Goodreads ratings
4.2 / 5

"Amadeus" Summary

By Peter Shaffer

plays | 160 pages | Published in NaN

Ambition and jealousyall set to music. Devout court composer Antonio Salieri plots against his rival, the dissolute but supremely talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. How far will Salieri go to achieve the fame that Mozart disregards? The 1981 Tony Award winner for Best Play. An L.A. Theatre Works full cast performance featuring: Steven Brand as Baron van Swieten James Callis as Mozart Michael Emerson as Salieri Darren Richardson as Venticello 2 Alan Shearman as Count Orsini-Rosenberg Mark Jude Sullivan as Venticello 1 Simon Templeman as Joseph II Brian Tichnell as Count Johann Kilian Von Strack Jocelyn Towne as Constanze Directed by Rosalind Ayres. Recorded in Los Angeles before a live audience at The James Bridges Theater, UCLA in September of 2016.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

The jealousy-fueled rivalry between composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri unfolds in this dramatic and tragic tale.


"Amadeus" by Peter Shaffer is a captivating historical fiction that delves into the life of the prolific composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as seen through the envious and tormented eyes of his contemporary, Antonio Salieri. The novel offers a compelling exploration of talent, jealousy, and the pursuit of artistic excellence in 18th-century Vienna.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story unfolds in Vienna, Austria, during the late 18th century, a period known for its opulence and artistic patronage. The narrative is centered around the lives of two composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Salieri, a respected court composer, becomes consumed by jealousy and bitterness upon encountering the prodigious and irreverent Mozart. As Salieri schemes to undermine Mozart's career, the tale delves into the complex interplay of genius, mediocrity, and the destructive power of envy.


The novel is primarily set in Vienna, the cultural epicenter of Europe during the late 1700s. The city's grand palaces, decadent salons, and vibrant musical scene provide a rich backdrop for the unfolding drama. The opulence and excess of Viennese society mirror the extravagance and tumult of the characters' lives.

Main Characters

The book features several notable characters who play pivotal roles in the narrative. Here are the main characters and brief descriptions of their roles:

Wolfgang Amadeus MozartA brilliant and irreverent composer known for his prodigious talent and unconventional behavior.
Antonio SalieriA respected court composer tormented by jealousy and bitterness towards Mozart's genius.
Emperor Joseph IIThe enlightened monarch of Austria, who takes an interest in Mozart's work and career.
Constanze MozartMozart's wife, who struggles to support her husband's career and navigate their tumultuous relationship.

Story Points Over Chapters

Act 1

Chapter 1: Salieri's Envy

Salieri, a respected court composer, becomes consumed by envy upon witnessing the prodigious talent of the young Mozart. His bitterness and resentment towards Mozart's genius begin to fester.

Chapter 2: Mozart's Arrival

Mozart arrives in Vienna, where his irreverent behavior and unconventional methods of composition immediately set him apart from the musical establishment. Salieri's envy intensifies as he witnesses Mozart's growing success.

Act 2

Chapter 3: Salieri's Machinations

Salieri becomes increasingly obsessed with undermining Mozart's career, resorting to devious schemes to thwart his success. His jealousy drives him to manipulate those around Mozart.

Chapter 4: Mozart's Struggles

As Mozart's career flourishes, his personal life faces challenges, including financial struggles and a strained relationship with his wife, Constanze. Despite his musical brilliance, he grapples with adversity.

Act 3

Chapter 5: The Final Confrontation

Salieri's machinations culminate in a final confrontation with Mozart, leading to a devastating outcome that leaves Salieri haunted by the consequences of his envy and betrayal.

Main Events

Mozart's Arrival in Vienna

Mozart's arrival in Vienna marks a turning point in the story, as his irreverent behavior and prodigious talent disrupt the established musical order, fueling Salieri's envy.

Salieri's Machinations

Salieri's relentless schemes to undermine Mozart's career drive much of the narrative, as he seeks to quell the threat posed by Mozart's unparalleled genius.

The Final Confrontation

The climactic confrontation between Salieri and Mozart brings the destructive consequences of envy to the forefront, leading to a haunting resolution that shapes the characters' fates.

Themes and Insights

The Nature of Genius

The novel delves into the nature of genius, contrasting Mozart's unparalleled talent with the mediocrity of Salieri. It explores the transformative power of artistic brilliance and the impact of envy on the pursuit of excellence.

The Destructive Power of Envy

Salieri's consuming envy serves as a central theme, shedding light on the destructive force of jealousy and its capacity to unravel lives and relationships.

Artistic Pursuit and Sacrifice

The novel explores the sacrifices and challenges inherent in the pursuit of artistic excellence, highlighting the personal and professional struggles faced by Mozart and Salieri.

Reader's Takeaway

"Amadeus" offers readers a poignant exploration of the complexities of talent, envy, and the pursuit of artistic greatness. The novel's rich historical setting, compelling characters, and timeless themes make it a captivating and thought-provoking read.


In "Amadeus," Peter Shaffer masterfully weaves a tale of talent, envy, and the pursuit of artistic excellence, set against the backdrop of 18th-century Vienna. Through the intricate portrayal of characters such as Mozart and Salieri, the novel offers profound insights into the nature of genius, the destructive power of envy, and the sacrifices inherent in the artistic pursuit. As readers immerse themselves in the opulence and turmoil of Vienna's cultural milieu, they are captivated by the timeless themes and compelling narrative, making "Amadeus" a truly unforgettable literary experience.

Amadeus FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Amadeus'?

    Amadeus is a play that falls under the historical fiction genre.

  2. Is 'Amadeus' based on a true story?

    While 'Amadeus' is based on historical figures such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, it is a work of fiction and not a completely accurate portrayal of their lives.

  3. Who is the author of 'Amadeus'?

    The author of 'Amadeus' is Peter Shaffer.

  4. What is the central theme of 'Amadeus'?

    The central theme of 'Amadeus' revolves around jealousy, rivalry, and the contrast between mediocrity and genius.

  5. Has 'Amadeus' been adapted into other forms of media?

    Yes, 'Amadeus' has been adapted into a film of the same name, directed by Miloš Forman.