He Keeps investing in unworthy stock—take Mozart.

The film Amadeus presents Mozart as a superlatively gifted jerk. He preens and wenches and giggles absurdly. He scorns the dullness of other people’s music and praises the brilliance of his own. He uses his wonderful mind for such inventive crudities as talking dirty backwards. And day after day he creates music of such soaring, yearning, seamless beauty that it splits his rival Antonio Salieri into two persons—one of them wanting to worship and one wanting to kill.

For Salieri is the prince of mediocrity, the patron saint of every epigone who must live with the knowledge that by comparison with genius he is outstandingly so-so. Salieri knows that Mozart is a sun to his candle, a torrent to his trickle. By a classic irony of envy, Salieri is in fact just gifted enough to appreciate and thus to resent Mozart’s greatness.

He resents it especially because he had wanted such a gift for himself. Half devoted to God, half to himself, Salieri had ached for a sublime talent that would reflect back to God the effulgence of the divine beauty and simultaneously make the reflector celebrated and immortal. Salieri, that is, had run for election as the voice of God. God’s response was to place his treasure in an obscene brat. Thus the musical incarnation of the glory of God (“Amadeus” means, of course, beloved of God) prances through the film with a coprophagous grin on his face; the smaller rival must wear what Angus Wilson once called “the painful grimace of sour good loserliness.”

Envy is poisonous enough when it peevishly refuses to concede that a rival has earned his success. But what if the rival hasn’t? What if the staggering greatness of another is a sheer gift?

A pervasive theme of ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: