Composer Health Series Post #2: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

By Sara Peach

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Artist: Johann Nepomuk della Croce

How old was he when he died?


What was his final illness? The cause of Mozart’s death has been debated for centuries, though it’s clear he was not poisoned as depicted in the movie “Amadeus.” More than 150 possible diagnoses for his final illness have been offered, according to music historian Robert Greenberg, who examined the leading theories in an episode of Classical Classroom, a Houston Public Media podcast. Greenberg says that Mozart most likely died after a recurrence of rheumatic fever, which is caused by an inadequately treated infection of a certain type of streptococcus bacteria. In rheumatic fever, the body’s immune system fights its own tissues, including heart valves and joints, said Dr. Marisa D’Silva, principal flutist with the DMO and internal medicine doctor at Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center.

Greenberg isn’t alone in identifying streptococcus as a cause of Mozart’s death. A 2009 investigation by European researchers , based on Viennese death records, concluded that Mozart was infected with streptococcus bacteria during an epidemic and died of complications.

How would today’s doctors have treated him?

“For an acute streptococcal infection such as strep throat, confirmed by examination and appropriate testing, I would prescribe amoxicillin tablets for 10 days,” D’Silva said.

She said amoxicillin, an antibiotic, can shorten the length of the illness and prevent it from spreading to other people. “More importantly, it reduces the chance of developing complications such as rheumatic fever,” she added.

Yikes! At age 11, Mozart contracted smallpox, a now-eradicated disease with a mortality rate of 30 percent. In other words, classical music almost missed out on all of his mature compositions.

Which piece of his is the DMO performing?

The overture to his opera, “The Magic Flute.” Come hear this composer’s enduring work at our spring 2018 concert on May 3!

Note: this post is part #2 of a series on the health of classical composers. Don’t miss post #1, an introduction, and keep an eye out for posts #3 and #4 over the next two weeks!

Disclaimer: This is a blog post on an orchestra’s website, not a substitute for medical advice. Please see a doctor for any medical concerns you may have.

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