“As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.”
~Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
There are hundreds of theories about the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Until today, no one knows exactly how he died. Mozart’s death is a mystery because no autopsy was performed. Mozart’s older son Karl, seven at the time, later reported that his body smelled so bad that an autopsy was impossible. Mozart’s doctors refused to release a death certificate, because they too had doubts about the cause of death. The simply said he died of “severe miliary fever,” a very vague description. We do not know where Mozart is buried, so there is no grave to examine.
However, there are many theories about Mozart’s cause of death, from poisoning to accidental suicide. Some theories are completely ridiculous; others are more credible.
The rumor that Mozart had been poisoned was started by the composer himself. He said many times that he had been poisoned with acqua toffana. Acqua toffana is a mixture of arsenic, lead, and deadly nightshade. It was invented by Guilia Toffana, who sold it to women who wanted to get rid of their husbands without leaving a trace. It is highly unlikely that if there was any acqua toffana involved, it had been used for its original purpose. There is no evidence that Constanze wanted to get rid of her husband; she even tried to convince him that his talk of poisoning and death was ridiculous.
Arsenic poisoning was once a theory, but discredited now. Mozart’s symptoms show very little evidence of poisoning. Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness (some of Mozart’s symptoms) are evidence of arsenic poisoning, but Mozart never displayed other common symptoms including abdominal pain, hypertension, burning throat, cyanosis and difficulty breathing and swallowing.
It is unlikely that Mozart was poisoned, but throughout the past two hundred years, many possible murderers were named, with the three most popular ones being Antonio Salieri, Franz Hofdemel, and the Freemasons.
- Antonio Salieri, the Imperial Court Kapellmeister in Vienna
There were rumors during both Salieri’s and Mozart’s lifetimes that they were professional rivals. When Mozart died, people thought that it was likely that Salieri could have killed him out of jealousy. However, this is unlikely. Salieri heard about the rumors and suffered a nervous breakdown because of it.
The theory that Salieri had poisoned Mozart was made popular from Alexander Pushkin’s play “Mozart and Salieri” and Peter Schaffer’s “Amadeus”. A composer even went so far as to write an opera based on the play! People believed Mozart and Salieri were enemies, and Salieri might have had the motive to kill Mozart because the latter was more talented.
However, the evidence that Salieri did not kill Mozart is more substantial than the evidence that he did. Salieri had no reason to kill him because Salieri, unlike Mozart, held a high position as court composer and Mozart didn’t have a stable job, much less so high a position. Mozart had written a letter about Salieri, saying that Salieri’s position was far out of his reach. There may have been some artistic rivalry between the two, but both seem to have respected each other; Mozart respected Salieri for his position, and Salieri respected Mozart for his talent.
There is no reason to believe that Salieri had killed Mozart; perhaps the supposed rivalry wasn’t even true. People say that Salieri was the one that caused Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) to shut down after nine performances, but the actual person who did it was Mozart’s real rival, Vicente Martin y Soler. Again, if Mozart had been killed by Salieri, why would Constanze send her son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart to study music with him?
Again, there is evidence that Mozart respected Salieri; he took Salieri and his friend Katerina Cavalieri to see a performance of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), and wrote about how glad he was that Salieri enjoyed his work. Mozart and Salieri even wrote a cantata together, although it is now lost. (Update on May 10, 2017: the Mozart-Salieri cantata has been found!)
- Franz Hofdemel, Mozart’s friend and fellow Freemason
One of Mozart’s friends was a man named Franz Hofdemel. Hofdemel was a government official and a Freemason in the same lodge as Mozart. He even loaned money to Mozart. Some say he murdered Mozart because he felt cheated of his money (Mozart often failed to pay people back). Another theory was that Hofdemel’s wife, Magdalena, was not only Mozart’s piano student, but his lover!
It was rumored that Mozart was a notorious womanizer. He had a brief relationship with his cousin, then with Aloysia Weber, and later married Aloysia’s sister Constanze. The flirtations did not stop even after he was married. Mozart often fell in love with his female students, and Constanze was aware of this, although she doesn’t seem to have done anything about it.
On the day of Mozart’s funeral, Franz Hofdemel brutally attacked Magdalena and then committed suicide. This started rumors that Mozart and Magdalena had an affair. Now that Mozart had died, Magdalena decided to tell her husband that the child she was five months pregnant with was not Hofdemel’s, but Mozart’s. This explains why Hofdemel was so angry and did such terrible things.
This theory, like the Salieri one, was also used in fiction novels about Mozart, such as Mozart’s Wife by Juliet Waldron and Mozart and Magdalena by Gabriella Bianco. However, this theory is just as unlikely as the Salieri rumors – although the paternity of Magdalena’s child is left to speculation.
- The Freemasons
The music of the Freemasons contained musical phrases and forms that held specific semiotic meanings. If someone wanted to join the Freemasons, he would have to knock three times on the door. This is expressed musically as a dotted figure, which appears in the beginning of the overture to Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte.
The number three was very important to the Freemasons and the Illuminati, and it was incorporated subtly into the plot of Die Zauberflöte. The opera is written in the key of E-flat major, which has three flats. The way the flats are arranged on the sheet music is like a triangle. The flats have a resemblance to a candle flame and are a clear allusion to the three lesser lights which burn in every lodge. Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music and music he wrote for the lodge’s use is also in E-flat, so that this is sometimes referred to as the “Masonic key.”
The story for Die Zauberflöte has many characters arranged in groups of three; therefore there are many trios in the opera. There are three ladies, three boys, three slaves, and three priests. There are also three instruments that the characters pretend to play onstage. Papageno plays pan pipes in his act one aria “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” and a glockenspiel in his act two aria “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen.” Tamino also plays a magic flute, a reference to the title to the opera.
Inscriptions upon the three temples refer to “Nature,” “Reason” and “Wisdom,” also obviously of Masonic origin – as are other references to armor, gold, silver, chariots, and the final defeat of evil by the powers of light. Sarastro’s brotherhood was supposed to represent Freemasonry. The people probably saw the evil Queen of the Night as Empress Maria Theresa, who was infamous for her dislike of the Masons. The hero Tamino was seen to be the “good” Emperor Joseph, and Pamina was the Austrian people itself.
Did the Freemasons murder Mozart because of the opera? This is a difficult question to answer. No one knows how Mozart died, but we do know that the Freemasons had taken away his body to prevent an autopsy from being performed. Later, the Masons sent Schikaneder, the librettist, to a lunatic asylum, where he died on September 21, 1812 at age 61.
Although Die Zauberflöte does reveal some Masonic secrets, Mozart never said anything bad about the Masons. In fact, at the end of the story, Sarastro’s brotherhood (which was representing the Masonic brothers) triumphs over the Queen of the Night, who was representing opposition to Freemasonry. Mozart did not portray the Masons as evil; their enemies were the evil ones.
Another possibility must be considered; it is likely that Mozart and Schikaneder were trying to reform Freemasonry. The Freemasons themselves were not evil; when the Illuminati Order was created, long after Freemasonry was, they took control of the Masonic lodges. Perhaps Mozart was trying to reform Freemasonry and stop the evil Illuminati from controlling their lodges.
- Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency itself might not cause death, but it could have contributed to Mozart’s death. The article “What Killed Mozart” states: “Focusing on the relative lack of sunlight in Vienna in the winter, and Mozart’s habit of sleeping during the day and writing at night, two scientists have posited that Mozart simply did not get enough sun exposure to maintain proper levels of vitamin D. In support of their theory, they note that those with a vitamin D deficiency are more likely to suffer from infections, and Mozart had been ill off-and-on for years prior to his death.”
The article “Mozart’s Death was written in the Key of (Vitamin) D,” the author writes: “In many places during the winters, UVB levels in sunlight are too low to make the vitamin in our skin.”
“Where Mozart lived, in Vienna, these low levels of UVB rays would have easily caused vitamin D deficiencies,” two researchers write in a letter in the June issue of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists.” It also says: “Mozart did much of his composing at night, so would have slept during much of the day. At the latitude of Vienna, 48 degrees N, it is impossible to make vitamin D from solar ultraviolet-B irradiance for about 6 months of the year,” the authors write. “Mozart died on Dec. 5, 1791, two to three months into the vitamin D winter.”
People with this deficiency have a harder time fighting off infections. In that case, Mozart could have died of an infection or illness he was unable to fight off because of the vitamin D deficiency. That brings us to the subsequent theories about different diseases.
- Strep or Rheumatic Fever
Strep is a likely culprit as Mozart’s symptoms are consistent with it: sudden onset, back pain, rash, malaise and, when combined with acute kidney disease, can produce severe swelling.
Further evidence includes the fact that Mozart suffered from “acute rheumatic fever” at least twice before his death, including once in 1790.
There is not enough evidence that Mozart actually died from these. A few years ago, rheumatic fever was the generally accepted cause of Mozart’s death, although recent studies contradict this.
Uremia is a kidney disease, and evidence shows that Mozart made have had kidney problems. Kidneys and ears develop around the same time, so Mozart’s ear deformity might suggest kidney failure. Symptoms Mozart had that contributed to the uremia theory were swelling in the ankles, vomiting, convulsions, nausea, and coma.
However, he did not have many of uremia’s other symptoms, including anemia and itching. In addition, uremia does not cause fever, rash and swelling throughout the body.
- Accident or Accidental Suicide
Both of these theories have very little evidence supporting them, so I will combine them into one section.
There is a skull believed to be Mozart’s, and it has a crack in it. A gravedigger at St. Marx Cemetery (where Mozart is buried), Joseph Rothmeyer, supposedly “rescued” the skull and claimed it was Mozart’s. The skull is now at the Salzburg Mozarteum. Some people have suggested Mozart might have cracked his skull during a fall, and died from an infection because of it. We can’t confirm this theory because we don’t know if the skull is actually Mozart’s. It would be unwise to disturb other family members’ graves, his father’s grave was removed by Constanze, and his mother’s grave is somewhere in Paris.
- Pork Chops
Mozart enjoyed pork; in fact, it was one of his favorite foods! In that case, it might have been pork chops that killed him, or rather, what was in them.
About a month and a half before his illness, Mozart wrote a letter to his wife: “What do I smell? …pork cutlets! Che Gusto (what a delicious taste)! I eat to your health.”
Trichinosis is a disease caused by eating tainted meat infested with the worn trichinae. It has an incubation period of up to fifty days, around the time between when Mozart wrote the letter and the date of his death. The disease was discovered when a woman with symptoms similar to Mozart’s died after eating at a Christmas party. A doctor found several wriggling worms in her muscles. He discovered the same worms in the meat that she had eaten at the party. When he fed the meat to animals, the same worms were found in their bodies.
Trichinosis explains most of Mozart’s symptoms, but doesn’t quite follow the progression of his illness. It is not a definite answer, but worth a thought.
Even after years of research, scholars have not been able to figure out the cause of Mozart’s death. Murder and poisoning can basically be disregarded entirely at this point. Accidental suicide or an accident are theories with very little, and perhaps even nonexistent evidence, to support them. Rheumatic fever used to be the commonly accepted cause, but current research contradicts this. The pork chop theory, while plausible, isn’t a definite answer either.
At the end of the day, however, the cause of Mozart’s death isn’t the most important thing. Even though his life ended in the early morning hours of December 5, 1791, his music lives on in the hearts of musicians and music lovers even today.