This 1984 film is a really interesting insight into the lives of Mozart and his contemporaries, especially the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. The film features a huge amount of music from the Classical era – orchestral, operatic and choral, as well as improvisations on the harpsichord and early piano. Much of the music was clearly designed to entertain (e.g. in light operas or at court); this style has a few common characteristics:
- Simple harmonies, revolving around the tonic, dominant and subdominant
- Melodies based on scale patterns
- The tonic established very firmly at the beginning and end of the piece, often with an ascending or descending arpeggio
- Phrases created out of repeated rhythmical patterns
The more serious music such as Mozart’s Requiem is much more subtle, with more varied and unexpected harmonies. The choral works are often also quite contrapuntal, each vocal part given its own independent melody. I love the slow movements in Mozart’s works, where long notes are sustained expressively over changing harmonies underneath. A great example is the beautiful Adagio movement of his Gran Partita, which in the film Salieri views as a sublime work of genius. Mozart’s D minor piano concerto which features briefly towards the end of the film is also one of my favourites – the sudden change to a major key after the dramatic introduction is so unexpected.