01/27/2014 01:51 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

Dare to Be 100: Happy Birthday, Wolfgang

Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg. His geburtshaus is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Austria. He died December 6, 1791 at the age of 35. The intervening years were among the most illustrious ever encountered on this earth.

His legacy is 626 compositions of vast extent, 41 symphonies, 42 concerti (27 piano, 5 violin), 23 operas, and hundreds of other works of seeming infinite variety and genius. His first was a minuet for harpsichord in 1761. His last was a Requiem in 1791 that some scholars associate with his premonition of death. He had just conducted a performance of "The Magic Flute" to great acclaim.

His cause of death as recorded in the records of the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna is "acute military fever" which was a common diagnosis of uncertain origin. Smallpox, tonsillitis, pneumonia and gum disease were known accompaniments of his last years. Certainly his death was hastened by the too common medical practice of bloodletting. The records indicate that he exhibited generalized body swelling before dying suggesting either congestive heart failure or a kidney problem as contributing issues. He was buried in a common grave.

No autopsy was performed so the medical sleuths have had a field day trying to reconstruct his premature death. The speculations about poisoning by his contemporary competitor Antonio Salieri have been generally discounted.

Regardless of the details of his exit his life stands as a brilliant beacon of accomplishment. He lived 35 years. What if he had lived until 100, another 65 years? I have in my papers in the office a perspective column written in the New York Times maybe 20 years ago. It asked what if Mozart had lived? Instead of 41 symphonies he may have written 200. Instead of 23 operas he may have written 100. The column even mused that possibly he may have lived to become a professor at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. How would that be for a faculty brochure?

I use today, Mozart's birthday, to explore the terrible loss of human potential because of dying too soon. William James wrote, "We live lives inferior to ourselves." Certainly dying at 35 with such immense potential is an outrageous cheating of humanity.

The question arises immediately, how much human potential is lost by dying too soon? If Mozart were alive today he would not die so prematurely, but hopefully have decades of future glories left in his pen.

"Happy Birthday, Wolfgang and thanks!"