Cain and Herostratus: Reappropriation of Mozart Myths

Kerry Sabbag, Brown University

This paper seeks to explore the points of convergence and divergence in two works that dramatize the rumors surrounding Mozart's death and its connection to fellow composer Antonio Salieri. Both A. S. Pushkin in his "little tragedy" Mocart i Sal'eri and Peter Shaffer in Amadeus penned dramas centering around the themes of genius and fame. The differences in these works range from performance issues and style to the treatment of values, all of which reflect the time and culture of the author.

Although it is the Mozart myth that presents us with the questions of genius and fame, in each work the character of Salieri best elucidates these concepts and is given the most direct access to the reader/audience. Thus, one must turn to the portrayals of Salieri within these reappropriations of the Mozart myth to explore how and why each author, while choosing the same basic genre, interprets the story of Mozart and Salieri. The type of fame that each author's Salieri seeks reflects the values of his time and its attitude toward the eternal and universal concepts of genius and fame. Is Pushkin's Salieri a staid representative of Classicism or a rebellious Cain figure? Does Shaffer's Salieri only seek the 'infamous fame' of Herostratus or the more modern 'fifteen minutes of fame,' and, if so, does this image serve as an alternative to the traditional roads to fame or as a warning? This comparative approach to these works will explore to what degree each author's interpretation of the concepts of fame and genius is rooted in his cultural time and, alternately, what effect the cultural and artistic environment of the author may have had on his 'staging' of these timeless and universal themes.