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tearing the rag off the bush again
Haydn's Head PDF E-mail
An addition to "The Disposition of Body Parts in the Romantic Era," in The Stiffest of the Corpse (City Lights)


HAYDN’S HEAD
 
 
To Haydn’s head his body said “Farewell!”
detached, exhumed, to see if they could tell
from its phrenology how he’d composed,
before the rest of him had decomposed.
The wife of Josef Rosenbaum concealed
the head beneath her seat, and wouldn’t yield
the trophy  like the teraphim once hidden
by Rachel, who had stolen them, unbidden,
escaping from her father. It was hide-’n-
seek for them as for the head of Haydn,
himself called Papa just like Rachel’s dad,
a headstrong man who faced her cephalad,
as Josef Rosenbaum’s dear wife had faced
the seekers of the head they couldn’t trace.
It wasn’t until 1954
that friends of Haydn managed to restore
his head to other bones, which all will rise,
God willing, in a symphony, “Surprise!”
far better fate than teraphim of Laban,
by Frauenliebe never given Leben,
though that’s a tale with far milk of human
kindness, thanks not to Haydn but to Schumann.
 
Dennis Bartel told the strange story, “The Strange Journey of Josef Haydn's Head,” on KUSC on 5/30/12. Linda heard Dennis Bartel driving from Irvine to Beverlywood at 7.35am after hearing nine-year-old Ada playing trills on the clarinet, an instrument which Haydn used for the first time in his first Mass, perhaps wondering would happen to his head after he died.
 
The story had been reported thus for Yahoo by Mary Grindling on Jan 30, 2009:
 
Austrian Classical composer Franz Josef Haydn passed away on May 31, 1809 in Vienna as Napoleon's troops were in the process of capturing his beloved city. On June 15, he was buried in Hundsthrum churchyard in a quiet, dignified ceremony. Haydn's life story ended there, but a new story began only two days later.
 
The head of the local prison, Johann Peter, was an amateur phrenologist who had a theory that it was possible to determine intelligence by studying the shape of a skull. Haydn was a recognized musical genius and in Peter's mind the opportunity to prove his theory by examining Haydn's skull was just too good to pass up. He bribed several local officials and hired two grave robbers to dig up the body and remove Haydn's head. After carefully boiling, and then scraping the skull clean, Peter declared that the "bumps of music" were fully developed in Haydn's skull.
Having finished his examination, Peter realized that it would be too dangerous to try to return the skull to its rightful owner. He kept it in a box until the war ended, then gave it to Josef Rosenbaum, secretary to Prince Esterhazy, whose family had employed Haydn as a composer and musician for nearly thirty years. Rosenbaum wisely chose not to tell the prince about his new acquisition, but his wife had a special display case created for the skull and proudly displayed it during the frequent musical events she hosted in her home.
Somehow, even though a number of people knew that the Rosenbaums had Haydn's skull in their home, Prince Esterhazy did not learn about the grisly theft until 1820, when he decided to move Haydn's remains to his private church at Eisenstadt. The coffin was opened, and the head was nowhere to be found.
Furious, the prince wasted little time finding out that his own secretary had the skull in his home. But Rosenbaum's wife stubbornly refused to return the head, and in desperation Rosenbaum bought a skull from a mortuary and tried to pass it off as Haydn's. The ploy failed when Esterhazy's experts pronounced it to be the skull of a young man, not that of the old composer. Rosenbaum bought yet another skull that more closely resembled Haydn's. This one was accepted as the genuine head, and was buried along with Haydn's body in Eisenstadt.
When Josef Rosenbaum died, Haydn's head began traveling once more. Rosenbaum willed it back to Johann Peter, who kept it until his death. Peter had instructed in his will that the skull should be given to the Vienna Conservatory of Music, but his wife gave it to her doctor instead. In 1832, the doctor passed it on to the Austrian Institute of Pathology and Anatomy. Finally, it was presented to the Society of Music in Vienna. Apparently no one thought of returning it to the Esterhazy family so it could be reunited with the rest of his body.
One hundred years later, Prince Paul Esterhazy offered to construct a mausoleum for Haydn if the head was returned to him. Years went by while various officials pondered the prince's offer, and World War II started but before they reached a decision. When it was over, Haydn's body lay in the Soviet Zone while his skull was in the International Zone of a divided Vienna.
At last, in 1954, Haydn's remains were exhumed one more time. He and his head were re-interred in a solemn ceremony 145 years after they were first separated. Hopefully, they will never be separated again.
The story of Josef Haydn's head inspired an amusing one act opera, appropriately titled "Haydn's Head," composed in 1997 by Paul Heckert. The old composer might well have enjoyed this final work created in his honor.
Dennis Bartel’s comment:
I thought that would be too good for you to pass up.  Frightfully brilliant!
DB
 
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