Mozart’s Grave: Where is The Truth and Why The Lies?

Mozart’s grave is in Vienna, at the Wien Sankt Marx Cemetery. Was Mozart buried in a pauper’s grave? Was Mozart buried in a coffin or did his wife decide on a burial without coffin? Did Mozart have a cheap funeral – some even claim – a pauper funeral?

During the Hapsburg Empire, Joseph II (1741 – 1790) decreed a burial policy that mandated Christian funerals to follow a pre-paid funeral plan. Assistance with funeral costs to the poor of the City of Vienna and a choice between three levels of funeral service cost were part of the burial policies.

In the 18th century when Mozart, the great opera and classical music composer, was laid in his grave, there was no cheap funeral insurance and, certainly, no funeral service planning assistance. Funeral plans were made by the deceased’s friends and burial expenses were covered by whatever savings the family had.

Certainly, there appears to be a great deal of speculation about Mozart’s grave.

Read to Discover Mozart’s Grave


Listen to classical music online:

The Lacrimosa from the Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626) by W.A. Mozart, conducted by Myron Yusypovych with the K&K Philharmoniker and K&K Opernchor at Der Herkulessaal der Münchner Residenz.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) did not finish composing the Requiem. On Saturday, December 10, 1791, 5 days after Mozart’s death, a funeral Mass was held at St. Michael’s Church in Vienna. During the service, the portions of the Requiem that had been completed were performed. 35 years after Mozart’s death on December 5, 1826, Mozart’s younger son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (1791 – 1844) conducted the completed version of the Requiem at St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv, Ukraine.


Mozart’s Grave in Vienna – Clouded in Mystery and Intrigue

Mozart’s Grave Monument
Mozart’s Grave Monument

Mozart’s grave is in St. Marx Cemetery (Sankt Marxer Friedhof) in Vienna, Austria. However, the exact location of Mozart’s grave at the cemetery, his final resting place, is unknown.

And, as is often the case when facts are unknown or lacking, conspiracies and conjectures emerge. Mozart’s grave, or lack thereof, has given artists a field for creativity.

Creatively inspired disinformation about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been propagated for 200+ years, Currently, a Hollywood film and an Austrian musical play have blended fact and fiction, making it impossible for audiences to distinguish between the two. Unfortunately, when fiction is presented as truth it becomes a lie.

But, let’s return to the actual facts.

“Mozart died at five minutes to one a.m. on Monday, 5 December 1791, two months before his thirty-sixth birthday. His death fascinated contemporaries and has continued to fascinate posterity. Melodramatic stories were told about it within weeks and have continued to evolve for two-hundred years.” – so begins the introduction to William Stafford’s book The Mozart Myths: A Critical Reassessment, published in 1991 by Stanford University Press.

So, 200+ years later, it is difficult (sometimes impossible) to distinguish between the truth and the fiction surrounding the death and subsequent burial of the great opera and classical music composer Mozart.


What Makes Mozart’s Grave Unusual?

St. Marx Cemetery
St. Marx Cemetery

Mozart’s grave is unusual because no one knows exactly where it is.

We know that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) was buried at St. Marx Cemetery (Sankt Marxer Friedhof), which in the late 18th century was beyond the gates to the City of Vienna. Today, this area is within the city limits, south-east of Vienna’s city centre.

In Amadeus (1984), an Academy Award film that claims to be about Mozart’s life and death, there is a poignant there is a poignant (a new window will open). Rain pours from the heavens as the hearse moves toward the cemetery. The mourners, including Mozart’s wife, Constanze, and his older son, Karl Thomas (the younger, Franz Xaver, was only several months old at the time of his father’s death), stay behind at what would probably have been the Stuben Gates.

At the cemetery, we see that Mozart’s coffin has a trap door. The coffin is raised, the trap door opens and a wrapped body drops onto sacks in a pit. Lime is sprinkled over top.

The film Amadeus implies that Mozart, the famous opera and baroque music composer, was buried in a pit filled with other unnamed bodies using a reusable coffin.


Myth #1: A Reusable Coffin was Used for Mozart’s Grave

Myth #1: A Reusable Coffin
Myth #1: A Reusable Coffin

A reusable coffin is on display at Melk Abbey on the Danube in Austria. The existence of a reusable coffin in a museum would appear to confirm that such things existed. On the other hand, its design is quite different from the one portrayed in the film Amadeus.

In the film Amadeus, there is a small trap door at the foot of the coffin, which appears to be attached to a series of hinges. On the other hand, the coffin displayed at Melk Abbey is referred to as a foldaway or folding coffin (Klappesarg) and has an elaborate system of levers and pulleys that open the entire bottom portion of the coffin.

What is the story behind reusable coffins?

In 1784, Joseph II (1741-1790), the Holy Roman Emperor of the Hapsburg Empire decreed (it was called - Josephinische Begräbnisordnung) that “…bodies must never be put into the ground with coffins, but have to be taken out again to use the coffin for other bodies (translated by Michael Lorenz), a new window will open). The logic behind such a decree was two-fold. First, the authorities wanted bodies to decay as quickly as possible. Second, since timber was used as fuel for heating and cooking in 18th century Europe, it was in short-supply.

Although a decree regulating burial in Vienna did come into effect, the paragraphs dealing with reusable coffins and burials in sack were deleted. Why? Because, already in the late 18th century, European rulers were not “divine”. In many parts of Europe, including the Hapsburg Empire, decrees needed the approval of councils or assemblies to become law. The Burial Regulations of 1784 were not accepted by the Viennese (actually, they provoked wide-spread protests) and so, were never implemented in their entirety.

Is there a connection between reusable coffins and Mozart’s grave?

Obviously, there must have been enterprising coffin builders who, in anticipating a growth in demand for reusable coffins, designed and built them. However, there appears to be no evidence that such reusable coffins became widely popular or that Mozart was buried in anything but a conventional coffin.

In short, in the film Amadeus the scene depicting Mozart’s grave as a pit filled with bodies and sacks, although effective cinematography, is total and complete fiction. Treating it as anything else, makes it a lie.


Myth #2: Mozart was Buried in a Pauper’s Grave

Myth #2: A Pauper’s Grave
Myth #2: A Pauper’s Grave

Yes, Mozart was buried in an unmarked grave. No, Mozart was not buried a pauper.

According to a variety of sources, the funeral arrangements for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were made by Baron van Swieten (1733 – 1803), who was connected with many classical music composers including Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In 1791, at the time of Mozart’s burial, the people of Vienna could choose from several classes of funerals. Baron van Swieten recommended and proceeded to arrange a third-class funeral for Mozart. In the late 18th century, 85% of Viennese were buried in a third-class funeral, which cost around 8 – 12 florins (about $300 - $450USD by today’s inflation rates). A second-class funeral had more church service, more music, more pallbearers and was considerably more expensive. A first-class funeral was reserved for the titled elite.

According to Roye E. Wates, in his book Mozart: An Introduction to the Music, the Man and the Myths (2010), “There would have been a cortege from the Mozarts’ apartment on Rauhensteingasse…, with…a person carrying a cross, lantern-bearers, and two pallbearers. In a chapel of the cathedral, a service was conducted during which the priest blessed the casket… the casket was kept inside the cathedral until the next day, when it was taken by a hearse drawn by two horses to St. Marx Cemetery… Mozart’s body was laid to rest in what was called a ‘common individual grave’. This meant that it was buried in the ground rather than in a vault, and that the location was not purchased as private property.” (pg.348)

In the mid 19th century, as the opera and classical music world was planning celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, an attempt was made to locate the exact place where Mozart was buried. In 1855, a gravestone was even erected at the site where ‘experts’ had concluded Mozart’s grave site was located. But, their conclusions were based more on conjecture than on fact.

Was Mozart’s grave dug up in the Vienna graveyard?

In 18th century Europe cemeteries were small and space was limited. Graves were regularly dug up and plots reused. So, yes, Mozart's grave was probably dug up approximately ten years after his death.

This is what would be called a sanctioned digging up of a graveyard.

On the other hand, in Mozart! (1999), a musical first staged in Vienna, we see a creative reinterpretation of this fact. The beginning of Act I and Act II, as well as the final scene of Act III take place at St. Marx Cemetery.

The opening scene of Act I, which takes place in 1809, 18 years after Mozart's burial, Constanze, Mozart's widow, attempts to show Dr.Mesmer, a doctor, where her husband was buried. In the opening scene of Act II, Dr. Mesmer's servant digs at the alleged gravesite.

The musical Mozart! portrays unsanctioned digging up of graveyards.

The final scene of Mozart!, the musical, depicts Dr. Mesmer triumphantly holding up a human skull. The implication is that he has found the skull of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!


Myth #3: Mozart's Skull was Found in His Grave

Myth #3: Mozart’s Skull
Myth #3: Mozart’s Skull

In 1873, Dr. Joseph Hyrtl (1810 – 1894), elected rector of the University of Vienna in 1865, wrote to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

In the letter, Hyrtl is negotiating the price for his skull collection, which would eventually become part of the permanent collection at the Mьtter Museum in Philadelphia, USA. Hyrtl is proposing to sell the «Skull of Mozart» for 300 Thalers, which at the time was the equivalent to an artisans or doctor's monthly salary. However, on page 4 of the original letter (a new window will open), there is a pencilled «NO» in the left hand margin.

Although the Dr. Joseph Hyrtl Human Skull Collection eventually became part of the Mьtter Museum, the alleged skull of Mozart did not.

In 1902, the Salzburg Mozarteum (in present-day Austria), a private foundation dedicated to the preservation and research of Mozart's heritage, was gifted with a skull. The claim was that this was Mozart's skull unearthed from his long-lost grave.

In 2004, in preparation for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, scientists decided to verify the skull through DNA testing.

The skull was transported by security van from Salzburg to the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria. Two teeth from the skull were extracted for analysis. Additionally, bodies from the Mozart family grave at St. Sebastian's Cemetery in Salzburg were exhumed and this bones were extracted from the remains of what was believed to be Mozart's maternal grandmother, Eva Rosina Pertl (1688 – 1755) and Mozart's niece, Johanna Maria Anna Elisabeth von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg (1789 – 1805).

The results were sent to the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rochville, Maryland for verification.

On January 9, 2006, Dr. Walther Parson, lead researcher made the announcement that both labs had confirmed – there was no genetic link between the skull and the remains in the Mozart Family grave in Salzburg. Even more intriguing, no genetic link was found between the bones of the two female relatives.

The promotional material that accompanies the musical Mozart! claims that it is based on the life of Mozart. Unfortunately, the beginning scenes of Act I and Act II, as well as the concluding scene of Act III are nothing but theatrics – fiction. Portraying it as fact, makes it a lie.


What is The Truth about Mozart’s Grave?

A Tribute to Mozart
A Tribute to Mozart

For the average Western thinking person, an unmarked grave is undignified and potentially, insulting. But, this wasn’t always the case.

History has been written and taught as the history of royalty (kings, queens, princes…) and leaders (presidents, ministers, generals…). Over the ages, these individuals have been buried in marked graves, often in churches or graveyards specifically built for this purpose. Everyone else was simply buried in a plot of land. In time, the place, not only of the grave, but the even the entire graveyard, was forgotten.

Today, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a celebrity. And so, it is difficult for us to accept the idea that a famous composer of opera and classical music was not buried as a celebrity – a King of Music or a Minister of Culture. But, in18th century Europe, birth was more important than capabilities and achievements. In this social hierarchy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born a servant who earned a living by composing music.

From what we know today, Mozart was probably buried in a coffin, in a shaft grave with 4 or 5 other bodies. In time, once decomposition had taken place, his remains would have been removed to make room for other bodies. More details and a thorough presentation of various facts is available from David E. Morton (a new window will open).

All conspiracy theories concerning Mozart, including disposable coffins and exhumed skulls, remain within the realm of fiction. Yes, historical fiction is amazing! But, in literature, in film and on stage, a clear distinction needs to be drawn between what is history and what is fiction.

In the end, does it really matter if we know inconclusively whether a skull is truly the head of Mozart, or whether a plot of land is where the musical genius found his final earthly resting place?

Mozart left us a musical legacy – his own and that of his son Franz Xaver. That is fact and that makes his memory eternal. Вічная пам'ять! (Vichnaja pamiat!)

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych


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