Friday Food Clips: The Gifted But Troubled Composers Edition

2 Mar

Today’s Food Clip is from one of my favorite period films. Milos Forman’s Amadeus is most assuredly not a biopic, but rather a fictionalized account of enmity between classical composers Mozart and Salieri. In this lush production filled with shrill operatic notes, sky-high wigs, lustrous silks and brocades, and of course, one abominable giggle (see clip below), we witness Salieri’s descent into darkness as he attempts to bring a dissolute, spendthrift-of-a-genius Mozart to his heels.

Moreover, if you think you’ve seen the worst of stage parents, Mozart’s father Leopold (Roy Dotrice), especially as reincarnated by Salieri in the form of a double-faced costume, is positively chilling.

In the scene I have selected, Constanze Mozart (played by a bosomy Elizabeth Berridge) has clandestinely conveyed her husband’s manuscripts to court composer Salieri in hopes that Mozart may be considered for a royal appointment under Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. As Salieri is transported by the perfection of the original manuscripts (which are quite astonishingly correction-free), Frau Mozart is busy stuffing face with some very delectable confections. Salieri identifies them by their Italian name, which translates to nipples of Venus: Roman chestnuts and brandied sugar that are shaped like their eponymous female anatomy.

On one hand, perhaps it is a bit strange to offer a lady breast-shaped confections. On the other hand, as I discovered by reading Michael Krondl’s Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert, there is a festive tradition going back to ancient times of sweets and pastries formed in the likeness of both male and female anatomy. For example, in Sicily, the genitalia-shaped mulloli (composed of wheat flour, sesame, and honey) was made to honor Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Roman-era author Atheneus also recounted the baking of a breast-shaped cheesecake at Spartan bridal showers.

Maybe because Costanze so readily wolfs down the confections, every time I watch this scene, I find myself wishing I could partake. Allegedly, Elizabeth Berridge had quite a time consuming these little beauties. Rumor is that the candies were solid lumps of marzipan, and that she ate so many during the various takes (without spitting them out), that she became ill. Even as a marzipan fiend, I can imagine how swallowing multiple palm-sized hills of almond paste would prove disagreeable to digestive health.

The brief but critical scene, which moves Salieri to declare war on his unsuspecting competition, is admittedly without any shred of historical basis. Clearly, if you are interested in the man, and not the myth, of Mozart, you should seek other sources. The film does however excel in providing a window into the ethnically diverse nature of 18th century Vienna. As Krondl writes:

Vienna was the place where German sweet dumpling vendors competed with Venetian biscotti sellers, where French courtiers rubbed shoulders with Turkish diplomats. To further their dynastic interests, the Hapsburgs imported Spanish princesses and Burgundian princes who typically arrived with their own foreign retinues. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Vienna had the most multinational population of any city in Europe, and possibly the world.”

And besides, Amadeus is just a romp of a tale that proves why good period films are anything but a snooze.


2 Responses to “Friday Food Clips: The Gifted But Troubled Composers Edition”

  1. Sacha March 8, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    I love Amadeus, and Constanze does make the treats look quite tantalizing!

    • levjoh March 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      thanks for reading! so glad someone else is a movie food nerd like me! : )

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