It is so named in honor of the greatest role of my favorite living character actor (since Wilford Brimley died), and my fellow Longhorn, the F man himself, F. Murray Abraham. He won an Oscar for playing the cunning, Machiavellian character of Antonio Salieri, “the patron saint of mediocrities,” and possible poisoner of Mozart. Today is Abraham’s birthday, so happy 84th birthday, you magnificent, Mozart-killing bastard.
To celebrate this special holiday each year, in honor of Abraham’s memorable representation of the sycophantic and hypocritical Salieri, we take this time to honor our loved ones publicly and to their faces, but then to betray them behind their backs and take credit for their achievements.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
As far as we know, the “Salieri killed Mozart” legend is total bullshit, as is just about everything else people think they know about Salieri. (The New Yorker covered the modern misperception of Salieri with an excellent and detailed article.)
Just a few years after Salieri’s death, Pushkin wrote a short play («Моцарт и Сальери») that gave a public, artistic airing to an idea that previously had been merely a rumor in intellectual circles – that a jealous Salieri had poisoned Mozart. The great Pushkin was a brilliant wordsmith, the Shakespeare of the Russian language, some say the very creator of modern Russian, but he was no historian, and was also a hot-headed ass whose own character flaw was … (wait for it) … jealousy. In English we often use the expression “fatal character flaw” with no regard for the literal meaning. In Pushkin’s case, his propensity for jealousy was indeed fatal. (He died in a duel involving his wife’s flirtations, or lack thereof.) Although Pushkin undoubtedly pictured himself as Mozart, the crass interloper in courtly society who was somehow blessed with an immeasurable genius unattainable by the Tsar’s favorites, his version of Salieri is a rather obvious subconscious representation of himself, a man so consumed by jealousy that he was willing to kill his rival.
Pushkin’s accusation would undoubtedly have exited the 20th century as an obscure piece of literary and historical trivia, but the idea that Salieri may have poisoned Mozart was resuscitated and cemented into our modern consciousness in the 1970s. The culprit was “Amadeus,” a celebrated play that became Oscar’s “Best Picture.” As a result of the popularity of that story, many people believe the legend today, notwithstanding a complete lack of any factual or logical basis for that belief. In reality, all of Mozart’s closest friends and associates continued to associate cordially with Salieri after Mozart’s death, and none seem to have suspected Salieri of foul play.
Mozart and Salieri were rivals, to be sure. That rivalry even included a head-to-head battle during an opera composition competition held by Emperor Joseph II in 1786. Mozart lost that competition. Contrary to the entire basis of Amadeus, it was actually Mozart who was the envious one. He was jealous of Salieri’s success, and of Salieri’s position as the emperor’s favorite. This was no literary fabrication, but was based on the hard evidence of Mozart’s own words, as expressed in letters to his father.
Wikipedia picks up the story:
In the 1780s, while Mozart lived and worked in Vienna, he and his father Leopold wrote in their letters that several “cabals” of Italians led by Salieri were actively putting obstacles in the way of Mozart’s obtaining certain posts or staging his operas. For example, Mozart wrote in December 1781 to his father that “the only one who counts in [the Emperor’s] eyes is Salieri”. Their letters suggest that both Mozart and his father, being Austrians who resented the special place that Italian composers had in the courts of the Austrian nobility, blamed the Italians in general and Salieri in particular for all of Mozart’s difficulties in establishing himself in Vienna. Mozart wrote to his father in May 1783 about Salieri and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the court poet: “You know those Italian gentlemen; they are very nice to your face! Enough, we all know about them. And if [Da Ponte] is in league with Salieri, I’ll never get a text from him, and I would love to show him what I can really do with an Italian opera.” In July 1783, he again wrote to his father of “a trick of Salieri’s”, one of several letters in which Mozart accused Salieri of trickery.
Vaguely related anecdotes:
1. The F in F. Murray Abraham doesn’t stand for anything. His name is Murray Abraham, but he thought that sounded undistinguished and pedestrian, so he added an initial to make him sound special. He chose F in particular in honor of his dad. In theory, it should be written without the period, since F is just F and not an abbreviation, but he spells it with the period.
2. The great genius’s name, the part between the Wolfgang and the Mozart, was not Amadeus at all. In birth it was Theophilus. His baptismal certificate reads: “Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.”
Theophilus is Greek for “beloved of God.” Amadeus is simply a direct translation of that expression into Latin. Mozart himself used the French, German and Italian translations at various times. (Amadé, Gottlieb and Amadeo, respectively.) He generally signed his compositions “Wolfgango Amadeo.” A benefit concert for Mozart’s family was held in Prague on December 28, 1791, billed as “Concert in memory of Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart.” His earliest biographers also used Gottlieb as a middle name. As far as we know, Mozart never once referred to himself as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, although he did jokingly sign correspondence in pseudo-Latin as Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus. Somehow, in the 19th century, Mozart’s little jest became his posthumous reality.
The weirdest variation of all appears on his marriage registration, where his name has been mysteriously Anglicized to “Adam” – Wolfgang Adam Mozart! Scholars assume that is a misspelling of “Amadé.”
3. Tom Hulce played Mozart in the film version of Amadeus. If he were cast today, he could play Steve Bannon.