Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Cause of Death – Myths and Facts

The death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is shrouded in controversy.

A Mozart biography will include reference to the early life of Mozart and to his death. Many an artist has made it their goal to depict the composer’s death in a Mozart painting. And yes, the grave, as well as, where Wolfgang Amadeus is buried, are surrounded in mystery.

WA Mozart is best known for what we refer to as Mozart Music and Mozart Opera.


Read to Discover All About Mozart’s Death


Listen to Classical Music Online!

The excerpt above is from Symphony No.40 in G Minor K.550, Part II – Andante (1788). Listen to classical music online by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This is one of 2 symphonies that Mozart wrote in the minor key. Performed by the K&K Philharmoniker at the Lviv Philharmonia in Lviv, Ukraine in September 2006. Myron Yusypovych conducts.


Where and At What Age Did Mozart Die?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on December 5, 1791 at the age of 35. In today’s world, that is a young age. But, in 18th C Europe, life expectancy at birth for the average person was about 35 years. This meant that approximately half the population of Europe could expect to live up to the age of 35. And, this is exactly how old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was when he died.

Mozart was buried from St.Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. His death was duly recorded in the Cathedral’s Death Registry. For the 4 month period surrounding Mozart’s death (November 1791 – February 1792), 110 deaths are recorded in the Death Registry. Of these, approximately one half were individuals under 21 years of age. This mean that Mozart lived from 10 to 20 years longer than one-half of the population of Vienna that was buried from St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

Life Expectancy in Europe
Life Expectancy in Europe

Today, life expectancy at birth in the European Union is around 80 years. Does this mean that if W.A.Mozart had lived today, he would have died at 80? Maybe yes, maybe no!

Where did Mozart live the last year of his life?

From October 1790 to December 1791, Mozart lived at Rauhensteingasse, 8 in Vienna’s 1st District. This is also the location where Mozart composed his opera The Magic Flute and his Requiem.

The building in which Mozart lived the last year of his life no longer stands. It was torn down in 1847 to make room for a department story.

On another ironic note, we don’t know the exact location where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is buried.

Did Mozart die young?

From our 21st C perspective, the answer is – yes, Mozart died at a young age. But, from the perspective of 18th C Europe, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived a life of average length and outlived about one-half of his counterparts.


What Myths Surround the Death of Mozart?

The story surrounding the death of Mozart – repeated in multiple biographies and narratives – goes something like this:

One night, a stranger arrived at Mozart’s door and demanded, asked, cajoled… Mozart into composing a Requiem Mass. The terrified Mozart believed that he had been ordered by the Messenger of Death to write his own Funeral Mass (Messa da Requiem). Shortly thereafter, Mozart died!

The most widely circulated theory of an unnatural death (read: death by poisoning) is connected with Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), a court composer with the Hapsburg Empire. Indeed, this conspiracy theory was taken up by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) who wrote the one-act drama Mozart and Salieri (1830), in which the jealous Salieri poisons Mozart. Pushkin’s work was made into an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), which became the basis for the stage play Amadeus (1979) by Peter Shaffer (1926-2016), which was later made into the award winning film Amadeus (1984) by Miloš Forman (1932-2018).

Today, we know that these are great literary, musical, dramatic and film works. But – they are fiction!

Mozart Myth Timeline
Mozart Myth Timeline

There is also a myth circulated that the Mason’s poisoned Mozart because they didn’t like how he had portrayed them in the opera The Magic Flute. But, that is a story for another time. Stay tuned!


Was the Cause of Mozart’s Death – Poisoning?

Over the years, several proposals have been made that W.A. Mozart died of poisoning – not deliberate poisoning, but poisoning caused by unsanitary conditions or a lack of hygienic knowledge:

  • mycotin poisoning – caused by various molds that grow on food
  • lead poisoning – caused by drinking wine stored in vessels containing lead

Certainly, discussions by various medical scholars consider these to be viable causes – death by poison due to negligence or lack of knowledge.

More controversial (or, perhaps today we can say “fake news” or “disinformation”), are claims that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was deliberately poisoned. It appears that allegations of deliberate poisoning may have been started shortly after his death (although his death registry lists no such cause – see below).

One week after Mozart’s death, an obituary appeared in the educational music journal Musikalisches Wochenblatt (Musical Weekly) published by Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752-1814). Multiple sources today claim that the obituary that was printed in this publication stated: “Because his body swelled after death, it is believed that he had been poisoned.” Indeed, that is completely false!

Mozart’s Obituary
Mozart’s Obituary

The obituary states (in German): “On the 5th day of this month, at 35 years of age, the famous Kappelmeister Mozart died from a Breastwater addiction (hydrothorax) to the deepest sorrow of all art lovers” (a new window will open).

Was W.A.Mozart poisoned?

Conspiracy theorists and bloggers trying to raise their ratings will probably continue to claim that the genius Mozart was killed. However, notwithstanding these claims and the literary and operatic interpretations, W.A. Mozart most probably died due to natural causes.


Was Mozart’s Death from a Natural Cause?

Mozart was buried from St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. The Death Registry lists Hitziges Frieselfieber (acute military fever) as the cause of Mozarts death. Nonetheless, it seems that over the past 200+ years many researchers, scholars, medical practitioners… have disputed this diagnosis.

There are claims that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a sickly child. Certainly, Mozart’s childhood medical history does seem to have excessive illnesses.

Date Age Disease
1762 6 yrs old Rheumatic fever
1763 7 yrs old Scarlet fever
Erythema nodosum
1764 8 yrs old Angina tonsilaris
1765 9 yrs old Thyphus abdominalis
1766 10 yrs old Rheumatic fever
1767 11 yrs old Smallpox

On the other hand, Dr. Lucien R. Karhausen, a medical doctor currently practicing and doing research in the European Union, in his article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (1998:91) claims that although when listed, the number of illnesses Mozart went through as a child appear high, “these rates are distinctly low compared with those in western children today” (p.546).

In his book The Bleeding of Mozart (2011), Dr. Lucien R. Karhausen lists 140 diagnosis that have been made over the years in the attempt to explain the cause of Mozart’s death. These include such “exotic illnesses” as:

  • subdural hematoma – conclusion based on a skull that later turned out NOT to be Mozart’s
  • Behcet disease – a rare disorder that causes blood vessel inflammation
  • acute peritonitis – an inflammation of the abdominal (stomach) lining, which can spread to the blood and infect other body organs
  • Whipple’s disease – a rare bacterial infection that affects the joints and digestive tract
  • Cachexia – a wasting of the body due to chronic stress and/or illness
  • various psychological and psychosomatic diagnoses, such as manic depression and paranoia to support a theory that perhaps Mozart committed suicide by poisoning himself (again, the claim of poison).

Additionally, much has been written that Mozart may have died due to lack of medical knowledge in the 18th C. Such lack of knowledge may have resulted in physician error. Such “errors” would include Mozart being bled in unsanitary conditions and given medical treatments that can aid one illness and have adverse effects on another.

One of the more widely accepted (but, also violently disputed by other researchers) explanations for the cause of Mozart’s death is acute kidney failure.

W.A. Mozart Cause of Death?
W.A. Mozart Cause of Death?

Dr. Martin Hatzinger, professor at the Medical Faculty of the University of Basel, Switzerland and his colleagues Jürgen Hatzinger and Michael Sohn, in their article “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Death of a Genius” (a new window will open) propose that because Mozart:

  • suffered various acute illnesses in childhood
  • claimed that he was dying (according to eyewitness accounts)
  • composed music almost until his death and,
    after his death:
  • Mozart’s body swelled up.
    Mozart most likely died of acute kidney failure.

Why? Because these are all symptoms that patients with acute kidney failure often exhibit.

Like almost all patients with a chronic kidney disease, Wolfgang Amadeus had hardly any symptoms at first. Even when the kidney function is considerably compromised, one can continue to work and feel relatively well. But once kidney damage reaches a critical point, it only takes little additional strain to precipitate death.

The critical point is usually reached in the fourth decade of life, even nowadays. Such patients are aware that they are about to die. For a while this premonition manifests itself as general depression, and when uraemia begins, they feel the taste of death on their tongues, as Mozart did. People around the patient often notice a slight aroma that reminds them of ammonia.

Hatzinger, Hatzinger, Sohn (2013:155)


Why So Much Controversy Surrounding Mozart Cause of Death?

It is not our goal to delve into the medical discussions surrounding symptoms and possible illnesses that may or may not have caused Mozart’s death. After all, we are a musician and an educator – not medical practitioners!

Medical experts seem to agree that W.A.Mozart died of some type of medical condition. Most agree that medical knowledge at the time of Mozart’s death was insufficient to properly diagnose and subsequently treat Mozart’s condition. For us, laying to rest the rumours and innuendos of Mozart being killed, murdered, poisoned… is worth pursuing.

Death of Mozart in Painting and Art
Death of Mozart in Painting and Art

We conclude that there is no basis to such rumors.

So – How did Mozart die?

We don’t know!

Suffice it to say, for those of us who want to know All About Opera and Classical Music, that W.A.Mozart died of some type of natural cause. After all, today we enjoy Mozart music regardless of his cause of death.

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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