(Dinner conversation — while I was eating something involving salsa)
- Robert: I am really enjoying this book I’m reading.
- Me: Let me guess: historical fiction? or perhaps music history?
- Robert: Mid-to-Late 18th Century Viennese Music History.
- Me: Wow, that’s pretty specific. So, Haydn, Mozart, and those boys.
- Robert: Yes. I was just reading up on Haydn’s remains, in fact.
- Me: (anxious to show off my smarts to Mr. Music History) Oh! I remember an interesting story about that! I visited the chapel in Eisenstadt where he’s buried. There was a very tidy middle-aged woman in a red hat who told us the saga of his wandering corpse. It sort of arrived in stages, right?
- Robert: Yeah, Haydn really got around after he was dead!
(he launched into lecture mode, so I whipped out my phone to take notes — what follows is a paraphrase, but it’s damn close)
- He died in Vienna when it was occupied by Napoleon, so the Esterhazy family couldn’t have his body brought to Eisenstadt. He had to be buried in Vienna. But, a phrenologist dug up his corpse, lopped off his head, and ran off with it for research. It was standard practice for this guy and everybody knew about his methods. About 10 years later, the Esterhazys exhumed Haydn’s body for transport to Eisenstadt but discovered it was headless. They approached the phrenologist who didn’t want to give up Haydn’s skull so he gave them someone else’s — claiming it was Haydn’s. He stuffed the skull into a mattress for “safe keeping” and when he died, it was passed around quite a bit — probably to the highest bidder. In the early 1930s it ended up at some Music Society where it was kept on display for an admission fee. The Esterhazy descendants heard about it and started trying to reunite the head with its body. They created this ornate tomb for him at the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt — that’s where you were. It wasn’t until 1954 (almost 150 years after his death) that Haydn’s head was finally placed in the tomb with his corpse.
- Me: (riveted — and direct quoting again, now) So, did they ever figure out who the other head belonged to?
- Robert: Nope. It’s still there in the tomb with all of the real Haydn.
- Me: So there are two heads in Haydn’s tomb?
- Robert: Evidently. So they say.
- Me: Wow. Amazing.
- Robert: But not uncommon. Composer relic collection was as big among music enthusiasts as Saint collection was in Catholicism. Chopin’s sister carried his heart all the way from France to Poland in her purse!
- Me: (looking at my plate full of chunky red sauce) I seem to have lost my appetite all of a sudden.