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August 18, 2009

Dutch researchers suggest 'super-bug' as cause of Mozart's death

The old slander that Antonio Salieri, jealous of Mozart's talent, poisoned his younger rival in Vienna pretty much died away ages ago, except for the brief flurry of renewed interest in the case caused by the hit play/movie Amadeus.

Still, the cause of Mozart's death has continued to be discussed and debated over the years. Renal failure has often been mentioned. The official death registration listed "severe military fever" as the culprit, which might have been closer to the truth than we thought.

A team of Dutch researchers, as reported in Monday's Telegraph, has proposed that Mozart died from...

"a bacterial infection spread by soldiers which was rife in Vienna at the time."

Here's some more from this intriguing story:

By studying the city's death register, they found that the three most common causes of death among men of his age were tuberculosis, severe weight loss and a condition called 'oedema' or 'dropsy' – an accumulation of fluids causing the body to swell up.

Mozart's symptoms match the last of the three, according to Dr Richard Zeger, from the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, who said it could have been caused by a bacterial infection. He said: 'I think you can compare this to a superbug like MRSA or C.difficile.'

Eyewitnesses who saw Mozart days before he died, including his sister-in-law Sophie Haibel, said he was covered in a rash – consistent with a bacterial infection – and severely swollen – consistent with oedema or dropsy.

The outbreak probably started in a military hospital with poor hygiene, before spreading to the wider community, according to their research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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