This Doesn't Quite Work, Does It??
"The man was in no danger from me at all--not yet."
One of the most fundamental differences between plays and movies--regardless of whether or not anyone will admit it--deals with the respective audiences. Playgoers are, as a general rule, better educated that moviegoers, and have a better familiarity with the arts. Certainly Shaffer assumed that his dramatic audience had a stronger musical background, at least with Mozart's music, than his theatrical one. Shaffer makes a number of changes from stage to screen to compensate for a less musically-literate audience. Perhaps the best example of this is the scene from the film in which Mozart is introduced to Emperor Joseph II in 1781, to the strains of Salieri's little March of Welcome. In the movie, Mozart makes the comment to Salieri "I did some variations on a piece of yours . . . a funny little tune, but it yielded some good things." Mozart then proceeds, in a matter of minutes, to rework the March. In the movie, the primary source of the insult to Salieri is that Mozart does all of this not just in front of Salieri, but also in front of the emperor and the others.
In the play the main action takes place after the emperor has left, so that only Mozart and Salieri remain. The real difference, though, is that the play's narrating Salieri, from his 1823 vantage point, can explain the full significance of the action. For Mozart doesn't just take Salieri's march and improve it; he utterly transforms it, turning it from a pedestrian little trifle into the astounding "Non pił andrai" march from The Marriage of Figaro. Nothing is made of it at the time, but later in the play, at the premiere of Figaro, Salieri sees the opera's audience enchanted by "Non pił andrai," and having seen Mozart produce the march almost in an instant, can only say "My march! My poor March of Welcome--now set to enchant the world forever!" Adding insult to injury, Count Orsini-Rosenberg, not knowing what has happened, comments of the march, "Almost in your style, that last bit. But more vulgar, of course."
I'll be honest: Until I read the play, I did not realize the link between Salieri's march and "Non pił andrai." In the movie, it's simply not that important. But in the play, that link crystallizes the manner in which Salieri views himself, and, more importantly, how Salieri believes God views him. It is that deep sense of injustice that drives the remainder of both the play and the film.