Mozart's "hideous, high-pitched whinny-giggle”: Behavior Portrayal in Amadeus (1984) in Correlation to Mozart's Musical Personas

Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences


Music, Psychology

ORCID Identifier(s)


Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


Forman's film Amadeus (1984) was criticized for its "crude" portrayal of Mozart as a "bumpkin with a hideous, high-pitched whinny-giggle" (Townsend, 1986). This presentation argues that, though Forman's portrayal of Mozart may have been exaggerated, it contributed to popular appeal because it overlapped with Mozart's widely discussed "emotional swings" (Keefe, 2015). His iconic giggle resonated with viewers because of how this personality side is contrasted with his dark and somber personality traits. In fact, literature from the 1940s often remarked on these extremes, using two lines from Goethe's Egmont (1788) : "Himmelhoch jauchzend, zu Tode betrübt" (heavenly joy, deadly sorrow).

I investigate these extreme mood swings in light of their links to the film's musical selections, heard in a diegetic or non-diegetic way. One scene from Amadeus depicting Mozart's optimism is the premier of Le Nozze Di Figaro (1786) through Antonio Salieri's interpretation of "Ah Tutti Contenti" (Amadeus, 1:48:20-1:49:35). Dramatic shifts in behavior are displayed in the Don Giovanni scene (Amadeus, 1:55:24-2:01:03) and where Salieri helps Mozart compose "Confutatis Maledictis" from the Requiem Mass (Amadeus, 2:37:06-2:43:25). By throwing light on Mozart's persona -- and the musical excerpts linked with it -- my hope is that viewers will view Amadeus with a more in-depth understanding and sense of awareness that Mozart's mesmerizing musical mood swings are the reason why Forman's Mozart portrayal is so convincing.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

I am a junior vocal performance major with a minor in psychology. From a young age, Mozart's music has been a catalyst in my musical journey; His music speaks a language that I feel a connection to. My interest in psychology began when I started working in Applied Behavioral Analysis with children on the autism spectrum. I wanted to combine these two passions and investigate the psychology behind musical composition.

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