Wednesday, May 17, 2017


My newest Sally Solari mystery, A Measure of Murder, has Sally joining a local chorus, even though she’s crazy busy working at both her restaurants, Solari’s and Gauguin, and doesn’t really have time for all the rehearsals and practicing on her own she’ll need to do. But the group is singing her favorite piece of music—the Mozart Requiem—which Sally’s been obsessed with since high school, when she fell in love with the movie, Amadeus. So she decides she’ll just have to make the time.

Sally isn’t alone in her love. That film (adapted from the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer) has special meaning for me, as well. When it was released in 1984, I was just becoming interested in opera. My friend Valerie (with whom I had played in the Cabrillo College orchestra—me on clarinet, she on violin) used to get together to drink wine and listen to operas together, and when Amadeus came out, we went together to see it. Both of us were much taken with the movie, and started listened to more Mozart afterwards, including Don Giovanni and his Requiem in D minor.

I met my now-wife, Robin, the following year, and the first evening we spent together I apparently raved to her about Amadeus. She went home and searched the whole Bay Area for a theater screening the film—no simple task in that pre-internet era—and finally found one in San Francisco. She then called to ask me on a date to go up to the City to see the movie, but alas, I was out of town for the weekend and didn’t get her message until after it had left the theater. But wasn’t that romantic of her?

Years later, while writing the manuscript that would become A Measure of Murder, I watched the film again, this time on DVD. And as I watched, I pondered—as I had many times before—the title of the movie. Although Amadeus was Mozart’s middle name,* no one refers to him that way; it’s always either “Mozart” or “Wolfgang.”

Tom Hulce as “Wolfie” in the film

But then again, neither of those two names has the ring of the name Amadeus—which rolls off the tongue in a lovely way—so I’ve always figured that was the reason for the film’s title.

But lying in bed after watching the movie again that night, I started thinking about the Salieri character—how he had dedicated his life to the love of God and wanted nothing more than the ability to compose beautiful music for His glorification. But Salieri becomes possessed with fury that his God has endowed the “obscene” boor Mozart with such musical genius, making Salieri—a devout Catholic—seem a mediocre composer in comparison. Salieri therefore rejects God, and decides to dedicate the rest of his life to destroying this “creature” whom God has chosen over him. (Yes, yes, this story line has nothing to do with the real life Salieri, but it’s good fun for a fictional retelling!)

And then I thought again about the title of the film, and it hit me—like one of those light bulbs in a cartoon.

light bulbs of Thomas Edison
at the Huntington Library, Pasadena

Amadeus. Ama Deus. That’s Latin for “love of God.” Duh! How could I have never thought of it before—it seemed so obvious now.

Because that is, of course, the irony in the film: It’s Salieri who has dedicated his life to the love of God. He is truly the “ama-deus” of the story. But it’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whom God has chosen as His vehicle for composing glorious music.

Very clever Mr. Shaffer.

*(Mozart’s given middle name was actually Theophilus, but he preferred the Latin translation of this Greek name and so used it, instead. My grandfather was named Theophilus Parvin Cook and didn’t go by that name either, so I guess my family has something in common with the brilliant composer.)