Subscribe to our newsletters

No One Wants to Be a Salieri

I first saw the movie Amadeus in high school. We watched it in band class (that’s how schools roll in rural Texas). I came away from the movie thinking (a) brief, fast-forwarded-through nudity — awesome and (b) it sucks to be Salieri.

Being Salieri takes work. Being Salieri isn’t romantic. Mozart got the gigs. Mozart got the girl. Mozart could dash off a brilliant piece of music in his sleep. And Mozart had that obnoxious hyena-laugh he could run around and annoy people with.

AmadeusmovEver feel like you’re surrounded by Mozarts and you’re the lone, miserable, brooding Salieri, slaving away in the corner on your mediocre creation while everyone else is writing epic rock operas like hot checks? Like you’re banging your head against the wall trying to make your mark and all you have to show for it is minor brain damage and cracked sheetrock? (On the bright side, your landlord hates you, so you were never going to get your deposit back anyway.)

Everyone feels like that from time to time (hopefully it’s not just me). And it’s a really stupid way to think about things. Creating is hard. There’s usually some deep hurting involved. You have good days and you have crappy days. The good days are usually fleeting, and the crappy days are always agony.

But, I doubt the lives of Mozart and Salieri were as black and white as the movie would have us believe. Regardless of reality, on particularly crappy days, I sometimes find that I compare myself to — and fear being like — Salieri. Like everyone else’s puke is more brilliant than my greatest creation. Luckily, I lack Salieri’s urge to kill (as far as you know, anyway).



It’s such an absurd thing to even consider, though. Maybe I’m not a Mozart or a Salieri. Maybe I’m a Bach or a Gilbert and Sullivan or a Pat Boone or a Tiny Tim (please, God, let it be Tiny Tim). Or, here’s a novel thought, maybe I’m me, and you’re you, and these exhausting mind games need to stop.

The danger of trying to categorize yourself as a Mozart or a Salieri (or a Grumpy Bear or a Tenderheart Bear) is the danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself you’re a Salieri, you may indeed end up a jealous, scheming madman locked away in a mental institution, telling your crazed stories to the nurses as they change your bedpans. At least, that’s what the film version of Salieri was like.

But if we turn off the DVD player and look at the facts, we’ll see that maybe being Salieri isn’t so bad. He lived to the ripe old age of 74 (Mozart died at 35) and Wikipedia says he was “one of the most important and sought after teachers of his generation and his influence was felt in every aspect of Vienna’s musical life” (and we all know Wikipedia doesn’t lie). And people still remember him today (even if it is usually as his sinister cinematic counterpart). In fact, most historians believe Mozart and Salieri didn’t even have the bitter rivalry Amadeus portrays.

What’s the point of all this? Mostly it’s this: Get over yourself, get your ass in the chair, do your thing and don’t worry about all the Mozarts out there — they’re going to die young, anyway. Create your masterpiece and do it your way. There’s no use in becoming a deranged, plotting psychopath just because you have an inferiority complex. And if you do have psychopathic tendencies, try to find a constructive creative outlet to channel them into instead of letting them drive you bonkers.

Images sources: and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra