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Mozarts Tod

Often, the musical factoids that drip out during the month of August in the mainstream media are negligible (not to say downright weird). But I am intrigued by the new report by a Dutch doctor showing that Mozart may have died of strep throat. At the very least, the study casts more light on daily life (and death) in 18th-century Vienna, a topic always dear to my heart.

By Anne Midgette  |  August 18, 2009; 4:30 PM ET
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This isn't really new. Writing in 1984, Peter J. Davies concluded, "Mozart contracted yet another streptococcal infection while attending the [Masonic] lodge meeting on 18 November 1791, during an epidemic." (And so on, quoted in Robbins Landon, "Mozart's Last Year," 1988.) Carl Bär, writing in 1972, notes that rheumatic fever, which he believes killed Mozart, is a poststreptococcal infection (cited in Braunbehrens, "Mozart in Vienna," 1990).

Zegers et al. have confirmed in their own way that there was indeed a strep epidemic in Vienna at the time, and agree with Davies and others that Mozart may have caught it and that it may have contributed to the pathology that actually killed him. Not much to get excited about in that.

As to the actual cause of death, Zegers blames edema (called dropsy in Mozart's day), but as far as I can make out - I'm not a doctor - edema is a symptom of a number of illnesses, not a potentially fatal illness itself. That deaths attributed to edema/dropsy "spiked" in 1791 may reflect the actual causes of those deaths no better than Mozart's posthumous diagnosis of "acute miliary fever." But maybe another reader can sort this out?

Surely the precise, immediate cause of Mozart's death is now beyond our knowing. Otherwise, the question would long since have been settled. Doubtless much remains to be discovered about Mozart's life and work - but not about his death.

Posted by: JohnFrancis2 | August 19, 2009 5:56 AM | Report abuse

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