Grave Misconception – How Vienna Lost Mozart

Mozart’s Final Resting Place

The myth that a destitute Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried and abandoned in an unmarked mass grave persists to this day. The movie Amadeus perpetuates this notion, along with a sense of poetic justice for Mozart, who took his own fortunes for granted.  So when I went to explore St. Marx Cemetery, the maestro’s final resting place, I was curious to discover what actually happened.

Opened in 1784 following a decree by Emperor Josef II, who no longer wanted bodies buried within city limits, the cemetery is the final resting place of many prominent citizens. Among the departed notables are Josef Madersperger, inventor of the sewing machine, and Michael Thonet, creator of Vienna’s classic coffee house chair that bears his name. As Vienna grew, the cemetery filled up, eventually closing to newcomers in the 1880s and falling into disuse.

Faceless mourners

What followed are years of neglect before St. Marx was officially turned into a city park. Despite restoration efforts, many tombstones are still overgrown or knocked over, and several statues are missing entire faces or heads.

As my friends and I walked along, the cemetery did indeed feel like a park – with some very morbid decorations just in time for Halloween. Awkwardly located next to the A23 commuter freeway, no matter where you are walking in the park, the incessant hum of cars speeding by can be heard, barely noticeable but there.

As we turned a corner and reached Mozart’s grave, the contrast was staggering. Unlike his surroundings, his modest memorial is pristine and undamaged, encircled by bright white gravel.

It turns out that in the late 18th century, it was customary for common folk to be buried in simple, unmarked, single graves. This made it very difficult to relocate Mozart years later when people started looking for his grave in earnest; his wife Constanze had the extremely bad luck that the undertaker who buried her husband had died in the meantime.

Immortals walk among us

On a plaque next to the statue is a verse from When One Does Not Know the Grave by Franz Grillparzer. My friend, who is currently learning German, read it aloud to us for practice.

Wenn man das Grab nicht kennt, in dem er Ruh erworben,

Wen, Freunde, ängstet das? Ist er doch nicht gestorben!

Er lebt in aller Herzen, aller Sinn

Und schreitet jetzt durch unsre Reihen hin.

When one does not know the grave where he has found peaceWho, friends, fears this? For he is not deceased!

He lives in all our hearts and minds

And now he strides along among us


“It’s true,” my other companion responded thoughtfully, “Mozart’s music does keep him alive.”

Upon further research, I discovered that Grillparzer read this poem on Dec 5, 1841 at Neuer Markt after Mozart’s requiem was performed at St. Stephen’s cathedral. Mozart’s son composed a score on the spot so the poem could be sung. What an evening that must have been, to see such creativity unfold amongst the geniuses of their time!

We returned to the brick entrance that led back to the industrial park and the din of modern day traffic, hurtling us back to 2016 as quickly as we had left it when we had walked into St. Marx that morning.

Catherine M. Hooker
Catherine M. Hooker was Head of Communications at Metropole from 2015 to 2018. She holds a MA in international relations and also contributes photography to Metropole.Photo: Visual Hub

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