logically with the images, when you listen without the visuals, things can get a little more difficult. While diving into the totality of Mozart, or Beethoven as was done in Immortal Beloved by Georg Solti and the LSO, sounds like fun, it’s actually hard as hell. Bits of music, in general, often resist removal from their larger structure. Think of a Beatles chorus without the verses.

And then there are the transitions between excerpted bits which is probably this soundtrack's greatest strength. The segues are uncommonly brilliant. For example, the jump from the eleven minute 3rd movement of the E flat Piano Concerto (K. 482) to the nearly seven minutes of the Commendatore scene of Don Giovanni is typical of the careful, ingenious way in which this soundtrack was crafted. This, for lack of a gentler term, greatest hits approach to Mozart actually gives his incredible body of work an alluring and insightful clarity. Think of it as Mozart Remixed. And while it’s a primer beyond compare, it also catches the ear of knowledgeable listeners in new ways. All this is done without resorting to such obvious pieces as the Symphony No. 41 in C Major (K.551) or the Clarinet Concerto in A major (K. 622).

The condensation of the Requiem (K.626) into a ten minute, thirteen second glob is particularly genius. Despite the obvious challenges/pitfalls of excerpting, if done right, and strung together in such a way that is evocative and not grating or disrespectful, it can also make for a delightful music album, able to stand on its own, listenable without the images, as is the case here. Director Milos Forman and Conductor Neville Marriner, who according to Marriner’s notes finalized the deal for this film in a passenger lounge at JFK Airport, in what Marriner’s wife is quoted as calling an “unlikely plastic environment,” deserve huge kudos for making both a wonderful film and a compelling soundtrack album.

tonykaz's picture

It was the finest recording of Mozart performances to date,
it still may be the finest recording, I haven't yet discovered better.
I collect all of Mozart.
Tony in Michigan