By Lawrence Toppman
Readers know I value Mozart’s music above all others. To me, his harmonious, emotional, humorous and endlessly diverse compositions represent humanity at its best.
I do him homage in life, because I can’t pay the ultimate compliment in death: There’s no room for you or me in Vienna’s St. Marx Cemetery, where his remains lie.
On the other hand, we can be buried near Beethoven. And Schubert, Brahms, Schoenberg, Johann Strauss II and Falco, who had a number one pop hit in 1985 with “Rock Me Amadeus.”
I visit cemeteries wherever I go. My favorite remains Père Lachaise in Paris, where Chopin’s grave always bears fresh flowers and sculptor Jacob Epstein created a monument like the prow of a ship for Oscar Wilde. An attendant guarded the resting place of Doors singer Jim Morrison; when I asked why, he said, “Tourists try to do (obscene hand gesture) on top of it.”
Tombstone tours have become quite an attraction: The Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe has established a cultural map, the European Cemeteries Route. But according to a New York Times article last month, Vienna Central Cemetery offers something unique.
Nariyasu Mishima, a former funeral director from Osaka, Japan, has purchased and renovated a tomb there that can hold 300 urns filled with the ashes of music lovers. The article quotes him as saying, “I saw the graves of Beethoven and Schubert, and felt in my heart how happy I would be if I could have eternal sleep with them.”
For prices ranging from $27,000 to $90,000, you will be interred in the World Music Fan Tomb. You can pay more to have a formal ceremony, presumably with music by your favorite composer. You won’t actually lie next to Beethoven or Brahms, who are in a section of Ehrengräber (graves of honor), but you’ll be within walking distance.
This sounds creepy, perhaps. But isn’t it the logical extension of fandom? We wear shirts with composers’ faces, drink from coffee mugs emblazoned with their visages, put their likenesses on bumper stickers and posters. A Viennese tomb merely multiplies this minor-league idolatry by a thousand (or 27,000).
A last amusing factoid: A monument at Central Cemetery recognizes Mozart’s importance to Vienna’s cultural history, even though he isn’t buried there. But Antonio Salieri is.