Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1790

Antonio Salieri, 1774 CREATIVITY, ABSOLUTELY OR MORE OR LESS? A Study of Mozart and Salieri

By Paul Henrickson, Ph.D. ©2006

tm. © 2007

The following started out as notes to my self upon reseeing the Peter Schaffer film “Amadeus”. Initially, I had been seduced by the films imagery, characterizations and, above all, by the music. This is what films are intended to do and they are often measured in terms of their success in accomplishing just that in its audience. However, other things, problems, concerns, pleasures, or whatever, going on in my life would not let some of the questions remain unanswered that had come up in the seeing of the film, so, in an effort to bring those questions to rest I kept viewing the video tape of Amadeus until, I am certain the images are permanently imbedded on the metal of the drive of my PC. During these viewings I took notes on the many incidents in the film asking myself why it may have been that they were shown the way they were. Also, as part of this general problem of understanding the nature of creativity, I had over the past few years been intermittently in contact with another individual very much involved with the matter of creative thinking. This person who has been a most generous and kind fellow does not see exactly eye to eye with me concerning the nature of creativity. He

sees creativity as being something that can be taught. I do not. I see creative activity as being a result of a general mood of dissatisfaction with some gestalt; in whatever medium that gestalt happens to find itself, which expresses itself in a nervous compulsion to rearrange constituent parts until there is a better fit. This experience soon becomes a compulsive habit as the process of solution becomes pleasurable. addictive and required . This neurosis, if you will, is not something that can be taught, for example, as one teachers that 2+2=5 (yes, I did this on purpose to make a point), nor is it something that any educator would wish to teach anyone at all. However, a respectful teacher, or better still a perceptive educator, would certainly want to give the creative neurotic every opportunity to develop his skills to discover ways of identifying a more satisfactory fit. It is at this point that a willingness to alter orthodox methods of performance, to experiment, and to tolerate errors in judgment and an openness to change are preferred over the rule following expectations of most school systems where what is most treasured is obedience over invention. If Salieri had experienced the grave disappointment in the response to his creative efforts that often comes when the creator is not sensitive to the organic nature of the creative act (this is not to say that the public is

consistently a good or reliable judge of value which may explain why I vehementally disagree with the notion that one should leave some decisions up to something called history) it may well have been because of what a commentator, A.
Parker, meant when he praised Salieri, as a composer, for being “appropriate”.

Pushkin may also have sensed what I am sensing, when he had Salieri, in the play he wrote about the relationship, strongly react to the “inappropriate”, but hypothetical possibility of someone mocking Raphael. Pushkin’s choice of Raphael makes a lot of sense to me since, for me, Raphael bares the same relationship to Michelangelo as Salieri did to Mozart in Shafer’s mind. It is this sense of aesthetic good manners that keeps many from being as creative as they might. Personal courage and a selected disregard for convention are some of the ingredients in the making of a creative product. If there is any one area in which Salieri and Mozart differ in their personalities it is this area. Salieri. it might be said, was too caught up in the noble and privileged life style coming as he had done from a bankrupt middle-class bourgeois background. Rescued at 15 after the death of his father and consequently rescued from the father’s indifference to the lad’s interests, and fortuitously placed, apparently by a sympathetic listener, with musical tutors, he may been fearful of losing this advantage and having to return to

that indifference to his cravings. As a defense against that possibility became thoroughly attached to the aristocratic system. On the other hand Mozart had grown up within the aristocratic system and had not learned to be easily intimidated by it. He, therefore, had experienced little by way of prompting to abide by its tenets, especially where these might conflict with what he viewed as the requirements of his craft. It is this that particularly punctuates the difference between the demands inherent in creative production that make the arts a spear-head for an evolving civilization and art becomes corrupted when it accedes to the demand for flattering approval from its usual patronage, the moneyed classes. It is rare when those with money, social ambition and intelligence find themselves in a position of real leadership. Most often it is that group with only the first two of those three qualities which prevails and this, consequently, leaves those who are loudest (for intelligence loathes to resort to brutish tools) in the position of being the most influential among the intellectually and intelligently deprived. This is one way in which society allows itself to reach incrementally the upper levels of the most common. This distinction not only underscores the difference between a teacher and an educator but should point us toward a new appreciation for the spiritual in human experience. This is certainly one of the ways in which the Schafer film was helpful for it accurately described the intense torment Mozart’s wife felt when she struggled to understand the nature of the creative drive motivating her husband’s responses. That is, of course, very nearly an impossible task, especially for a wife who could well see her husband’s creative compulsion as a threat to her domestic existence. She did, however, enter into the alliance with some foreknowledge, for she was, after all the cousin to Carl Maria von Weber, but, more importantly his father was a Kapellmeister as well and the biographical suggestion that the “von” added to the name was an aristocratic-sounding application seems to bear some influence on our understanding what probably was the profile of the Amadeus household. The ruling classes are often toughest on their own if any one of them exhibits the temerity to challenge conventional wisdom. This may have accounted, to some extent, for her choice of a second husband, after Mozart had died, of one who would help her, to some extent and in some ways, to put her own questions to rest. There were several tragedies suggested by this film in addition to the one involving Mozart himself, that which involved Salieri who, in so far as the film is concerned, came off very much the worse for wear, and whether or not for theatrical or dramatic contrast or not so did the Emperor.

Those responsible for the production of the film may have thought that truthful and more subtly developed differences between the characters may have made its content too obtuse for the audience to follow and the points made less powerful. I think they were likely correct in that assessment. Having made that production decision however raised other matters of perhaps even greater import as to whether it is ever justifiable to (immorally) give short shrift to another’s character just in order to emphasize, for the sake of drama, its difference from another. One of the more startling exchanges occurred between the priest who had very effectively just demonstrated the absence of desirable priestly qualities as he entered the mad house and had briefly been confronted by a chubby naked man (that scene alone could have redirected out attention away from the Mozart theme to other equally fascinating considerations) only to move, with all the authority of the church, into the privacy of a man who wanted only to be left alone. The arrogance of the response “I cannot leave a soul alone that is in pain” merely underscores the hypocrisy of the church’s claim to being able to assist a soul in torment. That, being insufficient, the priest continues in his folly to urge Salieri to confess his sins and in return, he, the priest, will offer him God’s forgiveness. (As though the priest has God’s forgiveness somewhere in his back pocket waiting to be handed out.) Salieri, at this point is on a much higher level of awareness than is the priest. The point that the church is helpless is clearly made. From that point on, humanity is on its own and only at the very end, do we see the irony of tables turned and it is Salieri’s lost soul that promises to intercede for the priest as he is on his way to the water closet and sweet fresh rolls. My point in this is that it is Salieri who is giving expression to the frustration that millions experience when they are forced to confront the issues surrounding the claims of those who teach them and when the student is finally confronted with the realities of that teaching. One of the realities inherent in most teaching is the later problem of having to sort out what one is told is important from what one senses is important. It is rarely told the student that what he senses is important may be more important than what he has been instructed is important. The idea to question whether the goals of the instruction are correlated with the felt needs to learn is rarely confronted. It is, I maintain, a different personality entirely that will accede to the demands of an outside authority regarding that which is important to learn and the one who must identify it on his own but will benefit from the sympathetic empathy of an educator, one who, in this case, acts as a kind of mid-wife. The need for compatible social intercourse is very great and, if the pressures are strong

enough, an individual may give up trying to “find himself” and give in to the conforming pressures of his community. That, as I see the matter, describes the difference between Mozart and Salieri. We have, as the film tells us, the evidence that both composers had had as high a musical education as the period could offer and the fact that Salieri turned out to be the teacher of so many somewhat more than competent composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Czreny. Lizt, Meyerbeer argues in favor of our supposing he was technically wellequipped. There were two significant differences between the early musical education of Salieri and that of Mozart and they were that Salieri received his which began at the age of 14 or 15 years from sources not his family and Mozart received his mainly from his father presumably before he was four when he wrote his first concerto. Salieri’s early experience with a father figure was rejection, Mozart’s was recognition, support and ego rewarding much to the dismay of his first patron, the Prince Archbishop. Obviously, it would seem, that since Mozart had been composing on his own at a very early age such playful experimentation was encouraged. So, I must ask myself this question regarding Salieri’s extreme frustration at not being able to attain to what he recognized as valuable in the work of Mozart. According to the film, it was the “sounds” that Mozart achieved that had impressed Salieri, and because he had been so successfully “trained” (this was the word in the film Salieri chose to use when confronting the priest and asking about his musical “training”, not “education”, not “exposure”), that the acquiescence to authority was the most natural and most virtuous act imaginable until he recognized, in Mozart, the difference in the results in musical enginuity. I must also emphasize here that the emphasis (in the film) on the “sounds” Mozart achieved is an emphasis on the aesthetics of music and not its rules, regulations and structure. It is from such observations as these that I come to the conclusion that one cannot “teach” creativity, but one can certainly allow it to develop by encouraging experimentation, play, and the investigation of the world of the senses. The film certainly got that part of Mozart’s life correct. However, and this is an important “however”, society feels safer when all behaviors are under control. A serious question must then be asked, are we sure we want to encourage creative thinking? My answer to that is that we have no choice. We must go forward or we die as a species. The film did introduce some peculiar seeming incongruities. For example, why did the film seem to emphasize that Salieri had promised God his chastity (why would God want that?) if he would only make him a world-famous composer and then get married at the age of 24 after he had achieved the position of Court Composer. It would certainly seem that Salieri reneged on his promise to God and it was that which was the reason God played him the way the film suggests, depriving Salieri in a way that Moses’ was

deprived from entering the promised land after not having been obedient to God’s wish, or his own promise. If this hypothesis is correct and generally applicable where promises between men and God are concerned then it may explain my lack of pubic acclaim and the remarkable success of some less than mediocre individuals I’ve known to whom, it has seemed, the concept of the divine was a mere fairy tale. Another aspect of the film that confused me was the startling reaction to the Imperial wish that ballets not be included in state operas. The Director, Count Orsini-Rosenberg, destroyed Mozart’s musical sheets, but in the following rehearsal to which the Emperor unexpectedly came, the choreography of the dance but without the music was in rehearsal and, thereby, it was dramatically pointed out to the Emperor the senselessness of his ruling against ballet. It seems to me that were one to follow the original Imperial ruling both choreography and music would have been absent. It is somewhat conceivable that Mozart might have arranged it that way although the film gave no indication that he had done so. All in all, the film “Amadeus” despite its historical lapses and because of its aesthetic success has proved to be of heuristic value and for that alone we might be thankful. It was, I felt, touchingly suggested that both Mozart and Salieri through some sort of mutual transference of father figures came not only to like and appreciate each other but to come to a resolve regarding their fatherfigure hang-ups. In a sense they acted as each other’s psychological counselors…and all in the service of art. On the surface, however, the film did not explicitly show that. Rather it indicated the opposite when it had Salieri state to the priest that God was intent upon not allowing a mediocrity to experience even a small share of the artistic success. If there had been any indication of madness in Salieri it was that he could have accepted the logic of God (and himself) being capable of believing in a fraud had the mass been successfully passed off as Salieri’s composition in celebration of his good friend Mozart. Everyone else in the world may have believed it, but God and Salieri certainly could not have done so. It is time, I think, for me to refocus on one of my main concerns. That is not only the difference in meaning between, but also the different effects achieved by “teaching” and “educating”. It is possible to teach a technique to a person because a technique is generally made up from the application of tools upon a material subject. To “educate”, that is, to draw out, focuses the attention on something not yet manifest, but is suspect to be extant and, therefore, theoretically, possible “to draw out” and made materially and available to the senses. What that something is is the spirit of the person who is the subject of the educational experience. To teach is a relatively easy task for what is essentially involved is the availability

of a recipe and a person intelligent enough to follow it. To educate another is much more difficult, more intimate, and can be truly exhausting, for it is not unlike the transfusion of blood from one system to another. Salieri was known to be a good teacher and Mozart was known to find the process interfering with his creative work, This, it would seem to me, to be critical in our understanding Salieri’s frustration with the course of his career for he had been willing to give the experience of those creative energies to others, the composers mentioned above, at a sacrifice of his own energies which he might have devoted to musical invention. This is an important and very real problem to consider when asking a creative artist to become a member of the “Artist in the Schools” program I am, additionally, curious to learn where the film character Salieri might have got the idea that God was at the service of one’s personal ambitions. Usually, I think, it is Satan who is contracted to benefit mortals in their ambitions. On the other hand we are told (Luke11:9) that if we ask it shall be given to us, and in Mathew,21:21 If you have faith and do not doubt, it shall be done. I don’t think it turned out for Salieri quite the way he had pictured it…somewhat more like the physical changes shown in the Cocteau film “Beauty and the Beast” where the gems worn by Beauty turn into dead, dusty weeds when touched by her selfish and worthless sister.