The Music on Film series from Limelight editions is a series of pocket sized studies of individual films where music is a central element. Some have been studies of musicals: West Side Story and Cabaret. Some have dealt with films that have significant musical components, but are not what you would call musicals: This is Spinal Tap and the forthcoming, A Hard Day's Night. Ray Morton's study of Peter Schaffer's Amadeus is in the latter category. His study focuses less on the music than it does on the film, its sources and its production. Like other books in the series, it provides an information packed introduction to a work of cinematic importance in a bite size portion. It is not quite what you would call a scholarly work. It lacks the documentation that the Cabaret volume has, but it does have a bibliography and an index. Still, it does not short the reader on detail.
There is biographical information on both Mozart and Salieri, not comprehensive biographies, but enough information to give readers an adequate idea of the real men portrayed in the film. There is also biographical information about all the major players in the production of the film: the playwright and eventual screen writer, Peter Schaffer; the director, Milos Forman; producer, Saul Zaentz; as well as the featured cast members, F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce. Although I question the relevance of much of the information about these lives that Morton sees fit to include, it is usually interesting information and never becomes obtrusive. At worst it seems like filler.
More germane is his commentary on the themes of the play and the movie and his discussion of the changes Schaffer and Forman agreed upon to transfer the play from the stage to the screen. Schaffer, Morton tells us, was interested in writing a play not so much about Salieri's war with Mozart, as he was with Salieri's war with God. Schaffer created in Salieri an artist who had dedicated his life to virtue and looked to God to reward him with genius, only to discover that virtue wasn't always rewarded. The Mozart Schaffer created on the other hand is a silly immoralist on the one hand, and a musical genius on the other. Virtue, indeed even wisdom, it seems has nothing to do with artistic merit. It is a truth worth parsing. Schaffer uses rumors of Salieri's involvement in Mozart's death to develop his tale, and while significant changes were made in the revisions of the play for the film, the basic theme remained the same, and in a sense became even more emphatic.