Today is the 266th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His birthday, especially the mile-marker ages, is celebrated around the world with festivals and special concerts. I have included a clip of his Eine kleine Nachtmusik to remind you that you know about him than you may think. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Wolfgang Mozart
OCCUPATION: Songwriter, Pianist
BIRTH DATE: January 27, 1756
DEATH DATE: December 05, 1791
PLACE OF BIRTH: Salzburg, Austria
PLACE OF DEATH: Vienna, Austria
FULL NAME: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
REMAINS: Buried, Zentralfriedhof, Vienna, Austria
BEST KNOWN FOR: A prolific artist, Austrian composer Wolfgang Mozart created a string of operas, concertos, symphonies and sonatas that profoundly shaped classical music.
Today is the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria. By the age of five, he was proficient at the violin and piano and had begun composing. In his short lifetime, he composed more than 600 works in almost every genre of the day. Joseph Haydn is said to have told Mozart’s father, “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.” He later wrote of Mozart that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”
Mozart’s premature death has been a matter of great interest over the years. He died suddenly at the age of 35, and people seem to want his death to be as remarkable as his life. His death certificate reads only “fever and rash,” which are not so much causes of death as they are symptoms. Because there’s so little data to go on, rumors have been rife: he was poisoned by a jealous rival; he accidentally poisoned himself with mercury, trying to treat a case of syphilis; he contracted parasites; he was murdered by Jews, or Catholics, or Freemasons. There was no evidence of foul play. He had been productive in his career and was in good health in the months leading up to his death, but two days after his last public performance, he came down quite suddenly with a high fever, headache, muscle pain, and vomiting. His body exuded a foul-smelling odor. Two weeks later, he suffered a seizure, fell into a coma, and died.
Mozart himself started the rumor that he was poisoned, because after he fell ill, he told his wife, “My end will not be long in coming; for sure, someone has poisoned me!” There’s a theory that Mozart was having an affair with a married woman whose husband found out and murdered him. In his play Mozart and Salieri (1830), Aleksandr Pushkin speculated that rival composer Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart, but he would have had no reason to; although they were rivals, the two composers were friendly, and Salieri’s position and income were far superior to Mozart’s at that time.
A letter written by Mozart not long before he became ill refers to a hearty meal of pork cutlets, one of his favorite foods. It’s possible the pork was infested by Trichinella parasites, which cause trichinosis, the symptoms of which are fever, vomiting, swelling, and muscle and joint pain.
In 2009, a paper published in The Annals of Internal Medicine speculated that the great composer was brought down by a common streptococcal infection — like strep throat — that caused his kidneys to fail. Researchers studied death certificates in Vienna around that time, and there were many reports of deaths involving excessive swelling, which can be a sign of renal failure. In his last days, Mozart’s swelling was so severe that he was unable even to turn over in bed.
Regardless of the cause of death, the end result was the same, and Mozart died on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35. It’s a persistent myth that Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave. While it’s true that he was buried in a communal plot, that was common practice in Vienna at the time. Only members of the aristocracy received individual burials as we think of them today; people of Mozart’s status and below were sewn, naked, into a linen sack, and placed into a pit with four or five other bodies. Quicklime was sprinkled over the corpses to speed their decomposition. After about seven years, the remains were exhumed and dispersed so that the grave could be reused. As a result, Mozart’s body is lost to us, and scientists have never been able to examine it using modern technology.