After more than 200 years, the music of the great genius Mozart has remained unsurpassed and the interest in various aspects of his life continues unabated. Most medical authorities now believe that he died from Henoch-Schönlein nephritis with severe edema, hypertension, and neurological complications in the form of a stroke.1 There is perhaps less agreement on whether his music, delightful as it is, can exert a special effect on the brains of its listeners, a so-called “Mozart effect,” surpassing that of Joseph Haydn or Beethoven.2 Of perhaps even greater interest has been Mozart’s handling of his finances. He died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave, yet during his life he earned a considerable amount of money.3
To put matters in the right perspective, it has been pointed out that in Mozart’s time a senior surgeon at Vienna’s main hospital, the Algemeines Krankenhaus, would have received a yearly salary of 1,200 guilders. A musician as accomplished as Joseph Hayden, permanently employed by Prince Eszterhazy, was paid 200 guilders per year, and Mozart’s maid-servant received twelve guilders per year.3 By contrast, Mozart would have received an honorarium of 200 to 500 guilders for a concert at one of the palaces of the aristocracy in Vienna. Between 1783 and 1786, he must have made at least 10,000 guilders a year from his solo performances. In 1787, he received 1,000 guilders for a concert in Prague, 450 guilders for the performance of Don Giovanni in Prague, and 225 guilders for its premiere in Vienna. He must have also earned at least 2,000 guilders from teaching. Even in 1791, the year he died, his income was 1,900 guilders apart from his honorarium for The Magic Flute. Yet he had to move house to a cheaper suburb because his debts were mountainous.3
It appears from all this that Mozart was hampered by a lack of business sense and poor money management skills. He frequently overspent and accrued debts that he could not repay, borrowing money from friends and acquaintances, including from Joseph Haydn. He led an extravagant lifestyle, enjoying fine clothing, dining, and socializing. He liked to gamble and played billiards and cards for high stakes through the night. It has been said that money went through his hands like water.
- HC Robbins Landon. 1791: Mozart’s Last Year. New York: Shirmer Books.
- Vincent de Luise. Euterpe Deconstructed: Reflections on the health, illness, and legacy of Wolfgang Mozart. Hektoen International Fall 2015.
- VC Mevdei. Materia Non Medica. BMJ Sept 17, 1977: 762.