Fathers, sons, and requiems

In 1984, my dad took me and my sister to see Amadeus at the cinema. We would go to see a movie, usually something from the Disney catalogue of animated features, as a family once a year, but this wasn’t part of the annual ritual. My dad was an avid hobby musician and he loved Mozart’s music, so he wanted to see the film with his children. I was nine at the time, and I’m sure my dad didn’t expect the mature themes or the scatology. I don’t really remember seeing any other films just with my dad when I was a kid, rather than with my mum or both my parents, but Amadeus stayed with me. As a pretentious little nine-year-old, I loved it – less so for Mozart’s impish, infantile irreverence than for the drama and the dark humour. Or perhaps that’s me projecting into my younger self, 38 years after the fact.

Apart from being about ambition, creativity and mediocrity, Amadeus is also a film about daddy issues: Tom Hulce’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart tries to both emancipate himself from his domineering father Leopold (Roy Dotrice), but he is still caught in a loop of wanting to please the disapproving man. When Leopold dies, Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) forms a diabolical plan, making use of Mozart’s hang-ups and unresolved issues and his self-destructive behaviour to drive the man into an early grave. Salieri ensures that the dead Leopold haunts his son.

Is there anyone entirely devoid of daddy issues? I’m sure there are many people more qualified to answer that question – but while I had my issues with my father, our relationship was different from that of Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in most respects. My father was not domineering, and I don’t feel I had to live up to his expectations. If there was one respect in which I saw myself and him in Amadeus at least somewhat, it’s how he was eager to show off my own musical abilities (which were nothing much to write home about, really), in ways that I did resent for a while. His way of being proud of my own musical endeavours did feel at times like he was trying to take credit – which, to be fair, wasn’t entirely inaccurate, since he paid for my lessons on various instruments, but it eventually made me draw a line between his music and mine, more so than I might have if he’d laid less of a claim to that side of me.

My dad loved music throughout his life, and while he was of a generation of men who defined themselves through their work, music was at least as important to him as his job was. He taught the flute, he played in various local orchestras, he was instrumental in establishing a wind orchestra for young people in the town where he was most active musically. During the two years most marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, he was much less able to enjoy and express that side of himself: wind and brass orchestras weren’t allowed to rehearse together for a long time. He was also an immensely sociable person who needed his daily chats with people, so having neither of these for much of the last two years must have been very hard for him.

I consider myself to be a fairly different person from my dad. My wants and needs, the way in which I look at the world, all of these are quite different from my dad’s. But I do have him to thank for the place that music had in my life, even if he didn’t necessarily give me the space to make it my own, so I had to claim that space myself, which he probably found hurtful and disappointing – and in turn I have some regrets about that. And he took me to see Amadeus, which otherwise I might not have seen until decades later, on TV, and as a quick search on A Damn Fine Cup of Culture shows, Amadeus is one of the films I still enjoy most after having seen them first decades ago.

My father Hans Kimmich was born on 16 December 1942 and died on 12 May 2022. The music will keep resonating.

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