A Play with Six Endings
Amadeus was first written and performed in London in 1979, transferred to Broadway in 1980, was made into a movie, and was then revived in 1998 in London before transferring again to Broadway. A lot of things can change when a play transfers or is revived and re-worked. In the case of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, one scene in particular underwent many metamorphoses that hugely shifted the trajectory of the play’s primary characters. This scene in question, and subsequent evolution, was Mozart's and Salieri’s final meeting in the play. Shaffer didn’t just adjust this scene once, twice, or even three times. This scene has flourished over the course of SIX evolutions! Check out each version below.
**WARNING SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!***
Ending #1: “THE OG”
Context: The production is a smash hit during its run in London, but Shaffer knows this epic story isn’t quite right.
The Scene: Mozart receives an anonymous commission to write the Requiem Mass - a mission that consumes him. His obsession over this scoring of death initiates an early mental and physical deterioration that breaks the man and brings him to his mortal demise.
In this way, the entirety of the play serves as Salieri’s atonement and testimony to address the world’s accusations of him as Mozart’s poisoner - adamant of his innocence while still somewhat guilty for his own heated jealousy.
Reason for Change: Salieri was too removed from Mozart’s demise. His guilt and culpability weren’t tied to the rising action and climax of this epic tale, putting Salieri in a position of second chair to an anonymous commissioner and a skeletal valet who extends the commission to Mozart. Mozart’s deteriorating state comes across happenstance and disconnected to the journey built throughout the play.
Ending #2: “RUTHLESS VILLAINY”
Content: Ian McKellan is a smash hit in the play’s 1980 Broadway debut, but Shaffer feels that Salieri’s need for atonement steals away from his delicious villainy; and Shafer wants to put Salieri’s hand further into the pot of culpability for Mozart’s demise. This fresh take on the scene would capitalize on the tragedy of this melodrama, with an unhinged and spiraling Salieri rather than a waffling moralistic one.
The Scene: Instead of seeking atonement, Salieri will seek any taste for the world-wide fame of Mozart’s life and oeuvre (even if it is in villainy that he is made famous). Salieri hires a valet to commission Mozart to write the Requiem Mass - a commission that incites Mozart’s mental instability and spurs him to have foreboding dreams of a darkly cloaked paternal spirit of death who would then be made physical by a masked and cloaked Salieri.
- This is the first time that the music of the Requiem Mass was used in the scene.
- This final scene was being rewritten daily for Ian McKellan and Tim Curry with Peter Hall’s direction to rehearse for just a couple of hours before delivering it to a new audience that night.
Reason for Change: Abandoning the entire theme of atonement betrays the humanity and depth of Salieri’s journey. Additionally, there’s no way for Salieri to knowingly predict that commissioning the Requiem would cause Mozart to spiral. The act of having his well-known valet be the one to commission Mozart, in addition to Salieri’s personal stalking of Mozart’s apartment as the cloaked spectre, was far too public and ostentatious for it to go unnoticed by a larger public. It had lots of splashy spectacle, but it needed to be grounded by the rules set by the world of the play.
Ending #3: “Lights. Camera. Music.”
Context: When adapting the play for the movie in 1984, the Broadway ending was thought to be far too theatrically-dependent to work on screen.
The Scene: An unhinged Salieri will attempt to steal the Requiem Mass and pass it off as his own. Shaffer’s screen adaptation avoids a murderously heavy-handed Salieri by removing the need to kill Mozart outright. Instead, Mozart collapses and his deteriorating health would necessitate his own desire to dictate the piece with haste to a vulturing Salieri before he succumbs to illness. From his deathbed, Mozart dictates the score of the Requiem Mass to Salieri who transcribes the notation onto paper. Cinematographically, the music plays the major role - powerful chords and tones building tension amidst an otherwise very still scene. On screen, it is more than enough.
Reason for Change: The ending only works when there are closeup shots, and the stage requires something more.
Ending #4: “Back to Black”
Context: The production was being mounted at the Stratford Festival in 1997. Trying to adapt the collapse of Mozart’s health in a more theatrical way would involve other more strenuous plot alterations that did not interest Shaffer. Instead he resurrected the masked and cloaked figure.
The Scene: A gentle blend of endings #2 and #1 where the cloaked spectre returns but in such a way that deepens Salieri’s complexity and humanity.
Reason for Change: Shaffer was unsatisfied with the clarity of the revision knowing there were greater depths to mine for Salieri at the end of the play.
Ending #5: “Warmer…Warmer”
Context: The play is being remounted in London in 1998, and at last Shaffer knows there is a way to get this pinnacle scene exactly the way he wants it.
The Scene: Very similar to the one we have today: Salieri has culpability but also a grave need for atonement. It retains the melodrama of a cloaked figure pointing to the clock that terrorizes the quickly deteriorating Mozart as he rushes to finish his masterpiece.
Reason for Change: Changes from here can be attributed to the fine tuning merits of getting another Broadway transfer and having more time with a creative and production team to really iron out the last of the wrinkles.
Ending #6: “Solving the Equation”
Context: Now returning to Broadway, it’s time to solve this 20 year long equation.
The Scene: The scene we have today, retaining the shock and spectacle of #2 and the melodrama that has been building through all the versions: Salieri eats the page of the Requiem Mass - his own poison in concert with Mozart’s deterioration while the Requiem plays. The perfect combo of spectacle, humanity, and villainy having found their climax. Additionally, Shaffer adds more to the journey of Salieri’s quest for atonement. After having such an epic journey in dire straits against the fame of a rising Mozart, Sallieri felt the conversion of Salieri seeking absolution was summoned too quickly - the play required a greater balance of time and pacing to let the concluding events land with appropriately timed blows. Shaffer extended the play substantially to avoid rushing the cathartic lessons of this monumental work.