© 2021 All Rights reserved WUSF
News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Uncovering the 'True' History of the Funerary Violin

A forthcoming book traces the lost history of a musical genre too good to be true: funerary violin.

If you believe Rohan Kriwaczek, author of An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin, funerary violin is a previously unknown musical genre that was virtually extinguished by the mid-19th century in the Great Funerary Purges, said to be ordered by the Vatican.

But as first reported in The New York Times, violin dealers, string-instrument publications and other experts say there is no evidence of the funerary violin genre, forgotten or otherwise.

Despite the questions of authenticity, the book's U.S. publisher, Overlook Press, still plans to release the book, which includes pictures of legendary funerary violin composers like Hieronymous Gratchenfleiss, musical scores and information on the Guild of Funerary Violinists.

Peter Mayer, the publisher of Overlook Press, bought the manuscript. Even though he had doubts about the authenticity of the material, he was hooked.

"I decided it didn't really matter to me how much of this was actually accurate. It was a life's work. [Kriwacezk] was dedicated to this guild not being forgotten, dedicated to the music. I decided this is just an amazing piece of work, and I wanted to publish it," Mayer says.

In his book, Kriwaczek writes about "funerary duels" in France in the 1810s: Two violinists improvised on a fragment of melody, attempting to draw more tragedy from it than his opponent; the winner was the artist who drew the most tears from the assembled crowd.

"Who knows if it's true, but it's unbelievable reading," Mayer says.

Author Kriwaczek issued a statement Thursday, in which he writes that to call his work a hoax is to misunderstand his intentions. He says he wanted to "expand the notion of musical composition to encompass the creation of an entire artistic genre, with its necessary accompanying history, mythology, philosophy, social function, etc."

And he notes that as a funerary violinist himself, he has performed at more than 50 funerals throughout southeast England.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.