photo & text by nacrowe
senior year of high school for me was pretty tumultuous.
9/11 happened at the beginning of the year and i was swiftly moved from being with my parents in the MIDDLE EAST to a relative in SACRAMENTO. it was complete change of scenery and to some extent a time i was just trying to get through as quickly as possible. during that time i became interested in the ART NOVEAU scene of VIENNA around the turn of the 20th century known as the VIENNA SECESSION which included painters like GUSTAV KLIMT and to a lesser extent EGON SCHIELE and OSKAR KOKOSCHKA. i also began reading work by contemporaries of the period like SIGMUND FREUD and listening to composer GUSTAV MAHLER.
im mentioning all this as a prelude as to why i visited my father in VIENNA during spring break of my senior year. it was a very cool trip since for whatever reason i was captivated at the time by the history of the place. we even went on a tour of post-WORLD WAR II locations used in the epic ORSON WELLES vehicle THE THIRD MAN (LONDON FILMS, 1949).
but the two highlights of that trip were related to WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART. they consisted of getting to witness 1) THE MAGIC FLUTE being performed at the VIENNA STATE OPERA as well as 2) hearing REQIUEM at ST. CHARLES CHURCH. i'll save the former for another entry.
ST. CHARLES CHURCH is an early 18th century BAROQUE catholic church that is located a short distant from where MOZART died in 1791. there is an intimate weekly performance of his haunting unfinished composition REQIUEM in this most ambient and fitting of venues. i always appreciated the composition because of its intense pathos which singularly conjures up the eruptive and deep suffering that come with the grieving process. the theater of such a composition in such a venue only amplified that sense of foreboding and was a singularly powerful experience, even for a slightly jaded teenager.
needless to say, if you ever find yourself in VIENNA for an extended period post-pandemic, it is worth your time to seek out this performance. even if you are not knowledgeably or even a fan of CLASSICAL MUSIC. its an experience that transcends genre and gives you a sense of the city and its history. thinking of it all now still gives me goosebumps.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
MILOS FORMAN's masterful film AMADEUS (ORION PICTURES, 1984) follows the life and career of childlike musical prodigy WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART from the envious perspective of his "rival," 18th century VENITIAN composer ANTONIO SALIERI. despite the fact that this rivalry is up for serious dispute by historians, in this film it functions as a useful tool in examining the nature of genius.
when confronted with those whose natural gifts for surpass our own, we often superimpose on these people an aura of power and supremacy. i know i am that way whenever i visit a clinic or step on an airplane. to me physicians and pilots are superhuman, when in reality i know that these are just talented people with lots of training and hard work to hone their respective crafts. but what if they didn't necessarily work for their position. what if it was just innate and furthermore, what if they acted immature about their stature.
to me this is the crux of AMADEUS. MOZART is depicted as a spoiled, lustful, immature, self-absorbed twit who also happens to me a musical prodigy of the first order. in SALIERI we see a composer that used his limited ability and gifts to rise up the ranks via sheer willpower and attention to his craft over years of diligent training and self-examination. he is the embodiment of the puritan ethic and yet he is outshined by this impetuous imp.
anyone entering this film has a cursory knowledge of the work of MOZART and his legacy as a seminal pillar in the western cultural tradition and very likely unfamiliar with a minor historical footnote like SALIERI, yet the film confronts us to have conflicting emotions about the two and who has value.
despite its supposed historical inaccuracies, for me this film is an incredible examination of the nature of genius and the cult of adoration that follows. obviously genius isn't bestowed on those that deserve it, but each time i look past the unfortunate aspects of people that i admire, whether that be MORRISSEY, MILES DAVIS, JAMES BROWN, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR or even CHUCK BERRY, i consider this film and how it illustrates that at the end of the day these are still just people.