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G01 Mozart’s Maladies
  1. Mary Wheater
  1. Retired


Descriptions of some of Mozart’s childhood illnesses are available from family letters, many written during his European tours. It appears he had smallpox, possible typhoid fever, a rash which may have been erythema nodosum or perhaps Henoch Schoenlein purpura, and numerous upper respiratory infections. His short stature was the subject of comment.

At thirty-five, he was a prolific composer in straitened circumstances who died after a fortnight’s acute illness. Details come from a variety of sources, many written long after the event. He had a background of one or two years of intermittent headache and possible depression, and three months of pallor, loin pain, lapses of consciousness and paranoid thoughts, during which time he nevertheless continued to compose, writing the requiem, among other works. Swollen hands and feet characterised the onset of his final illness; fever, weakness, generalised oedema, vomiting and diarrhoea followed. He retained clear consciousness and the ability to sing until shortly before death.

There was no post-mortem, but a skull, alleged to be Mozart’s, has pathological features.

A considerable literature is devoted to speculation on the cause of Mozart’s early death. The differential includes infective, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, malignant, iatrogenic and homicidal causes. I shall discuss these, and the possible links between his paediatric history and his final illness.

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