Mozart Timeline

How did Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart die?

December 5th is the anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In November 1791 the composer fell ill with a serious disease and died two weeks later at the age of 35. The true nature of the disease has remained a mystery until today. Countless myths entwine the cause of Mozart’s death, which has fascinated scientists, scholars and many others. Mozart’s death plays an important role in director Milos Forman’s film “Amadeus”, shot in 1984.

02 December 2013 Events

On November 20th, 1791, Mozart suddenly came down with fever and was wracked with pain. His arms and legs were severely swollen. In the following days his health significantly deteriorated. He died on December 5 after lapsing into a coma. The death certificate states he died of “severe miliary fever”. Exactly which disease led to Mozart’s death has been a mystery for the last 200 years.

Speculations …

Many myths – some more plausible than others – entwine Mozart’s early demise. One of the most popular myths – that Mozart was poisoned by his rival Antonio Salieri – rose to prominence due to the popularity of the film “Amadeus”. This theory is supported by the fact that Mozart had been living through a phase of depression before his death, suffering from paranoia and existential fear. Mozart himself suspected that the cause of his deteriorating health was being poisoned over a long time. However, it is highly likely that this was just his subjective view of reality.

Many other speculations circulate. Syphilis and trichinellosis are frequently mentioned. In 1905 a French physician postulated uric acid poisoning due to a never fully healed nephritis. In 1961 lead poisoning was suggested as a possible cause of death.

… scientific attempts to explain Mozart’s death

In 2000 a group of American scientists proposed rheumatic fever caused by a strep infection after conducting meticulous detective work. The symptoms stated in literature and the reports of Mozart’s contemporaries yielded the clues. Without antibiotics, such an infection would inevitably lead to death. Rheumatic fever causes a weakening of the heart, which could explain Mozart’s swollen limbs.

In 2009, the Dutch scientist Richard Zegers extensively studied surviving documents and concluded that Mozart had been suffering from pharyngitis, a throat infection with symptoms including cramps, fever, rashes and a swollen neck. Mozart’s sister-in-law Sophie Haibel had described these symptoms. The death registry of Vienna for winter 1791 lists several deaths caused by this disease.

Whatever the cause of Mozart’s death, it came far too early. Let us thank him for his manic urge to create art and remember him on December 5th!

What caused W.A. Mozart's early death?

What caused W.A. Mozart's early death?

Mozarts Grave at St. Marx Cemetary Vienna Source: Wikimedia