You’ve heard the story time and time again, saw it portrayed in the movie Amadeus: Mozart, arguably the world’s greatest composer, was buried in a pauper’s grave.
Except that he wasn’t. Mozart’s pauper’s grave burial is a myth.
Here’s the real story:
Vienna Mythbusters and scholars will be quick to tell you Mozart indeed had money troubles when he died in 1791 at only 35. But his style of burial wasn’t determined by his lack of wealth – which seems to have been due only to a short-term credit crunch rather than real poverty.
We can blame this erroneous Vienna urban legend on Emperor Joseph II. After all, it’s his fault we don’t know exactly where the great Maestro was buried. Inspired by the New Enlightenment, Joseph wanted to be rid of traditions he associated with the backwardness of the Catholic Church, so he targeted funeral rites.
One of the Emperor’s rules was that members of Vienna’s society (except those with a high social status) were buried in reusable coffins. The end of these caskets had swinging doors and the body was tipped through them into graves. The graves weren’t mass graves, as is often written. Mozart had his own grave, but every 10 years, the Emperor decreed, all the graves would be plowed over so that the land could be reused for new graves.