Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Mozart and Salieri: from Pushkin to Shaffer

James L. Franklin1
Chicago, Illinois, United States

La Calunnia

La calunnia è un venticello,
Un’auretta assai gentile
Che insensibile, sottile,
Leggermente, dolcemente,
Incomincia a sussurar
Piano, piano, terra, terra
Sottovoce, sibilando,
Va scorrendo, va ronzando
S’introduce destramente
E le teste ed I Cervelli . . .


Calumny is a little breeze
A gentile zephyr
Which insensibly, subtly,
Lightly and sweetly,
Commences to whisper,
Softly, softly here and there.
Sottovoce, sibilant
It goes gliding, it goes rambling
In the ears of people.
It penetrates slyly . . .

Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) Libretto by Cesare Sterbini after Beaumarchais, From Act One: Don Basilio


Calumny is defined by most dictionaries as a false accusation maliciously made to injure or destroy a person’s reputation. The identity of who began to circulate rumors that the composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) poisoned Mozart is unknown. The author of the play Amadeus, Peter Schaffer, created two dramatis personae, “venticelli”— little winds, the purveyors of information, gossip, and rumor—to give voice to these unknown villains. What follows is a review of what is known about the cause of Mozart’s death, the rumors that he may have been poisoned, and that Salieri may have been responsible. We will then examine how in 1830 the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and a century and a half later in 1980 the English playwright Peter Shaffer both transformed what certainly was a calumny into a work of art.

Portrait of Mozart
Mozart am Klavier. By Joseph Lange. 1789. Mozart-Museum, Mozarts Geburtshaus. Via Wikimedia


La Morte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died of natural causes. “Mozart was not poisoned, and the ridiculous assertions about his poisoning should be laid to rest once and for all.” So concluded Peter J. Davies, FRACP, MRCP (UK), from Melbourne, Australia in two seminal articles on Mozart’s illnesses and death published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and The Musical Times (London) in 1983 and 1984.2 Mozart’s final illness began on November 20, 1791, when he developed fever, painful swelling of the hands and feet, vomiting and diarrhea that progressed to massive edema, partial paralysis, coma, and death. Excellent accounts of what is known about Mozart’s health and illnesses including those of his final year can be found in numerous sources.3 Peter J. Davies’s conclusion is that “Mozart died from the following: streptococcal infection—Schönlein-Henoch Syndrome—renal failure—venesection(s)—cerebral hemorrhage—terminal bronchopneumonia.” These conclusions are largely consistent with those of other medical historians who have reviewed Mozart’s medical history. A thorough discussion of the possible and posited causes of Mozart’s final illness can be found in the chapter “Surely the Greatest Tragedy in the History of Music” in Phillip A. MacKowiak’s Post Mortem: Solving History’s Great Medical Mysteries.4 The challenge facing medical biographers include: no medical records survived, there was no autopsy, and no verifiable remains have been unearthed. In assembling a picture of Mozart’s medical history and final illness we are dependent on family correspondence and the recollections of key witnesses, often not recorded until decades after the composer’s death.

Since the publications by Peter J. Davies, two intriguing articles have appeared in the literature. In 2001, Jan Hirschman of the University of Washington School of Medicine built the case that Mozart’s terminal illness may have been caused by acute trichinosis associated with anasarca—massive swelling—that was fed by his predilection for meat, especially pork.5 An epidemiologic perspective on Mozart’s final illness was published by Richard H.C. Zegers of the University of Amsterdam in 2009.6 Dr. Zegers and his colleagues turned to an overlooked source in Mozart research, the daily register of deaths in Vienna. Their analysis included all recorded deaths in Vienna from the fall and winter season surrounding Mozart’s death and comparable periods in 1791 and 1792. Mozart’s official cause of death was hitziges Frieselfieber. In the eighteenth century this condition was recognized as a syndrome that included a morbilliform rash, fever, goose pimples with coughing, and known to be frequently fatal. The authors’ analysis suggested a minor epidemic in deaths involving edema around the time around the time of Mozart’s death. They trace the site of origin to the military hospital and an epidemic leading to postinfectious (Streptococcal) glomerulonephritis. This is consistent with the observations of Dr. Eduard Vincent Guldener von Lobes, who was consulted by the doctors caring for Mozart during his final illness: “In the autumn of 1791 he [Mozart] fell ill with an inflammatory fever which in that season was so prevalent that few persons entirely escaped its influence.” Dr. Guldener also claimed to have observed the composer’s body after death and “it exhibited no appearances beyond those usual in such cases.”7

Portrait of Salieri
Antonio Salieri. By Sophus Williams. Reproduction after a painting by E. Hader. From the Theatermuseum Wien. Via Europeana. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Mozart’s death shortly after midnight on December 5, 1791, less than two months short of his thirty-sixth birthday, must have come as a shock to the public in Vienna and Prague where his activities were well known. In July 1791, he had traveled to Prague to complete and perform La clemenza di Tito, an opera seria commissioned to celebrate the coronation day of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia on September 6, 1791.8 Mozart could not remain long in Prague and in mid-September he returned to Vienna where preparations for the premier of Die Zauberflöte were underway. The work premiered on September 30th at Emmanuel Schikander’s Friehaus-Theater auf der Wieden. For two weeks, Mozart attended the performance almost every night accompanied by friends and musical colleagues. In a letter to his wife on October 14, 1791, he informed her that he invited Antonio Salieri and his mistress Madame Cavalieri to a performance where they sat in his box during the performance. Mozart described Salieri’s great “attention, and from the sinfonia to the final chorus there was not a single item that did not elicit a ‘bravo’ or ‘bello’ from him.” Finally, on November 15, 1790, he was able to complete and perform a celebratory cantata for the Freemasons, commissioned to celebrate the opening of their new quarters (Eine Kleine Freymauer-Kantate, K. 623).

Given his demanding and prominently public presence, his death must have come as both a surprise and shock to the musical public. On New Year’s Eve 1791, the Musikalische Wochenblatt (Berlin) carried this announcement from their Prague correspondent:

“Mozart is—dead. He was sickly when he returned home from Prague, and remained ailing since then; he was thought to be retaining water, and he died in Vienna at the end of the last week. Because his body swelled up after death, it is believed that he was poisoned.”

The appearance of this notice makes it clear that shortly after Mozart’s death, rumors that he had been poisoned must have been circulating widely. From the recollections of Mozart’s wife, Constanze, we know that Mozart himself believed he was being poisoned. An early biography of the composer published in 1798 by Franz Niemetschek recorded that when Mozart returned from Prague, he immediately started to work on the mysterious anonymous commission to compose a Requiem Mass. In the account Mozart’s widow gave to Niemetschek, he was becoming ill and depressed so to cheer him up, she took him on a drive in the Prater. On that occasion “Mozart began to speak of death, and declared he was writing the Requiem for himself. Tears came to the eyes of this sensitive man. I definitely,” he continued, “will not last much longer; I am sure I have been poisoned. I cannot rid myself of this idea.”9

This conversation became the foundation of the poisoning legend. It is likely she shared this incident with members of her family and friends during her husband’s terminal illness and death. Later, she repeated the story to her second husband, Georg Nikolas von Nissen, who used it in his biography of Mozart published in 1828. Almost four decades after his death, in 1829, Vincent Novello, an English Music publisher, journeyed with his wife Mary to Salzburg and interviewed Mozart’s widow. In the account they jointly published on their visit, Constanze told them that six months before his death, Mozart became possessed with the idea that someone had given him poison, Acqua toffana,10 and believed those involved had calculated the precise time of his death for which they have ordered a Requiem.11 Constanze believed that Mozart’s fear of poisoning was “an absurd idea” and had tried to dissuade him of the idea.

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin
Portrait of Alexander Pushkin. Orest Kiprensky. 1827. Tretyakov Gallery. Via Wikimedia.

A memorandum from Mozart’s son, Carl Thomas, alludes to the swollen state of Mozart’s body as an indication that he might have been poisoned. Carl Thomas was seven years old at the time of his father’s death. The content of the document can be found in Mozart scholar H. C. Robbins Landon’s Mozart’s Last Year, 1791, including Carl Thomas’s reference to the case of Pope Ganganelli (Pope Clement XIV) who was thought to have died from an herbal poison. Landon is quick to dismiss the “supposition in Mozart’s case as medical nonsense.”12


La Calunnia

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was already the Court Kapellmeister when Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781 and during this decade his music featured prominently in the operatic life of the city.13 The composer was very much favored by Emperor Joseph II and hence aristocratic circles in the city. There are many contemporary sources that attest to the fact that Salieri was jealous of Mozart and from Mozart’s correspondence with his father and members of his family, we know that the “Italians” were a thorn in his side. It is difficult to know when rumors of foul play first began to point to Salieri. As early as 1803, the composer Carl Maria von Weber, while in Vienna visited Salieri. Weber had family ties to Constanze (nee Weber) Mozart and learned of the rumors that Salieri had poisoned Mozart. Carl Maria von Weber apparently believed these rumors as he deliberately avoided visiting Salieri on subsequent visits. In 1822, Gioacchino Rossini visited Salieri and reported that he was able to jokingly discuss the rumors.14

In the autumn of 1823, Salieri was admitted to the Vienna General Hospital in a deteriorating state of mental and physical health. It was rumored that in his delirious state he was accusing himself of having killed Mozart. However, when Ignaz Moscheles, a pupil of both Salieri and Beethoven, visited Salieri in the hospital and described his visit:

“The reunion . . . was a sad one, even the sight of him shocked me and he spoke to me in broken sentences of his approaching death: finally, he used these words: ‘Although this is my last illness, I can in all good faith swear there is not truth to the absurd rumors: you know—I’m supposed to have poisoned Mozart. But no, it’s spite, nothing but spite, tell that to the world, my dear Moscheles, old Salieri, who is going to die soon, told you that.’ . . . As to the rumor the dying man referred to, it had indeed circulated without ever influencing me. His intrigues certainly harmed him [Mozart} morally, and ruined many an hour for him.”15

Soon after this visit in November 1823, rumors circulated that Salieri tried to commit suicide by slitting his throat and allegedly confessing to poisoning Mozart. Salieri’s biographer, Volkmar Braunbeherens, contends that there is no truth to Salieri having attempted to commit suicide.

The “conversation books” of the then deaf composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) offer a glimpse of the rumors that were circulating at the time in Vienna. In 1824 notations appear by both Beethoven’s nephew Karl and Anton Schindler, the composer’s future biographer, and factotum mentioning reports of Salieri’s confession. In May 1825, the month of Salieri’s death, Karl again calls Beethoven’s attention to these rumors. Since Beethoven responded orally to these notations, we cannot know how he replied. It is generally believed that Beethoven did not believe Salieri guilty, though this is based on the fact that Beethoven had earlier studied with Salieri. Beethoven also dedicated to Salieri his Violin sonatas Op. 12 as well as a set of ten piano variations on a duet from Salieri’s opera Falstaff.

In response to rumors that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, Giuseppe Carpini, Haydn’s Italian biographer, published in September 1824 a long letter in Salieri’s defense in an Italian journal. He believed that there was no evidence of poisoning and that Mozart had died of infectious rheumatic fever as had others at that time. He had also secured a letter from Dr. Eduard Vincent von Lobes, who had examined Mozart’s body and found nothing awry. Caprini included the testimony of two nurses and physicians who cared for Salieri continuously from the winter of 1823, stating that they never heard him confess to poisoning Mozart.16

The poisoning rumor did not stop with Salieri. One theory suggested that Mozart was treating himself for syphilis and had inadvertently poisoned himself with mercury. Another theory was that the Freemasons, whose organization Mozart joined in 1784, had perpetrated his murder in retaliation for secrets he had disclosed in The Magic Flute and that they were behind the mysterious commission of the Requiem Mass. These conspiracy theories did not die with the eighteenth century. Erich Ludendorff, a World War I general, and his wife Mathilde, a neuropsychiatrist, implicated the Masons, Catholics, and the Jews in their writings.


Mótsart i Sal’yéri (Mozart and Salieri): Enter Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837)

Edmund Wilson in his essay “Pushkin,” observes that “Russians are in a habit of comparing Pushkin to Mozart.” Pushkin, like Mozart, “has a wide range of moods and emotions, yet he handles them all with precision; and—what is hard to make Westerners believe—he achieved in the poetry of his time a similar preeminence to Mozart’s in music.” Perhaps if we as English speakers cannot fully appreciate the beauty of his language, we can recognize that like Mozart, Pushkin was the master of many genres: verse folk tales (Ruslan and Ludmila), prose (The Queen of Spades), verse novels (Eugene Onegin), narrative poems (The Bonze Horseman), plays (Boris Godunov) and above all, his poetry.

It had to have been more than a “gentle zephyr” that carried the rumor that Salieri had poisoned Mozart over the 2,000 km from Vienna to Moscow, such that in 1830 Pushkin came to pen his playlet Mozart and Salieri. What he believed about the rumor might be found in a notebook used for his own purposes and dating from 1826:

“At the first performance of Don Juan [Don Giovanni], at the moment the whole theater full of amazed connoisseurs was wordlessly intoxicating itself with Mozart’s harmony, a whistle sounded out. All turned with indignation. And the renowned Salieri walked out of the hall in a fury, devoured by envy . . . An envier who was capable of having hissed Don Juan could have also poisoned its creator.”

The validity of this anecdote is highly suspect since Don Giovanni premiered in Prague in January and February of 1787 at a time when Salieri was in Paris involved in the production of his French opera Tarare. Even if Pushkin believed the rumor, as we shall see he had other artistic purposes in mind when he wrote his drama. It is necessary for a moment to step back and look at the context in which it was written.

On Easter Sunday, April 6, 1830, Pushkin’s proposal to the Moscow beauty Natalia Goncharova was accepted with an obligation stipulated by his future mother-in-law that he provide a dowry. His father, encouraged by his son’s desire to finally “settle down,” was moved to present his son as a wedding present the titles to two villages in Boldino in the province of Nizhny Novgorod (Gorky). Pushkin made the arduous journey to Boldino where at the time, an outbreak of cholera was raging. He found himself confined to this backwater for a period of three months. Whatever anxiety he experienced with regard to his fiancé and marriage, the solitude afforded the tranquility he needed and resulted in a burst of creativity. Among the works he brought forth included the final chapters of Eugene Onegin, The Tales of Belkin, and his dramatic sketches known as Little Tragedies along with a wealth of poetry.

Pushkin had strong opinions and national aspirations that Russia achieve recognition in the sphere of drama. As a teenager he had attempted a verse comedy in the manner of Moliére and Voltaire. He had plans and dramatic fragments for the theater that far outnumbered his completed works. The masterpieces to emerge included Boris Godunov (1825-1830) and four Little Tragedies (1830). Pushkin’s thoughts on these dramatic miniatures dated from 1826 when he compiled a list of ten subjects, which included the three that were actually completed. The playlets were The Miserly Knight, Mozart and Salieri, and The Stone Guest or Don Juan. The fourth miniature also composed at Boldino was Feast in Time of Plague. The latter is an adaptation from an earlier play The City of the Plague (1816) by the Scottish critic and author John Wilson. The setting for Wilson’s play was London during the summer of 1665. The material Pushkin chose to adapt resonated with his confinement to the countryside by an outbreak of cholera.17

The manuscript copies of the plays indicate they were completed between October 26 and November 8, 1830, and testifies to their speed in composition. The themes explored in these plays may relate to epochs in European history and to circumstances in the poet’s life. The Miserly Knight, a medieval tale, highlights Pushkin’s dependence on his money-conscious father and personal freedom. The Stone Guest reflects the Romantic era, as Pushkin “himself had a reputation in his youth as a ladies’ man” keeping what he called a “Don Juan list” of his female conquests. A Feast During the Plague, reflecting the European Renaissance, resonated with the cholera epidemic he was experiencing and evoked memories of an outbreak of the plague he had observed in Erzum, the capital of Armenia. In Mozart and Salieri, seen as a product of the Enlightenment, we are dealing with envy. It was the type of envy Pushkin had experienced his share of in quarrels with “untalented but officially favored ‘patriotic’ writers.” It had “showed him the depth of malice that could be reached by professional envy.”18

Mozart and Salieri is a pocket drama in two scenes with only two characters. A blind fiddler makes a brief appearance to play part of an aria from Don Giovanni. Scene One takes place in a room (without set descriptions) and Scene Two takes place in a private room in a tavern with a piano and a table where Mozart and Salieri are sitting. The piece, while just over 230 lines in length, is rich in commentary on the meaning of art and artistic genius.

Salieri’s opening monologue begins:

They say there’s no justice here on earth.
But there’s no justice higher up, either. To me
That’s as clear as do-re-mi.19

Salieri recalls his love of music and his lifelong struggle and sacrifices to master the art and science of music; how he learned from the music of Gluck (Christoph Willibald Gluck, 1714-1787) and from Piccinni (Niccolò Piccinni, 1728-1800) without experiencing the torment of envy.

But now—I say it myself
I am an envier. I feel envy; deep
Tormenting envy. Oh Heaven!
Where is rightness, when the sacred gift,
immortal genius, comes not as reward
For ardent love and self-renunciation
Labor, zeal, diligence, and prayers—
But bestows its radiant halo on a madman
Who idly strolls through life? Oh Mozart, Mozart!

At that moment, Mozart enters, wishing to give him a surprise amusement. He had been coming over to show Salieri something he had composed and passing a tavern heard a blind fiddler—“You’ve never heard anything funnier in all your life”—sawing away at Voi che sapete [from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro]. He instructs the fiddler to play and Salieri is outraged that Mozart can laugh. Mozart is equally incredulous that Salieri cannot laugh. When Mozart plays the composition he brought for Salieri’s approval, asking him to imagine a young man in love and in good spirits, when he is overtaken with a ghostly vision, a sudden gloom. Salieri asks Mozart how, when coming to him with music like that, he can stop and listen to a blind fiddler. “Mozart you’re not worthy of yourself . . . You Mozart are a god, and you yourself do not know it.” Mozart responds that his divinity craves food and they agree to have dinner together. After Mozart leaves, Salieri conceives the idea that it is his destiny to poison Mozart and in doing so, save music from the height that Mozart’s art will rise to, and then fall leaving no heir to follow.

Scene Two begins with Salieri asking Mozart why he is in a gloomy mood. Mozart tells him his Requiem is bothering him. He relates the story of the mysterious stranger dressed in black who has commissioned a requiem and is following him everywhere. Salieri tries to distract him by suggesting advice he himself received from Beaumarchais:

“When black thought come to trouble you,
Pop the cork on a bottle of champagne,
Or reread The Marriage of Figaro.”

When Mozart counters by asking Salieri if it is true that Beaumarchais poisoned someone, Salieri dismisses this notion and Mozart observes that Beaumarchais is a genius “like you and me” and “genius and evil are two things that don’t combine.” To this they both drink a toast (Salieri has poured poison into Mozart’s glass). Mozart toasts their health and the “faithful” union that binds them together. Mozart goes to the piano and plays a bit of his Requiem, bringing Salieri to tears. Mozart responds by wishing that everyone could feel the power of harmony. Mozart takes his leave, telling Salieri he feels unwell and something is weighing him down: “I want to sleep. Farewell!”

In her essay on the play, “Betrayal of a Calling,” Nancy Anderson points out that Pushkin uses a Russian form of “Farewell” in keeping with “Mozart’s recognition of his own impending fate . . . it is used only when one expects a prolonged separation, perhaps a permanent one.” She points out also that it has a secondary meaning of “forgive me,” thereby having the victim ask forgiveness from his own murderer. Salieri offers a conventional goodbye—“Until we meet again.”20

Salieri, left alone, muses that Mozart will sleep a long time. If Mozart is really right that genius and evil cannot combine, then he is not a genius. Trying to comfort himself, he refers to Michelangelo—a fable of the stupid, senseless crowd—“was not a murderer who designed the Vatican?” (He is recalling a legend that Michelangelo had killed a man in order to observe the proper expression for a painting of the dying Christ.)


A word from the critics

We have noted that Pushkin sought to dramatize in Mozart and Salieri the theme of envy. Pushkin’s contemporary, the critic Vissarion Belinsky (1811-1848), perceived the fundamental problem of the drama as “the mutual relationship of talent and genius,” the product of a love-hate dichotomy. “Salieri is so intelligent; he loves and understands music to such a degree that he immediately comprehends that Mozart is a genius and that he, Salieri is nothing.” Mozart’s ill-fated aphorism: “genius is incompatible with villainy.” Since Salieri “knew himself capable of evil,” therefore he, Salieri, is no genius. During the nineteenth century and before the Russian Revolution, criticism began to emphasize a psychological interpretation of Salieri’s motivations. He was seen as the mediocre artist, the self-proclaimed “Angel of Destruction.” He imagines himself as one chosen to stop Mozart and preserve the high priests of music. Criticism dating from after the Revolutionary period (1917) sought to humanize Salieri and his altruistic concern for his fellow man. Genius is equated with abnormality and abnormality threatens normalcy.

Nadezhda Mandelstam21 in her essay “Mozart and Salieri,” asks, with whom did Pushkin identify? Mozart or Salieri? She notes that her friend, the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), passionately believed that Pushkin was comparing himself with Mickiewicz, the great Polish poet whose spontaneity, responsiveness, and capacity to seize a cue and transform it into art on the spot (improvisation) he greatly admired. An artist such as Mickiewicz could turn the fastidious craftsman Pushkin into a Salieri (Adam Bernard Mickiewicz, 1798-1855).


From Mozart and Salieri to Amadeus: Enter Peter Shaffer

Mozart and Salieri by Alexander Pushkin (1830) and Amadeus by Peter Shaffer (1980), transform the rumor that Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart into works of art.22 Shaffer has stated that he was unaware of Pushkin’s drama when he wrote Amadeus. It is surprising in how many ways they deal with similar themes: envy, art, genius, and man’s relationship to God. Schaffer takes the drama one step further and explores fame and immortality. Pushkin gives us the essence; Shaffer has the benefit of hindsight and is viewing events through a prism of 150 years. Schaffer locates Mozart with members of his family and important contemporaries such as his wife, Constanze Weber; Emperor Joseph II; Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg, the director of the Imperial Opera; and Baron Gottfried Van Swieten, the prefect of the Imperial Library. He places the drama in its historical setting, late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Vienna (the Palace of Schönbrunn and the Walstädten Library).

Both Pushkin and Shaffer portray Salieri’s anger toward God for rejecting the works of his labor and bestowing his blessing on someone he views as an idler. Kerry Sabbag23 has provided an in-depth comparison of the two works and sees in Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri a retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel: God’s rejection of the offerings of Cain the hunter in favor of those of his brother Abel, the farmer and man of peace. Shaffer’s Salieri looks into the future and tells us: “For the rest of time whenever men say Mozart with love, they will say Salieri with loathing! . . . I am going to be immortal after all!” In the final lines of the play, Salieri cries: “Mediocrities everywhere—now and to come—I absolve you all. Amen.”

Amadeus premiered at the National Theater of Great Britain in November 1979 with unprecedented success. In the preface to the 1980 Harper edition of the play, Shaffer indicates that he revised the play for American productions that followed by emphasizing the role that Salieri played in Mozart’s ruin. Theatrical productions were followed by a very successful film adaptation of the same name in September 1984, directed by Miloš Forman with the screenplay by Peter Shaffer. Amadeus the play and the film are a gift to the world of classical music. They introduced Mozart, his music and biography, to an audience far beyond that of regular concert-goers. In both the play and the film, there are wonderful passages that can serve as mini music appreciation lessons on Mozart’s art. One might read, for example, Salieri’s voice-over when he describes what he is hearing while listening to the Adagio from Mozart’s Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments (K. 361). In another scene, Mozart explains to Salieri and Baron Van Swieten the structure and meaning of the magnificent finale that ends the second act of his opera, The Marriage of Figaro. Thirty minutes of continuous music, a duet (the count and the countess) becomes a trio (Susana), followed by a vocal quartet that becomes a quintet and then a sextet as all the characters in the opera assemble to explain their predicament. Mozart tells them he believes that this is the way God hears the world, “Millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in his ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us!”24 Through the art of cinematography, there is the added bonus of wonderful samples of Mozart’s music. Who can forget the stormy funereal scene at beginning of the film so dramatically underscored by throbbing music from Mozart’s G minor Symphony (The Little G Minor Symphony K. 183)?



  1. The Author wishes to express his appreciation to Julia Kriventsova Denne who studied literature at St. Petersburg University and teaches Russian and Soviet Literature in the Chicago Area for her assistance in suggesting reading material on Alexander Pushkin.
  2. Peter J. Davies, Mozart’s illnesses and death, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 76, 776-785, September 1983 and Peter J. Davies, Mozart’s Illness and Death Parts I and II, Musical Times London England, CXXV, 437-441 and 554-561, 1984.
  3. Those consulted in this paper include: Anton Neumayr, Music & Medicine: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, Volume I, Medi-Ed Press, Bloomington Illinois, 1994, H.C. Robbins Landon, Mozart’s Last Year: 1791, Schirmer Books, Ny, 1988, Volkmar Braunbehrens, Mozart in Vienna: 1781-1791, Harper Perennial, 1991.
  4. Phillip A. Mackowiak, Post Mortem: Solving History’s Great Medical Mysteries, American College of Physicians, 2007.
  5. Jan V. Hirschmann, What Killed Mozart?, Archives of Internal Medicine, 161, (June 11) 1381-1389, 2001
  6. Richard H.C. Zegers et. Al., The Death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: An Epidemiologic Perspective, Annals of Internal Medicine, 151 4), 274-278, August 11, 2009.
  7. Ibid. H.C. Robbins Last Year, 1991, p. 175.
  8. John A. Rice, W.A. Mozart: La clemenza di Tito, p.4.
  9. William Stafford, The Mozart Myths: A Critical Reassessment, Stanford University Press, 1991, p.31.
  10. Formulated by a Neopolitan woman, Tofana, “was a colorless and tasteless liquid containing arsenic sold as a cosmetic to Italian Women in the 17th century, with the claim that is was a miraculous substance oozing from the tomb of St. Nicholas di Bazzi. . . . used as a poison, especially by young women who wanted to hasten the arrival of widowhood.” Idem, Jan V. Hirschman, p. 1382.
  11. This account appears in many discussions of the question; Was Mozart poisoned? The original source is: Novello V, Novello M. A Mozart Pilgrimage: Being the Travel Diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello in the Year 1829, Maignano N and Hughes R, eds. London, England, Novello & Co. 1955.
  12. H.C. Robbins Landon, Mozart’s Last Year: 1791, Schirmer Books, 1988, p. 159.
  13. Biographical details on the life of Antonio Salieri can be found in: Maligned Master: The Real Story of Antonio Salieri, Volmar Brannbehrens (translated from German by Eveline L. Kanes) Fromm International Publishing Corporation, NY, 1992.
  14. Ibid. Volmar Brannbehrens, p. 5.
  15. Ibid. Volmar Brannbehrens, p.3.
  16. A detailed exploration of the possibility that Salieri poisoned Mozart can be found in: Salieri and the “Murder” of Mozart, Alfred I. Borowitz, The Musical Quarterly, 59(2) 263-284, April 1973.
  17. For a comprehensive discussion of Pushkin’s Theatrical Works see: Caryl Emerson, Pushkin’s drama, Chapter Four, The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin, pp.57-74, Edited by Andrew Kahn, Cambridge University, 2006.
  18. Pushkin, The Little Tragedies: Translated with Critical Essays, Nancy K. Anderson, Yale University Press, 2000. See Introduction.
  19. Quotations are from the translation by Nancy K. Anderson, Pushkin: The Little Tragedies.
  20. Idem Pushkin, The Little Tragedies: Translated with Critical Essays, Nancy K. Anderson, p. 154.
  21. Nadezhda Mandelstam (1899–1980), Jewish Russian writer and educator, wife of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam.
  22. In 1897, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff composed a one act opera, Mozart and Salieri, in two scenes based almost verbatim on Pushkin’s verse drama. The opera premiered in Moscow in 1898 with Feodor Chaliapin performing the role of Salieri.
  23. Kerry Sabbag, Cain and Herostratus: Pushkin’s and Schaffer’s Reappropriation of the Mozart Myth, Pushkin Review, 6-7:25 -37, 2003-2004.
  24. Peter Shaffer, Amadeus, Harper Colophon Books, 1980, p. 57,




JAMES L. FRANKLIN, MD is a gastroenterologist and associate professor emeritus at Rush University Medical Center. He also serves on the editorial board of Hektoen International and as the president of Hektoen’s Society of Medical History & Humanities.


Fall 2021  |  Sections  |  Music Box

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