Composers, Comparisons, & a Light bulb
By michelewhitney on February 24, 2014
One of my favorite movies of all time is Amadeus. In my essay, “Music and Beer, (p. 60)” I talk at length about being taken to see that movie by my music teacher when I was a young child, and how the movie began my love affair with classical music and my adoration of the brilliant composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To this day, I feel love anytime I hear any of Mozart’s music or play one of his pieces on my flute. I have told family members that I want Mozart’s Requiem in D minor (the “unfinished” death mass featured at the end of the movie) played at my memorial service after I die. Yes, my love of the man, his music, and the movie Amadeus is intense.
As a child, seeing that movie, I could only process the music, the wild interpretations of the man, Mozart, his flamboyance, arrogance, brilliance, and genius. But there was a bigger picture to this movie that I did not discover until I became an adult.
Although certified as one of my favorite movies of all time, it had been awhile since I really sat down and watched Amadeus all the way through. I recently decided to revisit this movie, popping in the DVD with popcorn and peach pop; a southside Chicago girl’s only way to visit the streets of Vienna–city of musicians. Once again, I became obsessed. But surprisingly enough, not with the man, Mozart, or the music, but with the underlying emotional and psychological themes that I was unable to extract from the movie as a child.
With all of its historical accuracy, the movie, Amadeus is largely a work of fiction. Based on the play by Peter Shaffer, the movie bears the name “Amadeus,” but Mozart is not necessarily the main character. It is Antonio Salieri; a part fictional, part nonfictional representation of Vienna’s court composer and Mozart’s “nemesis,” who is at the forefront of the movie (and the play–I recently saw the play as well, and it was a wondrous event). Salieri despises Mozart for his brilliance, genius, and his ability to compose the most “miraculous” of musical works with what seems like little effort. This composer-envy (albeit one-sided) builds throughout the movie and ultimately turns into complete hatred toward Mozart on the part of Salieri; for Salieri believes that Mozart is “God’s muse” and that his music is the very “voice of God.” Salieri only just wants to be a great composer, praying to God to “enter him” to create one piece of true music.
It was a battle between “mediocrity” and excellence.
But here’s the truth. Salieri was a good composer. He was just unable to recognize his own worth and his own beauty as a composer, because he was wrapped up in his comparison with Mozart.
Comparison. Thief of joy. (paraphrased quote by Theodore Roosevelt)
This is something that we are all guilty of doing.
The character of Salieri felt that there was this intense competition with Mozart and constantly compared himself…and this whole competition and comparison took place in Salieri’s head. It ultimately crippled and consumed him, and led him to the point of emotional destruction.
I started to reflect. How many times have I been so wrapped up in what others are doing; what they look like; what their accomplishments are; what their lives look like; how their lives are progressing?
This analysis of this movie is not new. But revisiting this movie as an adult put my own personal struggle with comparison into perspective. As mentioned before, the character of Salieri was a fine composer in his own way; he had his own unique style, and for goodness sake he was blessed by God to know music! How many people do not even know how to write one note? As I was watching his destruction unfold, I thought,
What a pity. If Salieri could have just focused on his own authenticity, instead of his own perceived inadequacy, he could have been great.
Damn. Sometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to come on, and sometimes it comes on like a flash. I said to myself,
Michele, if you could just focus on your own authenticity, instead of your own perceived inadequacy, then you can be great.
And there it is.
What’s funny is at that at the top of my goal list of things to let go of for 2014 is comparison. Be careful what you wish for. You never know what route your Higher Power may take to get you to where you need to go.
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