Monday, June 6, 2016

Peter Shaffer (1926-2016)

Peter Shaffer, the British playwright whose “Amadeus” was one of the most popular dramatic treatments of a musical figure ever produced, has died at 90.

“Amadeus,” which dramatized the rivalry of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri in 18th-century Vienna and exploited the myth that Salieri was responsible for Mozart’s death, was a long-running hit on British and American stages, and in 1984 was made into a film by Milos Foreman, starring F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart.

The final encounter of the two composers “breaks all the rules that I’d ever been taught about cinema,” Shaffer said in an interview with the William Inge Center for the Arts, cited by The New York Times. The dying Mozart dictates the score of his Requiem to Salieri in “a scene about sound. The characters don’t move. . . . If you read the script, its nothing but eight pages of musical direction: ‘Bar this.’ ‘Oboe in E-flat’ and so forth. Very boring. It would give the average Hollywood producer a heart attack to read those eight pages. But they do work and they work wonderfully.”

By the time “Amadeus” was introduced onstage in 1979, Shaffer already was an established playwright. His “Equus” (1973) enjoyed long runs in London and New York theaters, and in 1977 was made into an acclaimed film, starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth.

Among Shaffer’s other plays were “Five Finger Exercise” (1959), “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” (1964), the paired one-acts “Black Comedy” (1965) and “White Lies” (1967) and “Lettice and Lovage” (1987) . His brother, Anthony Shaffer, was the author of the popular comedy “Sleuth” (1970).

The Times’ obituary of Peter Shaffer by Bruce Weber and Robert Berkvist: