One afternoon in Vienna we went out to visit the place where Mozart was buried, in the Sankt Marx cemetery outside the old city walls. Today the burial ground, no longer used since the 1880s, lies forlornly in the midst of motorway flyovers, housing estates, industrial warehouses and a mobile phone headquarters. It’s an ugly urban setting which makes the experience of visiting the quiet little cemetery all the more haunting.
Everyone who knows the film ‘Amadeus’ will remember the scene in which Mozart’s body is carted off in dreadful winter weather, to be thrown into a common grave outside the city, with no family members present. Strange as it may seem, that was not unusual at the time. The emperor had forbidden the use of new coffins because of a shortage of wood, and he had passed a law that bodies were to be buried in linen shrouds to speed decomposition. Mourners often did not follow the cortege beyond the city walls.
Mozart’s wife Konstanze apparently did not try to find out exactly where he had been buried until almost half a century later, by which time there was a great deal of interest in Mozart’s life. As an old lady herself, Konstanze went for the first time to Sankt Marx to consult the archivists, but so long after the event they could only say that such-and-such an area of the graveyard was in use for common graves in 1791. Now there is a small, rather unlovely monument with Mozart’s name on it (see picture) and even ‘a grave’ marked out in flowers, which must mislead many people into thinking that his body lies exactly there. It probably lies somewhere beneath the lawn, but nobody knows where. Today there is nothing to explain that ‘Mozart’s grave’ is just a well-meaning municipal attempt to supply visitors with a focal point.