Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 11:58 UK

Mozart 'killed by strep throat'

Reproduction of a painting of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Theories abound as to what led to Mozart's death at the age of 35

The mysterious death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the tender age of 35 has long fascinated scholars, but researchers now have a new theory.

The composer - who died in Vienna in 1791 - may have succumbed to complications from a sore throat, caused by a bacterial infection.

The University of Amsterdam team think the streptococcal infection triggered a fatal swelling of his kidneys.

Previous theories include poisoning, rheumatic fever and eating bad pork.

Some say the Austrian maestro simply overworked himself into an early grave.

The latest study is published in this week's issue of the US medical magazine, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Remains dispersed

At the time of Mozart's death the cause was recorded as "severe miliary fever", and no autopsy was carried out.

His remains were dispersed seven years later when the composer's grave was dug up so it could be reused, making forensic analysis all but impossible.

The known facts of Mozart's fatal illness, including the features of oedema, malaise and back pain, seem compatible with this diagnosis
University of Amsterdam study

The paper's authors, Richard Zegers, Andreas Weigl and Andrew Steptoe, reached their conclusion by comparing historical accounts of the maestro's illness - fever, rash, limb pain and swelling - with illnesses prevalent at the time of his death.

They analysed more than 5,000 cases between 1791 and 1793 and found oedema (a swelling caused by the build-up of fluid beneath the skin) to be the third most common cause of death after tuberculosis and malnutrition.

Mozart's body was said to be so swollen in his dying days that he could not even turn over in bed. And in December 1791, the month of his death, the researchers found oedema to be far more prevalent among men of his young age.

This led them to conclude he may have had a simple strep infection, which caused a disorder that destroyed his kidneys.

Or, as they pithily conclude: "Our analysis is consistent with Mozart's last illness and death being due to a streptococcal infection leading to an acute nephritic syndrome caused by poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis."

The researchers accept other causes - such as scarlet fever or a chronic heart or kidney condition - may be possible, and acknowledge the limitations of their research.

But they add that "the known facts of Mozart's fatal illness, including the features of oedema, malaise and back pain, seem compatible with this diagnosis".

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