Mozart's Grave and remains

by Lowell Greer
6 January 2004

Mozart was buried in a common grave with others, as was the practise in Vienna in those days, usually in groups of ten or twelve. In this practise, after a suitable length of time for the worms to do their work, the bones were always dug up and removed to a different location, similiar to the catacombs of Rome. The burial plots were then clear to be reused. This was the practise at that time, and not a reflection of Mozart's standing, or lack of same at the time.

Another bizarre practise of the era, albeit rather restricted to a small group of scientists, was the study of cranium size as related to men of genius (apparently, there were no genia back then!?). These morbid scientists were drawn to the career of grave diggers, since this would give them access to the skulls of the deceased, allowing retrieval of the same and subsequent study. One of these scientists was the digger at Mozarts funeral, and he followed his usual practise by retrieving Mozart's skull after several months, cleaning it, measuring it, and putting it into storage. He had used his own location system, plus the identification via cloth fragments remembered from the funeral, giving him reasonable certainty that he held the real skull of WAM. He kept the skull for years, and following his death, his widow gave the skull to another digger/scientist whose family kept it well into the 20th century. At some point during the 1950s, I believe, they "gifted" the Mozarteum in Salzburg with the supposed skull of W A Mozart.(*)

Now there are only a few things wrong with ceremoniously announcing possesion of and the proud displaying of the skull: 1) there is less than perfect provenance authenticating that it was, indeed, the real skull of Mozart, having been passed down from possesor to possesor, 2) there was no written documentation or other evidence that would support the claim that it was Mozart, 3) at best, the odds of it being Mozart were only one-in-ten, and 4) polite manners, decorum, and good taste would preclude exhibiting the skull or even discussing it openly.

With modern forensic science, it was possible to establish much more reliable evidence, just as has been done in criminal investigations. It was ascertained that the skull belonged to a male aged about 32-38, the two front teeth were missing, the teeth present were marked from the use of toothpicks, and there was bloodstaining inside the skull, suggesting that the deceased died from a cerebral hemmorhage. In the best scientific manner, the pathologists replicated the skull, building up layers of presumed plastic skin tissues from clay, in order to see what the facial features might haver been like. The nose, being formed up from cartilage, is the hardest to estimate, and hair color and lebgth would be anyone's guess, but the results looked something quite like Mozart. Using the known portraits of Mozart, and projecting the skull image onto these detailed paintings, they would be able to say, with certainty, that the skull was not Mozart if there would be even a slight descrepancy. This same system is now being used with stupendous success for feature identification at airports, in order to identify terrorists in disguise.

However, on the Mozart project, each and every match was perfect. The skull matched every known portrait of Mozart. No matter which perspective the artist had taken, once the skull was moved to the proper angle, there was a perfect match each time. Mozart died at 36. Mozart was known to like the use of toothpicks after a meal, and the symptoms of a cerebral hemmorhage are much like those of the poisoning some suspected. It was recorded that Mozart slipped on ice and fell a short time before his illness appeared, loosing his teeth.

The scientists concluded with certainty that Mozart's skull, indeed, resides in the Mozarteum vaults.

Just thought you'd like to know.


(*) The actual date should be 1901 according to Pierre-François Puech, who has provided interesting material on this subject (received June 22, 2017).