Friday, October 8, 2010 12:29:46 PM
(Live at Quigley Chapel on November 3, 2006
Featuring Ellen Hargis and David Schrader in collaboration with Midwest Young Artists and Mirabel)
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525
Allegro (6.80 MB)
Romanze - Andante (6.73 MB)
Menuetto e Trio - Allegretto (2.27 MB)
Rondo - Allegro (6.52 MB)
Yet according to a recent article in an academic journal, researchers have posited at least 118 causes of death for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).
A modest industry of medical speculation has grown up around the subject, evidence of what cut down great creative artist in history.
In Mozart's case published speculation began within a month of his death in 1791, and musicologists, physicians and medical scholars have regularly joined the fray ever since.
Dr. William J. Dawson, an emeritus professor at Northwestern University's medical school, a retired orthopedic surgeon who is the bibliographer for the Performing Arts Medical Association, decided to organize the theories.
He examined most of the 136 entries in the association's database dedicated to Mozart's death, a list by no means comprehensive.
With direct evidence lacking, researchers have had to rely mainly on accounts by Mozart's widow, Constanze Mozart , and her sister Sophie Haibel, given some decades later.
Evidence also comes from an undated document by Mozart's son Karl Thomas and from a description - again, decades later - by a Viennese doctor who spoke to the physicians who treated Mozart in his final days.
Scholars have also examined accounts of Mozart's ailments in letters written by family members, especially his father, Leopold, to uncover signposts regarding his final sickness.
Speculation about an abnormality in the shape of his ear has even led some to suggest that kidney failure was likely, since urinary tract deformities are sometimes related to ear abnormalities.
The indirect evidence itself rests on a quicksand of changing medical definitions, sometimes mistranslated phrases from original testimonies and leaps forward in the understanding of diseases and how the body works.
The outline of Mozart's final illness is clear. He took to his bed on November 20, 1791 , after an intense period that produced "The Magic Flute", "La Clemenza di Tito", the Clarinet Concerto, a Masonic cantata and parts of his Requiem.
His hands and feet swelled. He grew listless, suffered vomiting fits and ran a fever.
On December 4, several friends apparently went to his bedside to sing parts of the Requiem. In the evening Mozart took a turn for the worse, and his doctor, Thomas Closset, was summoned from the theater but sent word that he would come once the show was over.
When he arrived, he ordered cold compresses applied to Mozart's head, which witnesses said caused the patient to shudder. An hour past midnight on December 5, Mozart was dead, at 35.
Closset diagnosed Mozart's ailment as acute miliary fever, which is more a description than a disease, miliary being a term used to describe millet-sized pustules - effectively, a rash. It was put down as the official cause of death in the records of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
Mozart's body was buried, without marking, in a common grave, according to the typical practice of the day for the Viennese middle class, ensuring that no remains that are indisputedly his are available for testing.
Dr. Dawson is not the first to survey theories about Mozart's death.
One of the major scholars in the area is L. R. Karhausen, a physician in France who came up in 1998 with the figure 118 for the causes of death that Dr. Dawson cites in his article.
Dr. Dawson declines to give his own specific number. But he divides the causes into five groups : poisoning, infection, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and miscellaneous.
Bloodletting as a treatment may also have hastened Mozart's death.
The poisoning theory - whether by Mozart's colleague Antonio Salieri or by Mozart himself to treat syphilis (an illness long since discounted) - was knocked down fairly summarily after around of early-19th-century gossip.
Mozart himself was said to have suspected poisoning, then changed his mind in his final months.
In the infection category bacterial endocarditis, streptococcal septicemia, tuberculosis and parasitic infestation have all been proposed. Rheumatic fever has been a major candidate since a landmark study in 1966 by Carl Bär, a Swiss doctor.
Under cardiovascular disease, the causes include a stroke and congestive heart failure. The most citations found by Dr. Dawson fall under uremia, a buildup of toxins in the blood caused by kidney disease.
Another major theory, propounded in detail in the 1980s by the researcher Peter J. Davies, blames Schönlein-Henoch syndrome, a rare disorder of the blood vessels, as the underlying cause. The syndrome caused kidney failure ; a brain hemorrhage and pneumonia were the coups de grâce, Mr. Davies put forth.
Direct medical evidence? None. Autopsy? Not performed. Medical records? Nowhere to be found. Corpse? Disappeared.
Little is known for certain about Mozart's final illness. And though there are several possible diagnoses.
Mozart's late career and his death are poorly documented, creating the sort of vacuum biographers abhor. Naturally, they have tried to fill it.
As a result, all sorts of "myths" - ranging from spurious gossip to wishful thinking - have been offered up over the years as explanations for Mozart's character ; beast or angel ; genius or misfit ; existentialist skepticism and so forth.
Which of the myths best explain the facts of Mozart's life? He fails in the attempt, and frankly admits it. There are simply too many gaps in the evidence.
Thus it provides few hard answers. But in accounting for a life that's been the subject of too much conjecture, it's a refreshing change of pace.
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