Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Amadeus, 1984
Amadeus presents Mozart as a libertine, coarse and prone to drunkenness, with a single child at the time of his death, implying that he was either poisoned or worked to death by his rival Antonio Salieri. Mozart is depicted as a giggling, immature, and egotistical buffoon, unable despite his prodigious talent and widespread renown to make enough money to make ends meet.
While it is true that Mozart lacked money management skills throughout his short life, none of the rest of this portrayal is accurate. The film also presents a disguised Salieri commissioning Mozart to write his Requiem and demanding a fast return, another altogether fictional device.
Mozart and his wife Constanze had six children, of whom two survived infancy and early childhood. His two surviving sons lived into the mid-19th century. He was well paid for both his commissioned compositions and for his public performances of his work. While patrons demanded payment for their support – a situation similar to investor “angels” in theatrical productions today – he did not live on the verge of bankruptcy, pawning snuffboxes to pay the rent and dodging creditors on a daily basis.
By 1788 he reduced the frequency of his performing appearances and suffered a corresponding decrease in income. This can be partially attributed to Austria then being at war with Turkey, as privation settled in on much of the Austrian Empire. The loss of income meant Mozart did need to borrow from friends and often did, usually from fellow Freemasons. His financial situation improved in 1790 with the pledge of annual stipends from several wealthy supporters, in return for occasional minor pieces, such as wedding marches or birthday salutations.
Mozart’s final illness, which began in September 1791, has been attributed to a wide variety of potential causes. Streptococcal infection, mercury poisoning, kidney infection, and rheumatic fever have all been named as possible causes of his death by scholars studying his reported symptoms. In recent years trichinosis has gained support as the most likely illness, contracted from eating poorly cooked pork or sausage. He was buried in a private grave, not a mass grave as depicted, in the custom of Vienna at the time. Commoners, or non-nobility, who were buried in a private grave – like Mozart – were left to rest for ten years. After this resting period, they were exhumed and reburied in a mass grave in order to save dwindling space in increasingly crowded Vienna.