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Add one more candidate to the “What killed Mozart?” suspect list:

PHILADELPHIA — For more than two centuries, the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has endured — as has the speculation about what led to his sudden death at age 35 on Dec. 5, 1791.

Was the wunderkind composer poisoned by a jealous rival? Did he have an intestinal parasite from an undercooked pork chop? Could he have accidentally poisoned himself with mercury used to treat a bout of syphilis?

A report in Tuesday’s Annals of Internal Medicine suggests the exalted Austrian composer might have succumbed to something far more commonplace: a streptococcal infection — possibly strep throat — that led to kidney failure.

The researchers looked at death records in Vienna during the months surrounding Mozart’s death — November and December 1791 and January 1792, and compared causes of death with the previous and following years.

“We saw that at the time of Mozart’s death there was a minor epidemic in deaths involving edema (swelling), which also happened to be the hallmark of Mozart’s final disease,” said Dr. Richard Zegers of the University of Amsterdam, one of the study’s authors.

There was a spike in swelling-related deaths among younger men in Vienna at the time of Mozart’s death compared to the other years studied, suggesting a minor epidemic of streptococcal disease, Zegers said.

The cause of death recorded in Vienna’s official death register was “fever and rash,” though even in Mozart’s time those were recognized to be merely symptoms and not an actual disease.

Ah, Occam’s Razor.  As a matter of fact, I think this latest explanation to be easily as likely as any other, and probably more so.  (And let me be absolutely clear here that the notion Mozart was poisoned or otherwise driven to death by Salieri or some other rival is utter codswallop.)

The important thing to keep in mind about Gangrl is not to lament that he died so young (a purely Romantic Era sympathy), but instead to marvel that he lived as long as he did.  Young Mozart managed to contract virtually every disease known to 18th Century Europe as a child and a young adult, in addition to having his constitution strained to the limit by being dragged all over the Continent by his father.  That he lasted as long as he did is the truly remarkable fact of his life.

By the way, I can’t help noting that the AP considers this to be an “undated portrait” of Mozart. Fake Mozart

 It’s nothing of the sort, being no more than a much later idealized representation used to illustrate album covers and collector cards.  Indeed, it looks absolutely unlike any contemporary portrait of the man, and is simply some dude with piercing eye and jutting chin in a powdered wig. 

 In fact, the latest actual portrait of Gangrl of which I’m aware is this one, which, as you can see, is far less, well, romanticized:

Real Mozart 









Not even his best friends ever made the claim that he was a good looking fellah.

Sorry to be pedantic, but if there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s the effort to turn Gangrl into some kind of Byronic tragic-hero artiste, whether visually or otherwise.  He was nothing of the sort, and the impulse to make him so does a disservice to and displays an ignorance of what he really was about.


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August 2009