What Really Killed Mozart?

In 1775, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most profound composers who ever lived, composed a letter to his 19-year-old cousin, Marianne, in which he exclaimed, "Oh my a** burns like fire! What on earth is the meaning of this! — maybe muck wants to come out?" Strangely, that's a great metaphor for the creative process. In fact, Fiona Apple, a fantastic singer and brilliant lyricist, referred to her album, The Idler Wheel, as "the excrement of my life, the excrement I was trying to exorcise out of me."

Of course, it might sound like musical blasphemy to compare Mozart's music to pooping. As MEL Magazine notes, there's a kind of cultural compulsion to paint Mozart as a "deeply spiritual" figure. Yet Mozart inserted poop puns into canons he composed for fun and included loo humor in letters to his cousin, whom his heart burned for like a butt. But for a while, biographers tried to sanitize Mozart's story.

When the truth came out like so much pent-up muck in the play Amadeus, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to accept that Mozart was, as the Independent put it, "a particularly foul-mouthed, scatological young genius." Thatcher insisted, "It is not possible, not from someone who could create works of such beauty." Perhaps that's also why so many people have pooped out theories about Mozart's death. It was so ugly, so intensely unbecoming of the beauty that he brought to the world that maybe people feel the need to make his ending fit their image of him.


The last excrement of Mozart's life (to paraphrase Fiona Apple), was his epic Requiem. Composed in 1791, it was unfinished when Mozart died at just 35 years old, according to Classic FM. It's said that an "unknown, gray stranger" requested the Requiem. However, as his health deteriorated, Mozart seemed to believe that he was, in a sense, the gray stranger. "I'm writing this Requiem for myself," the composer declared. On December 5, 1791, a fever-stricken Mozart lost consciousness. His final utterance was "an attempt to sing one of the drum parts from the Requiem."

Mozart's physicians blamed a "severe military fever," per the BBC. There was no autopsy. Ever since, theories — conspiracy and otherwise have swirled. In 2001 a U.S. doctor claimed Mozart's symptoms were consistent with trichinosis he may have contracted from eating undercooked pork chops. A more popular theory alleges that Mozart was poisoned by composer Antonio Salieri out of jealousy. But PBS columnist Dr. Howard Markel dismisses this theory as a misconception stemming from Peter Shaffer's 1979 play and 1984 film adaptation, Amadeus, and slanderous accusations that Salieri confessed.

Classic FM says the likely cause of death was kidney disease while others have blamed tuberculosis, syphilis, and mercury poisoning. Epidemiologists suggested a strep infection killed him. But maybe Dr. Markel had the best idea: "Does it really matter?" No matter how he died, Mozart's music was the sh*t.