Composers Datebook®

Mozart and 'Amadeus'

Composers Datebook - 20231102


On today’s date in 1979, a new play by Peter Schaffer titled Amadeus opened at the National Theatre in London.

Schaffer’s play tells the story of Mozart’s final years in Vienna, including some posthumous gossip that it was the petty jealousy and back-stabbing intrigue of Mozart’s Italian contemporary Antonio Salieri that hastened Wolfgang’s untimely demise. There was even a Romantic legend that Salieri had actually poisoned Mozart, a legend Shaffer gave a psychological spin.

Music historians were quick to attack Shaffer’s play as wildly inaccurate and downright unfair to poor old Salieri, who, they said, was not all that bad a fellow. Accurate or not, Schaffer’s play was a big hit, and five years later was made into a wildly successful film. That movie version of Amadeus prompted millions of new classical music fans to snap up any recordings of Mozart’s Requiem they could find.

And what about the music historians? They couldn’t even find comfort in the old public relations adage, “There’s no such thing as bad press as long as they spell your name right!” They felt even the movie’s title was bogus. Mozart never signed his middle name “Amadeus,” preferring the French version, “Amadé.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Wolfgang Mozart (1756 – 1791) Requiem; La Chapelle Royale and Orchestre des Champs Elysees; Philippe Herreweghe, cond. Harmonia Mundi 901620

On This Day


  • 1739 - Austrian composer and violinist Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, in Vienna;

  • 1752 - Russian diplomat, violinist and music lover Count (later Prince) Andrei Razumovsky, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Oct. 22) Razumovsky was the Russian ambassador to Vienna from 1783 to 1809; Beethoven dedicated his three String Quartets, Op. 59, to him, and (with Prince Lokowitz) his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies;

  • 1880 - English composer and conductor John Foulds, in Manchester;

  • 1915 - New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn, in Wanganui;

  • 1929 - American composer and conductor Harold Farberman, in New York;

  • 1946 - Italian conductor and composer Giuseppe Sinopoli, in Venice; Sinopoli died of a heart attack on April 20th, 2001, while conducting Verdi’s “Aida” at the German Opera in Berlin;


  • 1960 - Greek conductor and composer Dimitri Mitropoulos, age 64, of a heart attack, while rehearsing Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with the La Scala Orchestra in Milan;


  • 1723 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 194 ("Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest") for the dedication of the Störmthal church and organ; Bach was in Störmthal to inspect the new organ;

  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in d, Op. 6, no. 10 (see Julian date: Oct. 22);

  • 1873 - Brahms: "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," Felix Otto Dessoff conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra;

  • 1877 - Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, in Paris, composer at piano;

  • 1882 - Dvorák: String Quartet No. 11, in Berlin;

  • 1928 - American premiere of Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1, by Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1945 - Menotti: Piano Concerto, by the Boston Symphony with Richard Burgin conducting with Rudolf Firkusny the soloist;

  • 1959 - Henry Cowell: "Variations for Orchestra," by the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1978 - Druckman: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, soloist Sol Greiyzer, with James Levine conducting;

  • 1990 - Lou Harrison: Symphony No. 4, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, by the Brooklyn Philharmonic (with tenor Damon Evan), Dennis Russell Davies conducting;


  • 1748 - J.S. Bach writes a letter to his cousin, J.E. Bach of Schweinfurt, regarding a mishap concerning a cask of wine his cousin sent to Leipzig as a gift;

  • 1900 - French composer Vincent d'Indy reorganizes the Schola Cantorum of Paris as a music school;

  • 1937 - Artur Rodzinski conducts a "dress rehearsal" broadcast of the NBC Symphony, an orchestra formed specifically for Arturo Toscanini; Pierre Monteux led the first "official" broadcast on Nov. 13, 1937; Toscanini's debut concert with the NBC Symphony occurred on Christmas Day, 1937; Toscanini's final NBC Symphony broadcast, an all-Wagner program, occurred on April 4, 1954;

  • 1979 - Peter Shaffer's drama "Amadeus" premieres at the National Theatre in London, directed by Peter Hall, starring Simon Callow as Mozart and Paul Scofield as Salieri; The British composer Harrison Birtwistle acted as Music Director for this production.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®