Thursday, 23 November 2017


Here at Unraveling Musical Myths, we have, on more than one occasion, “visited the dead” via horrific, gruesome – and, occasionally, even amusing – tales of grisly lore and gore, passed down to us through the musical ages; describing (in often macabre detail) the lengths some people will go to preserve, profit on – or even destroy – the legacy of some of Western Classical Music’s most iconic and beloved masters.

From bodies uprooted from their tombs and callously tossed in the corner of a funeral vault, to grave robbing and skull-heisting (we’ve even “bore witness” to tales of mob-like guard posts at the grave, to composers themselves engaging in bizarre episodes non-sexual necrophilia).

In this edition of TRIVIA & HUMOR, we begin our downward spiral into the seventh circle of hell with both the savagely barbaric and the surprisingly tender: two tales of post-mortem action by the living – in one instance, the tender: in 19th century late classical/early romantic composers Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven:


Franz Schubert idolized Ludwig van Beethoven. The
pair ran in different circles and rarely met - however
this didn't stop Franz from wanting to be close to his
idol in life - and, so it would appear, in death.
As 31 year old Schubert lapsed in and out of consciousness in the final throes of what would, in posterity, be considered an early and agonizing death, the young Austrian master of the Art of the Lied grew delirious – a likely result of both neurosyphilis and mercury poisoning (the only tonic then available to treat the deadly disease which had run rampant throughout Napoleonic Europe). It would be during one of these moments of semi-consciousness (heavily marked by delirium) that the composer, believing himself already six feet under and buried alive, audibly posed the question “Am I resting next to Beethoven?” (Ludwig being both Franz’ muse and devotee during both icon’s lifetimes – with the younger Schubert even dedicating his Variations on a French Song - Op. 10, D.624 - to his idol). Those who witnessed the outburst took the bizarre moment of quasi-lucidity as a declaration of intent to be laid to rest alongside the composer’s musical hero. This wish was thrice granted, first by burying Franz as close as possible (a mere two plots away) to his beloved at Vienna's Währing Cemetery.

Beethoven, who had died only one year previous, had perished in Schubert’s hometown of Vienna in Austria. His funeral was both a grandiose and somber spectacle, with tens of thousands of mourners lining the streets of Vienna to witness the procession, and bid farewell to their maestro, each clamoring over one another to gain a closer view as the casket dolefully made it’s way to the cemetery, with Schubert himself at the helm, first as pallbearer helping to hoist the coffin, and, at graveside, acting as a torchbearer. By the time the Währing was shuttered in June 1888, a decision was made to move and re-bury both composers – this time side by side, with nary a plot between them to separate their vessels into eternity - at the recently opened Zentralfriedhof on the city‘s South side.

The now permanently gated Währing Cemetery became known as Schubert Park, and atop the vacant plots (forever preserved for their former inhabitants) stands a memorial dedicated to the two musical giants. 

8 Variations on a French song in E Minor, Op. 10, D. 624 - Schubert's dedication to his idol, Ludwig van Beethoven.


As for the barbaric, regular readers of Unraveling Musical Myths with be familiar with the ‘practice’ and cult of phrenology – a pseudo-“science” funded and operated by resurrectionists, shady surgeons and so-called scientists (in fact, keeping on the subject of both Beethoven and Schubert, the exhumation of the corpses of the composers for reburial in 1888 at the Zentralfriedhof was but the second time the graves of the musical giants were disturbed. In October of 1863, whilst still interred at Wahring, both composers’ coffins were exhumed for ‘scientific’ purposes – chiefly, for the study of phrenology – in which both musician’s skulls were examined, their skeletons analyzed, coffins refurbished, and re-buried (this time adjacent one another), with the exception of Beethoven – who was re-buried sans cranium. (You can read more about Beethoven’s well traveled and heavily dissected skull here at Unraveling Musical Myths. Shockingly, ‘testing’ on the relic has continued through the ages - well into the 21st century!) In today’s entry of TRIVIA… however, we re-visit the heisted skull of Herr Joseph Haydn, infamously looted from his grave by the cover of night (and by bribing the gravedigger, who had recently been robbed of all of his earthly possessions by French soldiers – or by men hired to dress as French soldiers) by Haydn’s friend, one Joseph Carl Rosenbaum, certified accountant and music devotee, and Rosenbaum’s quack of a friend, the self-styled ‘phrenologist’ Johann Nepomuk Peter, governor of the lower Austria provincial prison.

Haydn's skull.
The sick pair were said to have performed a “test-run” on de-fleshing human skin, muscle and tissue from a fresh corpse (as the heist of Haydn’s skull was to be acted upon with impending haste due to the popularity of phrenology and prolific nature of ‘resurrectionists’ then making the rounds at local cemeteries. The more famous the subject, the greater the profit for the heartless looter). The diabolic duo "practiced" on recently deceased Viennese theatre actress Elizabeth Roose, who had succumbed to complications during the process of childbirth in 1808.

Rosenbaum, being a confidante of the composer Haydn, of course knew well ahead (ahem) of time compared to other potential looters as to when his friend became terminally ill, and feigned sympathy for his close mate whilst all the while concocting a devious plan to not only steal his compadre’s skull, but to later hold it as ransom from Haydn fan and former employer Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy (“The Magnificent”) of Eisenstadt (whose family happened to be one of the most wealthy and influential families within the Austro-Hungarian empire).

To perform the "test run," Rosenbaum had to first secure the corpse of Roose, then proceed to decapitate her, and, finally, to soak her skull in a mixture of quicklime in order to eat away at the flesh. She would prove to be his first successful relic. With Haydn, however, it was different: perhaps succumbing to a soupçon of guilt for prizing his former close mate’s head, the friend-turned-foe set the skull down atop the table and proceeded to vomit at the very sight of the still life-like skull. Oddly, instead of doing the dirty deed himself, as he had de-fleshed Roose, Rosenbaum instead turned the cranium over to his personal physician (who he likely also bribed), who in turn sent it off to a Viennese Hospital for ‘cleaning.’ The chalky white skull, now unrecognizable as his one-time running mate, would be returned to the accountant Rosenbaum, who had already constructed an ornate black case for stowing the skull, adorned with golden lyre.


Most fans of Western classical music know Robert Schumann, and his wife Clara, as composers of the romantic era. Fewer may be aware that the married duo were habitual diarists. At the behest of Robert, the young Clara (née Wieck, born 9 years after her spouse) would take turns with her more famous husband, documenting the joys, triumphs and tragedies of their martial union, in an effort to consult the diary in times of romantic strife and to reflect on the couple’s growth through better or worse.

One salacious subject concerning the musical couple - that of a double life shared on the part of the groom - was seemingly ‘proven’ by music historians who, upon inspecting the documents, found substantial evidence that would seem to show, without refute, that Clara knew exactly what she was getting into when she vowed to love her husband for "better or worse”. 

Robert’s early entries in the diary include an unabashed, very explicit blow-by-blow (pun intended) of his very salacious carnal relationship with a woman named Christel (Schumann would later refer to her as "Charitas"), whom the composer met through none other than fiancée Clara Wieck’s father! (Christel is believed to have been a member of staff  - a maid - at the Wieck household). 

During the same period as his romantic escapade with “Charitas,” Robert makes frequent reference to his declining health, making note of symptoms which, according to scholars of both music and medicine, are notorious markers for early stage syphilis.

Robert Schumann, you naughty boy. Pictured here
alongside his wife, Clara.
In one entry in particular penned by Robert after May 1831, the composer references his “John Thomas” – a hardly inconspicuous moniker for his genitals – and the immensely painful, persistent wound upon it. It was a gift that would keep on giving, awarded the wounded composer by one ‘Christel,’ whom Schumann would later adorn with what he referred to as "a more beautiful and appropriate name" –  the aforementioned moniker “Charitas” –  which, interestingly, is Latin for “Charity” (alternatively spelled "Caritas" after the Greek "Agape," or the practice of self-sacrificing love.)

The true full name of this seductive siren of Schumann's self sacrifice, according to recent research, was actually Christiane Apitzsch, and she was more than just a former maid to the Wieck household; more than just a lover to the gifted genius that she may very well have wound up killing through the composer’s later attempts at mercury treatment for advanced stage syphilis – but quite possibly the mother of the adulterous composer’s illegitimate daughter, Ernestine, born January 5th 1837! Schumann is believed to have attempted to pay off Charitas for her silence, and is alleged to have never met his daughter.

Clara was also not the only member of the Wieck clan who knew of her future husband's improprieties - upon discovering Robert was wooing his daughter, Friedrich Wieck, head of the Wieck household, threatened to shoot Schumann on sight if he continued courting his daughter!

It seems Robert paid Clara's father no mind - in lieu of the father Wieck's "permission" for Robert to "take his daughters hand" (which seems to have been legally required at the time),
the betrothed sued Friedrich, winning a judgement on behalf of the court, which granted permission for the lovebirds to wed.
The couple married - warts and all - on September 12, 1840.


Wednesday, 22 November 2017


It was just last December that UNRAVELING MUSICAL MYTHS revealed the news of a newly formed fantastic trio making a 2017 appearance in my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

It would be a once-in-a-lifetime affair (quite literally) for almost everybody involved in planning the production. World renowned reigning diva, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, her tenor husband Yusif Eyazov, and the equally renowned baritone – beloved across the globe - Siberian born Dmitri Hvorostovsky would make their anxiously awaited worldwide debut with their aptly named Trio Magnifico – right here on the stage of the country’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

It would also mark Netrebko’s Canadian debut. This "once in a lifetime affair," we opera fans knew, would be especially true for Hvorostovsky – the one-time rapscallion (binging on booze, drugs, and brawls) – turned media sensation following his 1989 win at the Cardiff Singer of the World vocal competition (he beat out the effervescent and immensely talented Bryn Terfel) had only recently revealed to the world a grim diagnosis of brain cancer. After several pullouts from non-related performances, Torontonians were left wondering if the bassy Russian could survive the trip to the bustling metropolis, much less get through what promised to be a demanding and lengthy performance. Speaking honestly, many of us wondered if he would have survived into Spring of 2017 at all.

Hvorostovsky in a separate performance, expertly singing Avant de quitter ces lieux from Charles Gounod’s
adaptation of Faust, Moscow, 2008.

Although officially retiring from the opera stage one year shy of his public announcement of terminal illness, Hvorostovsky promised his fans he would, come rain or shine, undoubtedly be at the premiere in Toronto – and it seemed the former bad boy who once almost gave up on life – embraced his final moments with all of his might.

The April 25th performance went off without a hitch, and we Torontonians, and the Operatic world at large – salute you, Mr. Hvorostovsky – for your bravery and outstanding contribution to the arts; for your talent, and most sincerely, for your dedication to your fans. Your story of triumph overcoming trial and tribulation is truly inspiring, and we thank you for your endurance, fighting that good fight until the very end. Your life story is truly a story worth telling.

View a performance from the historic evening below, with an unrecognizable Hvorostovsky (resembling a young/middle aged Liszt) singing solo: Anton Rubenstein’s The Demon’s aria:

Mr. Hvorostovsky, you will be missed.

May you Rest In Peace.