Friday 5 December 2014

The Funeral of Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart; Salzburg, Austria, 27th January 1756, Salzburg - Vienna, Austria, 5th December 1791)

Last year, I marked the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by publishing the tale of his final hours, the facts of which are so often confused with the fiction depicted in the excellent play and film, Amadeus. In that same post I addressed the circumstances of his funeral, so often and erroneously reported as a pauper's funeral. Today I thought I would revisit the sad day on which the composer went to the grave, an event which is frequently misunderstood.

Detail of the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780
Detail of the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780
It is often said of Mozart that he was buried in a pauper's grave, slung into an unmarked pit and stripped of his dignity and identity. In fact, this was not the case at all; Mozart's funeral was not unlike hundreds of other burials that took part that same year for people who, though not paupers, simply couldn't afford the astronomical cost of a private funeral. Though his grave was a common plot, it was not a pauper's pit; rather, a common grave was an individual plot that the city might reuse after a decade and there was nothing unusual or shameful about being buried in one. Indeed, only the most noble were allowed the honour of claiming a grave that wouldn't be reused when space got tight!

The composer went to his grave as one of half a dozen occupants of the plot in question, each person often memorialised by a simple wooden marker. Around the turn of the century, as was the custom, Mozart's remains were disinterred so that the plot might be reused and it is at this point that the location of his final resting place was lost as were so many in the era. 

Mozart was certainly memorialised at services in Vienna and Prague and his widow, Constanze, received many donations towards the cost of her husband's funeral, as well as the upkeep of her family. I for one am certainly pleased that the composer didn't go to a pauper's grave, but this episode does offer a fascinating insight into some burial traditions that seem utterly alien to us today!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying this. Glad to know it. As for reusing graves, that was a common enough occurence even in England. Because everyone was buried in a church yard, these became full after a century ir so. The graves were usually emptied and the bones put in a charnel house. Cemetaries not connected with churches were a long time comng-- except for those for paupers, strangers and the executed etc . Over crowded grave yards in the more populated areas of the country were a problem that concerned many during the Regency period.

Sarah said...

There's a charnel house at Bury St Edmunds which is one of those remaining. Thank you for clarifying the manner of Mozart's burial!

Catherine Curzon said...

It's such an interesting topic, thank you.

Catherine Curzon said...

A pleasure!

Helena P. Schrader said...

In Germany and Austria today you have to pay an annual fee for a grave. If you stop paying, the grave is reused. It's as simple as that.

Catherine Curzon said...

That makes sense to me!