The Shameful Burial of Mozart

In 1791, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died of exhaustion from overwork. He was penniless and buried at public expense. In his 1937 book, The Arts, Hendrik Willem von Loon describes this sad funeral, one that no one would wish upon a shiftless beggar let alone this brilliant composer.

“On the day he was buried it rained so hard that the few friends who wished to accompany him [Mozart] to the cemetery were forced to turn back at the city gate, for people going to the potter’s field must not expect their relatives to be provided with carriages. The city gives them a coffin free of charge. Isn’t that enough of an expense? Nobody followed Mozart to his grave except his dog, a faithful mongrel who sloshed through the mud and snow and was present when his master disappeared into the common grave of the poorest of the poor.

“When a few days later, Constance [Mozart’s widow] came to the cemetery to pray at her husband’s grave, nobody knew where he had found his final resting place. She was perhaps not everything Mozart had hoped her to be. But she was a loyal soul. She afterwards married a man by the name of Nissen. The two spent the rest of their lives gathering together all of Wolfgang’s music and preparing material for his final biography.

“Not one but a whole score of final biographies of Mozart have since then seen the light of day. Monuments have arisen in all sorts of unexpected places. Vienna and Salzburg in the day of their need have cashed in most liberally on the reputation of their famous fellow townsman. But somewhere in the museum that has been erected in the apartment in which he was born there is a very indifferent little picture drawn by a very indifferent artist, but drawn in a spirit of humble reverence and devotion. It shows the little mongrel dog, sloshing through the mud to see that his master should not be entirely alone on his last journey on earth.

“On the twenty-seventh of January of the year 1906 the city of Vienna celebrated Mozart’s birthday with befitting ceremonies. In the afternoon there were music and oratory. In the evening the whole town was illuminated. The board of alderman gladly appropriated ten thousand crowns for this noble purpose, and for ten thousand crowns one could do a lot of illuminating in the Austria of the good old imperial days. Half that sum would have sufficed to keep Mozart alive for at least another ten years. The other five thousand might have been used to provide an extra ration of leberwurst for the descendants of the poor bedraggled pup, who was the only gentleman on the day when Mozart was buried like a dog.”

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