Amadeus: Music on Film

In the mid-1970s, the acclaimed dramatist Peter Shaffer (Equus) – a lifelong fan of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – began work on a new play based on the oft-repeated rumor that Mozart was murdered by his jealous colleague, Antonio Salieri. Amadeus (Latin for “beloved of God”) presents Salieri as the popular but mediocre court composer to Vienna’s Emperor Joseph II who dreams that the Almighty will use his music as an instrument to speak to the world, a dream that is dashed with the arrival of young Mozart. Upon hearing Mozart’s sublime music, Salieri recognizes it as the true voice of God, but is horrified to discover that the famed musical prodigy himself is an immature, conceited, vulgar brat. Furious that Almighty has chosen this “creature” to be his representative over Salieri himself, the envious court composer declares war on God, vowing to silence him by destroying Mozart.

Shaffer’s self-described “black fantasia” opened at the National Theater of London in 1979 and on Broadway a year later and was a tremendous critical and financial success. The Academy Award-winning motion picture director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), saw the play during its first preview in London and was immediately convinced of its filmic potential. Backed by Cuckoo’s Nest producer Saul Zaentz, Forman persuaded an initially reluctant Shaffer to adapt his work for the screen. The 1984 result was a cinematic triumph that received rapturous reviews, grossed millions of dollars, and won eight Oscars (including Best Picture). The film’s soundtrack – which was adapted and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner — the era’s foremost Mozart interpreter — performed by his renowned Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields orchestra — is considered by many critics to be one of the best Mozart anthologies ever produced and was a huge best-seller that made the maestro’s music more popular with the general public than at any time in history since it was first composed. The album sold especially well to young people, an amazing accomplishment in the age of Duran Duran.

Music on Film: Amadeus is the first book to chronicle the making of this wonderful motion picture. Based on extensive research and new interviews with all of the film’s principal creators, it tells the complete story of Amadeus from the conception of the original idea through its various theatrical incarnations to its ultimate triumph on the silver screen.




Chapter 1: Mozart and Salieri

The true life stories of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri; their unique friendship and rivalry; and the genesis of the dark rumor that it was Salieri that caused Mozart’s untimely death.

Chapter 2: The Playwright

Introducing acclaimed playwright Peter Shaffer (Equus), whose love of Mozart’s music prompts him to begin writing a play about the mysteries surrounding Mozart’s death that he gradually transforms into the story of a jealous Salieri’s war with God.

Chapter 3: The Play

The history of Shaffer’s remarkable play, which premiered in London in 1979 to tremendous acclaim and his daring decision to completely rewrite the play prior to its move to Broadway the following year in order to perfect it.

Chapter 4: The Director

Introducing the Academy Award-winning film director Milos Forman; his decision, after viewing only one act of the play during its first preview, to turn Amadeus into a film; and his attempts to convince an initially reluctant Shaffer to join him in this adventure.

Chapter 5: The Producer

How Forman’s search for a backer for the project led him to producer Saul Zaentz, who, in the face of Hollywood’s apathy about producing a period film about classical music, decided to bankroll the film himself.

Chapter 6: Words and Music

This chapter chronicles the writing of the film’s screenplay, focusing on the intense sixteen-week collaboration between Shaffer and Forman in the director’s Connecticut farmhouse, during which time the two men demolished the play completely and then reconstructed it with a cinematic approach that changed almost every detail of the play and yet perfectly captured the spirit of Shaffer’s original concept. This chapter also tells how Neville Marriner became involved in the project after extracting a promise from Forman, Shaffer, and Zaentz that not one not of Mozart’s music would be changed for the film.

Chapter 7: Pre-Production

How Forman assembled a team of first-rate collaborators, including executive producer Michael Hausman, cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek (Hair, Ragtime), production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein (Ragtime, Saturday Night Fever), and acclaimed choreographer Twyla Tharp. This chapter also discusses the decision to make the movie in Prague, which was chosen for its remarkable resemblance to 18th century Vienna. At the time, Czechoslovakia was still behind the Iron Curtain, making Amadeus the first Western film to be shot in that country since the beginning of the Cold War.

Chapter 8: The Cast

Describing Forman’s controversial decision not to use any of the British actors from the original stage productions – including Ian McKellan, who won a Tony for playing Salieri on Broadway — and to instead fill the lead roles with relatively unknown Americans, a direction that ultimately led to the casting of F. Murray Abraham — a character actor whose most visible role prior to Amadeus was as a talking leaf in a Fruit of the Loom commercial — as Salieri, a performance that would ultimately win him an Academy Award as Best Actor; Tom Hulce — who had been one of the Delta House gang in Animal House — as Mozart; and Meg Tilly — fresh from a supporting role in Psycho II — as Mozart’s wife Constanze.

Chapter 9: Production

This chapter chronicle’s the film’s production in Prague, during which time the entire cast and crew — were followed constantly by the Czech secret police, who tried (not very successfully, since everybody recognized them) to disguise themselves as extras and technicians.

Chapter 10: Post-Production and Release

This chapter discusses the film’s editing and post-production, with special emphasis on the creation of the film’s music and the production of its Grammy Award-winning soundtrack album, and its fabulously successful release in the fall of 1984.

Chapter 11: Finale

This chapter discusses the ongoing popularity of both Shaffer’s play, the film, which was successfully re-released in an expanded “Director’s Cut” in 2002, and the soundtrack album.






Music on Film: Amadeus is published by:

Limelight Editions
Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
33 Plymouth Street, Suite 302
Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-337-5034 ext. 203
Fax: 973-337-5227
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Publicity Contact:
Jaime Nelson
973-337-5034 ext. 203

The book is available in bookstores and at the Limelight website,, Barnes & and many other online venues.