The Archbishop of Salzburg is one of those obstacles, who wants Mozart to return to his home and learn better manners. Mozart’s father, Leopold (Roy Dotrice) eventually persuades the archbishop to have him stay in Vienna. The emperor wants to meet Mozart, and Salieri composes a welcoming march for Mozart. When he finds the way it should sound, he looks up at a crucifix of Jesus and says thank you. While he slaves at writing, we have shots of Mozart being frivolous, trying on wigs. The contrast between the serious and the fanciful is stressed here, and we can feel some sympathy for Salieri, since achievement comes so easily to Mozart. When the march is played, Mozart memorizes it immediately, and proceeds to show his arrogance by critiquing it and improving it on the keyboard. This action just infuriates Salieri more. However, when he hears Mozart’s music, he says it is the voice of God. He asks why would God choose this obscene child as his vessel. Salieri admires the talent, but can’t get past the kind of person Mozart is. His torment is palpable as he questions why would God put a longing in Salieri to sing to Him, and then make him “mute.” After Mozart shows the inadequacies of his composition, Salieri again looks at the crucifix and says thank you, but it is with anger this time, as if to say, “Thanks for nothing.”
Mozart wants the approval of the emperor because he is a type of father figure, and Mozart had definite paternal issues. His father exploited his son’s genius by having him perform all over Europe. He played before monarchs and the Pope. Because he was robbed of his childhood, he never has had a chance to mature and move out of it. He is in a state of arrested development as a person, although he is far advanced as a musician. His father forbids him to marry at this point, not believing him to be ready for that stage of life. However, Mozart is infatuated with Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge). He marries her, but he has no life skills, drinks too much, spends money way beyond their means, and she thus is constantly trying to get him to earn a living. The emperor has a niece in need of musical instruction. He suggests Mozart to his musical staff, but Salieri undermines the appointment. Constanze, not knowing Salieri’s true feelings, asks for his help to get the appointment. She brings his music to show that Mozart is worthy. She can’t leave it with him since they are the original manuscripts. When Salieri looks at them, he realizes that there are no corrections. He says it was like Mozart was taking dictation from God. The emperor, unable to fully appreciate Mozart’s achievements, said there were too many notes in his music. Salieri counters this argument when he says while reading the music, “Displace one note, and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” He goes on to say that “I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink-strokes at an absolute beauty.” Those words show that Salieri feels as if he is being locked out of the holy kingdom. Salieri literally swoons while reading, and drops the sheets of music. But, instead of helping to nourish the output of God’s work for all to savor, he sternly turns his back on Constanze and walks away, showing he is only concerned with his own ego. His resentment for not being justly rewarded by God now becomes a declaration of war against the deity, as he tosses his crucifix into the fireplace, in essence condemning Jesus to a fiery hell in his mind.
Mozart is pleased to have his father come to stay with him, because he wants his love. But, Leopold has nothing but criticism because his son lives in poverty, has no students to bring in a steady income, and the house is a mess. Mozart wants to take his father out and celebrate his arrival, so they buy costumes for a masked ball. Leopold’s costume is a bit scary, as it is all black with a headpiece that shows the face of tragedy on one side and that of comedy on the other. But, even the one with the smiling visage is spooky, since it is displayed with the dark color. Leopold disapproves of his son’s rowdy friends. Salieri is also there, in a mask, spying on Mozart. When Mozart is challenged to play works of other composers, Salieri, in disguise, mentions himself. Mozart then shows his disdain for Salieri’s work, doing a burlesque interpretation. This action further enrages Salieri, who says that Mozart’s obscene giggle was God laughing at Salieri. We again are witness to the man’s inclination to be self-centered, acting like the universe revolves around him. He says that before he leaves this earth, he will be the one laughing at God.
Mozart’s vaudeville friends make a deal with him to write a fanciful work for which he will earn fifty percent of the earnings. This work becomes The Magic Flute, which is very successful. But, Mozart is now dying as he is writing both works at the same time. As the maid no longer wants any part of Mozart’s decline, she does reveal that he is working on an opera, not the requiem. Salieri shows up in costume saying Mozart must finish the requiem by the end of the next day. He pays him more money. While playing keyboards at the performance of The Magic Flute, Mozart collapses. Salieri is there, and doesn’t want him dead until he finishes the requiem. He helps Mozart get to his home, and Salieri accompanies him. When there is knocking at the door, Mozart assumes it is the man in black. He tells Salieri to ask for more money. Instead, it is the vaudevillians with half the box office proceeds. Salieri pretends that it is from the dark figure, spurring Mozart to finish the requiem. Salieri offers to help him finish. Mozart, ironically, asks forgiveness of Salieri (that absolution again), because he believes he is a friend that he doubted. Mozart is so weak that he dictates to Salieri. This symbolic act is a dramatization of what Salieri said happens to Mozart when he composes. He said God dictated to Mozart. Well, now, God tells Mozart what to write, and he dictates it to Salieri. He is basically barging in on the process, usurping Mozart’s role. His attachment to the effort does not make Salieri great; it is the work of art that is produced that should be praised.
Constanze returns, and is not happy to see Salieri there, since she remembered when he refused to help her husband concerning the emperor’s niece. She takes the manuscript from Salieri and puts it away, robbing him of his phony association with greatness. Mozart dies, and he is buried in a mass grave reserved for the poverty-stricken. We return to the present with Salieri as an old man in the asylum. His self-centeredness has not diminished as he complains that Mozart’s name has become more and more renowned with the passing of time, and Salieri has been allowed by God to live as a kind of torture to see his popularity diminish into nonexistence. He condemns God for killing his chosen one, Mozart, just at the moment to deny Salieri any greatness by stealing his music. As he is wheeled out, Salieri becomes a sort of parody of a deity. He says he grants absolution (yes, forgiveness again, but he has no power to grant anything) to all the inmates. He says, “I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint.”