The glorious “Requiem” scene from the 1984 movie Amadeus, screenplay by Peter Shaffer based on his original stage play.
Setup: On his deathbed, Wolfgang Mozart conveys what he is hearing of his final composition to his rival Salieri.
INT. MOZART'S APARTMENT - BEDROOM - NIGHT - 1790'S Mozart is sitting up in bed, propped against pillows. The coins lie on the coverlet; many candles burn in the necks of bottles. Salieri, without coat or wig, is seated at an improvised worktable. On it are blank sheets of music paper, quills, and ink. Also the score of the Requiem Mass as so far composed. Mozart is bright-eyed with a kind of fever. Salieri is also possessed with an obviously feverish desire to put down the notes as quickly as Mozart can dictate them. MOZART Where did I stop? SALIERI (consulting the manuscript) The end of the Recordare - Statuens in parte dextra. MOZART So now the Confutatis. Confutatis Maledictis. When the wicked are confounded. Flammis acribus addictis. How would you translate that? SALIERI Consigned to flames of woe. MOZART Do you believe in it? SALIERI What? MOZART A fire which never dies. Burning one forever? SALIERI Oh, yes. MOZART Strange! SALIERI Come. Let's begin. He takes his pen. SALIERI Confutatis Maledictis. MOZART We ended in F Major? SALIERI Yes. MOZART So now - A minor. Suddenly. Salieri writes the key signature. MOZART The Fire. SALIERI What time? MOZART Common time. Salieri writes this, and continues now to write as swiftly and urgently as he can, at Mozart's dictation. He is obviously highly expert at doing this and hardly hesitates. His speed, however, can never be too fast for Mozart's impatient mind. MOZART Start with the voices. Basses first. Second beat of the first measure - A. (singing the note) Con-fu-ta-tis. (speaking) Second measure, second beat. (singing) Ma-le-dic-tis. (speaking) G-sharp, of course. SALIERI Yes. MOZART Third measure, second beat starting on E. (singing) Flam-mis a-cri-bus ad-dic-tis. (speaking) And fourth measure, fourth beat - D. (singing) Ma-le-dic-tis, flam-mis a-cri-bus ad- dic-tis. (speaking) Do you have that? SALIERI I think so. MOZART Sing it back. Salieri sings back the first six measures of the bass line. After the first two measures a chorus of basses fades in on the soundtrack and engulfs his voice. They stop. MOZART Good. Now the tenors. Fourth beat of the first measure - C. (singing) Con-fu-ta-tis. (speaking) Second measure, fourth beat on D. (singing) Ma-le-dic-tis. (speaking) All right? SALIERI Yes. MOZART Fourth measure, second beat - F. (singing) Flam-mis a-cri-bus ad-dic-tis, flam- mis a-cri-bus ad-dic-tis. His voice is lost on the last words, as tenors engulf it and take over the soundtrack, singing their whole line from the beginning, right to the end of the sixth measure where the basses stopped, but he goes on mouthing the sounds with them. Salieri writes feverishly. We see his pen jotting down the notes as quickly as possible: the ink flicks onto the page. The music stops again. MOZART Now the orchestra. Second bassoon and bass trombone with the basses. Identical notes and rhythm. (He hurriedly hums the opening notes of the bass vocal line) The first bassoon and tenor trombone - SALIERI (labouring to keep up) Please! Just one moment. Mozart glares at him, irritated. His hands move impatiently. Salieri scribbles frantically. MOZART It couldn't be simpler. SALIERI (finishing) First bassoon and tenor trombone - what? MOZART With the tenors. SALIERI Also identical? MOZART Exactly. The instruments to go with the voices. Trumpets and timpani, tonic and dominant. He again hums the bass vocal line from the beginning, conducting. On the soundtrack, we hear the second bassoon and bass trombone play it with him and the first bassoon and tenor trombone come in on top, playing the tenor vocal line. We also hear the trumpets and timpani. The sound is bare and grim. It stops at the end of the sixth measure. Salieri stops writing. SALIERI And that's all? MOZART Oh no. Now for the Fire. (he smiles) Strings in unison - ostinato on all - like this. He sings the urgent first measure of the ostinato. MOZART (speaking) Second measure on B. He sings the second measure of the ostinato. MOZART (speaking) Do you have me? SALIERI I think so. MOZART Show me. Salieri sings the first two measures of the string ostinato. MOZART (excitedly) Good, good - yes! Put it down. And the next measures exactly the same, rising and rising - C to D to E, up to the dominant chord. Do you see? As Salieri writes, Mozart sings the ostinato from the beginning, but the unaccompanied strings overwhelm his voice on the soundtrack, playing the first six bars of their agitated accompaniment. They stop. SALIERI That's wonderful! MOZART Yes, yes - go on. The Voca Me. Suddenly sotto voce. Write that down: sotto voce, pianissimo. Voca me cum benedictis. Call me among the blessed. He is now sitting bolt upright, hushed and inspired. MOZART C Major. Sopranos and altos in thirds. Altos on C. Sopranos above. (singing the alto part) Vo-ca, vo-ca me, vo-ca me cum be-ne- dic-tis. SALIERI Sopranos up to F on the second 'Voca'? MOZART Yes, and on 'dictis'. SALIERI Yes! He writes feverishly. MOZART And underneath, just violins - arpeggio. He sings the violin figure under the Voca Me (Bars 7,8,9). MOZART (speaking) The descending scale in eighth notes, and then back suddenly to the fire again. He sings the ostinato phrase twice. MOZART (speaking) And that's it. Do you have it? SALIERI You go fast! MOZART (urgently) Do you have it? SALIERI Yes. MOZART Then let me hear it. All of it. The whole thing from the beginning - now! The entire Confutatis bursts over the room, as Mozart snatches the manuscript pages from Salieri and reads from it, singing. Salieri sits looking on in wondering astonishment. The music continues right through the following scenes, to the end of the movement.
Here is the movie scene:
This is one of those scenes which flows directly from the page onto the screen, yet beautifully elevated by the performances of the actors. One of my favorite all-time movie scenes.
I’ll see you in comments for a discussion of this scene from Amadeus.
One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.