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Mozart Was Poisoned By His Doctors, Medical Sleuth Says

October 17, 1991 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Theories on the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart just will not die.

The latest comes from a British physician and pharmacologist, who contends Mozart was inadvertently poisoned by doctors administering antimony and possibly mercury, which were used as medicines in 18th century Vienna.

The side effects of antimony poisoning precisely match the symptoms that Mozart suffered in his last days: fainting spells, swollen hands and feet, depression, profound exhaustion, pale-white face, pustular eruptions and kidney damage, says Dr. Ian James of London’s Royal Free Hospital.

He presented his findings at a weekend conference of the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine.

But Dr. Peter J. Davies, an Australian physician who has written extensively about Mozart’s ailments and death, said the antimony theory is ″not new and not tenable.″

Davies, a gastroenterologist and author of the book ″Mozart in Person: His Character and Health,″ believes the composer died from complications of a streptococcal infection.

Mozart died in Vienna on Dec. 5, 1791, at age 35.

His death has long been the subject of speculation and romanticizing, in part because he was so young; because he was at work on a Requiem commissioned by a mysterious visitor in his last days; and because of rumors that he was poisoned, perhaps by his jealous rival, Antonio Salieri.

The poisoning rumors were rejected early on by Eduard Vincent Guldener von Lobes, a court councilor who had been consulted during Mozart’s last illness.

In an 1824 letter, Guldener von Lobes said he had discussed the case with Dr. Thomas Franz Closset, who attended Mozart and diagnosed his illness as a rheumatic and inflammatory fever.

Closset was so assiduous in his care, Guldener von Lobes wrote, ″that it is impossible the slightest trace of anything violent, of anything like poison, could have escaped him.″

Unless, James theorizes, the poison was in the medicine.

Using an 18th century pharmacopeia, a book of symptoms and treatments, James discovered that the standard treatment for Mozart’s vague symptoms of fever, fatigue and depression was antimony and perhaps mercury - two toxic metals no longer used as medicine.

Antimony poisoning causes a ″rank odor,″ a symptom mentioned by Mozart’s son and his wife, James said.

James said his theory could be supported by tests of Mozart’s manuscripts. Traces of the metal may have rubbed off Mozart’s skin onto the pages of the Requiem, which is kept by the National Library in Vienna.

Davies, who sounded a bit annoyed at yet another death theory, rejected the notion that Mozart was killed by his doctors.

The doctor who examined the corpse stated ″categorically Mozart had fever and infection in Vienna, and a lot of other people died of this illness during this time,″ Davies said in a telephone interview from Melbourne.

″That throws out poisoning completely.″

″In my view, Mozart at this time suffered a streptococcal infection contracted during an epidemic, and that this was complicated by the development of Schonlein-Henoch Syndrome,″ said Davies.

Schonlein-Henoch Syndrome is an allergic hypersensitivity occurring after various infections. It leads to clogging of small blood vessels of the skin, joints, gut, and kidney; rash; skin and organ swelling, and possibly fatal kidney failure.

Patients suffering from uremia, a complication of kidney failure, can suffer from headaches and ″various mental symptoms including delusions and insanity,″ said Davies.

Mozart had frequent headaches and was ″tormented by mental delusions,″ said Davies, who will be republishing his own theory in the December issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.