People who have seen "Amadeus," and even people who haven't, when asked if they think the movie is presenting actual history usually hedge their bets a little. Being sophisticated, worldly types, we all know Hollywood tends to stretch the truth, play with it, or bury it completely if the result is at least supposed to provide a more entertaining alternative. But of course, when asked about the life of Mozart, what comes out is from the movie. And why not? That's all most people know. They didn't read books about him, program notes, pamphlets: most people spend no time at all thinking about Mozart, or even being particularly curious. So, naturally, the movie, even if we know it probably is not exactly true, still represents Mozart in our minds, if only because it has no competition.
This can be frustrating for people who know that history and would really prefer people didn't get their history from entertainment, and consequently get the two of them mixed up.
If you happen to be particularly scrupulous in this regard, there are plenty of resources out there to try and help you sort out the truth from the not-so-truthful.
But if that's all you're after, you're kind of missing the point of Amadeus. It isn't a documentary, that's for sure. It isn't really meant to be used to teach people about Mozart (this means you, music teachers!). Its relationship to history is actually quite complicated. Some things are carefully researched; some things are made up, but with a pedigree. And there is value in knowing the history itself, because when you do, you can start to appreciate the genius of the dramatist and how bits of what really happened provide the jumping off point for something completely new and important. But you're still missing the point.
"Amadeus" is a work of art. It isn't meant to tell us what happened, or how it happened. In order to "get it" we need to be looking in a different direction completely. And that, in the end, is where this blog series will be leading us.
Bring your preconceived notions. And a lighter.