When Mozart died at the age of 35 on December 5, 1791, the true cause of his death was never determined. There were numerous and often romanticized speculations that he died from living a life of overindulgence in alcohol, food, women, and ultimately succumbed to exhaustion.
This is clearly the case as portrayed in the dramatized narrative of composer Salieri in the 1984 film, “Amadeus.” Scholars in the past have contemplated numerous and certainly more plausible theories of the young composer’s death including suspicions of poisoning, rheumatic fever, Scarlet fever, tuberculosis, renal failure, Henoch-Schönlein purpura, trichinosis, or severe edema.
However, a team of scientists from The University of Amsterdam believe that the composer’s actual cause of death was from a strep throat (streptococcal infection), which worked its way into his kidneys. Unrecognized by 18th century doctors, the virus ultimately triggered a complete shutdown of his kidneys. The researchers believe that the clinical cause of death was acute nephritic syndrome caused by poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.
Observers of Mozart during his last days described the suffering genius’ body as being so swollen that he was unable to shift himself in bed due to the severity of pain. Other telltale symptoms of his illness were fever, severe back pain, and rash. While, Tuberculosis and other related conditions accounted for the highest number of deaths between 1791 to 1793, a minor epidemic of severe edema spread amongst younger men during the weeks surrounding Mozart’s death, which is speculated to have originated in a military hospital. Edema, the third most common cause of death was recorded in the official coroner’s report as “severe miliary fever,” i.e. a severe infectious condition with all of the characteristics suffered by Mozart.
Despite compelling evidence, scientists will probably never be able to establish the true cause of Mozart’s death, as the impoverished genius’ body was dug up from his pauper’s grave seven years after interment in order to make room for more indigents in the pauper’s cemetery.