An Unknown Grave
Although Mozart is buried somewhere in Vienna’s St. Marx cemetery, the exact location is unknown; the current monument and ‘grave’ are the results of an educated guess. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the composer’s burial, and the lack of any definite grave, has led to great confusion, including the common belief that Mozart was dumped into a mass grave for paupers. This view stems from a misinterpretation of funerary practices in eighteenth century Vienna. The grave is marked by a statue of a crying angel. No more perfect memorial for the world’s greatest composer can be imagined.
Mozart died on December 5th 1791. Records show that he was sealed in a wooden coffin and buried in a plot along with 4 – 5 other people; a wooden marker was used to identify the grave. Although this is the kind of burial modern readers may associate with poverty, it was actually the standard practice for middle income families of the time. The burial of groups of people in one grave was organised and dignified, differing greatly from the images of large open pits now synonymous with the term ‘mass grave’.
Mozart may not have died rich, indeed he may have been relatively poor, but friends and admirers came to his widow’s aid, helping her pay debts and funeral costs. Large graveside gatherings and grand funerals were discouraged in Vienna during this period, hence Mozart’s simple burial, but a church service was certainly held in his honour.
There were four classes of burials in Vienna at the time: first class, second class, third class, and pauper. The pauper’s interment was the same as third class, but required no fee. Mozart had a third-class burial. The majority of burials listed on St. Stephen’s death register in late 1791 were third-class. Mozart’s was third class, as was suggested to Constanze in order to save money.
The modest burial may also have been keeping with Emperor Joseph II’s decree of 1784, which advocated simple burials in the interest of hygiene and economy. The decree also encouraged sack burials in communal graves and forbade memorial headstones. The policy was later withdrawn because of popular opposition. Unfortunately, that was too late for Mozart. He was buried in an anonymous.
The Grave Is Moved
At this point, Mozart had a grave; however, at some stage during the next 5 – 15 years ‘his’ plot was dug up to make room for more burials. The bones were re-interred, possibly having been crushed to reduce their size; consequently, the position of Mozart’s grave was lost. Again, modern readers may associate this activity with the treatment of pauper’s graves, but it was common practice. Some historians have suggested that the story of Mozart’s ‘paupers’ burial was first encouraged, if not partly started, by the composer’s widow, Constanze, who used the tale to provoke public interest in her husband’s work, and her own performances of it.
There is, however, one final twist. In the early twentieth century the Salzburg Mozarteum was presented with a rather morbid gift: Mozart’s skull. It was alleged that a gravedigger had rescued the skull during the ‘re-organisation’ of the composer’s grave. Although scientific testing has been unable to either confirm or deny that the bone is Mozart’s, there is enough evidence on the skull to determine a cause of death (chronic haematoma), which would be consistent with Mozart’s symptoms before death. Several medical theories about the exact cause of Mozart’s demise – another great mystery surrounding him – have been developed using the skull as evidence.
Little information about the cemetery – used from 1784 until 1874. Since 1874 no one was buried at this cemetery – 140 years already (2014) Over the years, the rest of the cemetery decayed. In the 20th century it was restored, put under historic preservation status, and opened to the public in 1937.
What is Biedermeier?
The term “Biedermeier” (in use since around 1900) refers to the style of German Art of the 19th Century that flourished in painting, interior design and architecture, as Neoclassical art was giving way to Romanticism, that is, between 1815, the year of the Congress of Vienna (which redrew European borders at the end of the Napoleonic War), and 1848, the year of Continental disturbances and revolutions. Usually the name of an artistic movement reflects its essence or the intellectual program of its founders; sometimes it even criticizes past movements. The name Biedermeier, on the other hand, is the name of a fictional character (Gottlieb Biedermeier) that regularly appeared in a satirical magazine of the time (Munich Fliegende Blatter). The character of Biedermeier is a metaphor for the German middle class because the Biedermeier style was directed at this public. Like Dutch Realist Genre Painting of the 17th century, but with a Romantic touch, Biedermeier was essentially a feel-good type of early modern art, designed to reassure respectable people that life was secure and that their values were correct. It attracted both Realist and Romantic artists.
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