Wile E. Coyote and Antonio Salieri, kindred spirits

I’ve written before how I get annoyed with people who romanticize the past, and yet here I go again getting all nostalgic about the good old days. When it comes to cartoons, they just don’t make them like they used to. I will concede that no one under the age of twelve was consulted before I wrote this, so my firmly held belief about this may be somewhat outdated. Nevertheless, when I was twelve or thereabouts, no one could make Saturday mornings into the highlight of my week like the Roadrunner and his perpetual failure of a nemesis, Wile E. Coyote. There’s something enduringly engaging about a guy—or in this case, a fast-running ground bird—whose lot in life is to struggle continually (and win) against someone who wants to do him no good.


Of course, you can’t be a proper hero if you don’t have someone making your life somewhat difficult. Sherlock had Moriarty, Superman had Lex Luther, and Harry Potter had Voldemort. A little further off the beaten track, Mozart had Salieri. It may be a stretch to consider Mozart a superhero, but in musical terms, he’s the closest we’ve ever come. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the most gifted and influential musical mind to have lived among us. And like all the aforementioned heroic figures, Mozart had his fair share of obstacles to overcome. None of these involved kryptonite, but the struggle to win a place in the musical establishment of the day, and thereby earn enough money to feed and clothe himself and his family, was real. Through the years, this musical establishment has been personified in the unfortunate character of Antonio Salieri, the court composer of the Emperor of Austria.


Way back in 1830, Alexander Pushkin, the father of Russian literature, was the originator of Salieri as diabolical murderer-composer in his play “Mozart and Salieri.” The rivalry between these two men became part of popular culture in Peter Shaffer’s iconic film Amadeus. The film painted poor old Salieri as an insecure and ruthless old man whose jealously ultimately led him to poison Mozart and to pass off Mozart’s great Requiem as his own composition.


There is an extraordinary scene in the movie in which Salieri, now old and near death, recounts what it was like to hear Mozart’s music for the first time. It’s one of my favourite scenes in any movie. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to find it. The piece he describes is Mozart’s Serenade for Winds, known as the “Gran Partita”. Salieri says, “This was music I’d never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”


The inconvenient truth of this entire matter is that it’s not really true. By all historical accounts, the two men may not have been the best of friends, but they were far from nemeses. But I know that if someone told me the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote were actually drinking buddies off set, a small piece of my twelve-year-old world would have come crashing down. Let’s not dwell on disappointing factual accuracies. Three cheers for all our archenemies.