Is it possible and does it make sense to deal with the last four years of Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s creative life without being fixated on the catastrophe of the composer’s premature end? His death forever changed the course of musical classicism at the turn of the eighteenth century because, to give just one example, it robbed Beethoven of the chance to compose near the idolized role model that originally brought him to Vienna. Indeed, the musical world has never come to terms with the untimely death of one of its greatest heroes. People were shocked when the news broke at the end of 1791, and many were unable to accept that he died from an ordinary illness. Hence, not surprisingly, rumors of unnatural causes sprang up almost immediately, and gossip about foul play and murder spread quickly. Notably, persistent tales about Mozart having been poisoned by Antonio Salieri, the supposedly malicious rival, or Franz Hofdemel, a friend, or Franz Xavier Süssmayr, his pupil and assistant—over two different but equally preposterous love affairs—were endlessly spun out and adventurously embellished. Other stories also arose, such as the killing of Mozart by disgruntled Freemasons.

—Christoph Wolff, Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791

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The featured image is “Mozart’s Last Days” (1873), by Hermann Kaulbach, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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