14 November 2010 0 Comments

Vienna mythbusters: the truth about the Imperial city

After spending so long researching my next novel, MOZART’S LAST ARIA, in the Austrian capital, I was invited by AOL News to write a piece for their travel section. They asked me to identify some myths about Vienna and to show whether they were correct or not. Here’s how the article starts:

Like any other city, Vienna abounds with urban myths. Separate truth from fiction with these Vienna mythbusters.

Vienna Urban Myth #1: The great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave.

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.

I visited St. Marx’s Cemetery, a chilling spot even for the bravest Vienna mythbusters, when I was researching my novel Mozart’s Last Aria, and it’s about a mile southeast of the center of town along the Rennweg. A small monument to Mozart stands in an area of undulating grass. It’s actually a disturbing site because the grass covers the mixed-up bones of thousands of Viennese, whose graves were plowed over again and again until after Joseph’s death, when regular burials resumed.

Read the rest of the article on AOL News.

Leave a Reply