Beethoven's Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating Tales from the World of Classical Music and Beyond

Beethoven's Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating Tales from the World of Classical Music and Beyond

Beethoven's Skull is an unusual and often humorous survey of the many strange happenings in the history of Western classical music. Proving that good music and shocking tabloid-style stories make excellent bedfellows, it presents tales of revenge, murder, curious accidents, and strange fates that span more than two thousand years. Highlights include:*A cursed song t...

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Title:Beethoven's Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating Tales from the World of Classical Music and Beyond
Author:Tim Rayborn
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Beethoven's Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating Tales from the World of Classical Music and Beyond Reviews

  • Kathryn

    This is a fun and breezy non-fiction book about music in general and musicians and composers (or decomposers, in some cases) in particular. I very much enjoyed reading this book.

    After an Introduction, noting that the book will be about "The Grim and the Unusual in the History of Western Music", Part I of the book tells us "The Strange Lives, Stranger Deaths, and Odd Fates of Composers", from Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque Era, the Classical Era

    This is a fun and breezy non-fiction book about music in general and musicians and composers (or decomposers, in some cases) in particular. I very much enjoyed reading this book.

    After an Introduction, noting that the book will be about "The Grim and the Unusual in the History of Western Music", Part I of the book tells us "The Strange Lives, Stranger Deaths, and Odd Fates of Composers", from Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque Era, the Classical Era, the Romantic Era, and The Modern Era. After a chapter of Sins and Omissions, we move to Part II: "A Dark and Weird Musical Miscellany". The chapters in this Part are "Odd Musical Origins", "Magic in Music", "Plague and Penitence: The Rather Awful Fourteenth Century", "Blood and Guts", "The Dead Speak", "Nursery Rhymes: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Awful", "Musical Curses, Bad Luck, and Superstitions", and "Some Final Musical Oddities".

    I very much enjoyed reading this fun book, and would recommend it to those who like quirky tidbits and morbid trivia.

  • Valarie

    Scholarly, but definitely not stuffy! Recently, while on a tour of the Colorado Public Radio studio, I showed this book to my gracious tour guide, Joanne Wooley, and one of the program hosts, David Rutherford. I'd strongly recommend that this book be in high school libraries, college music department libraries, and be promoted on classical music stations worldwide. In the meantime, my curiosity has been piqued by some of Rayborn's accounts of the"bad boys" of music's past, such as Paganini and B

    Scholarly, but definitely not stuffy! Recently, while on a tour of the Colorado Public Radio studio, I showed this book to my gracious tour guide, Joanne Wooley, and one of the program hosts, David Rutherford. I'd strongly recommend that this book be in high school libraries, college music department libraries, and be promoted on classical music stations worldwide. In the meantime, my curiosity has been piqued by some of Rayborn's accounts of the"bad boys" of music's past, such as Paganini and Berlioz.

  • Justin

    Very interesting read. Started off on the slower side but only because I wasn't familiar with the people but once it got to the people I recognized it was great! Full of weird and twisted stories. Loved it.

  • AJ

    Quick disclaimer time: I’m friendly with this author, which is to say we’re Facebook friends, I’ve met him once or twice, and I’ve taken multiple dance workshops taught by his wife (I think he co-taught one in his guise as a musician). We’re not close, but sometimes we like each other’s cat pictures. I bought his book with my own money and I’m not receiving any compensation for this review. Cool? Cool.

    Beethoven’s Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating from the World of Classical Music

    Quick disclaimer time: I’m friendly with this author, which is to say we’re Facebook friends, I’ve met him once or twice, and I’ve taken multiple dance workshops taught by his wife (I think he co-taught one in his guise as a musician). We’re not close, but sometimes we like each other’s cat pictures. I bought his book with my own money and I’m not receiving any compensation for this review. Cool? Cool.

    Beethoven’s Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating from the World of Classical Music and Beyond is the fun sort of light non-fiction that you can reach for when you’ve got a few minutes to kill. It gives you some interesting facts that you can break out at parties, and might inspire you to do some deeper research or go fall down a YouTube or Spotify rabbit hole of classical music and composers.

    As the lengthy subtitle suggests, this book is focused on the macabre side of classical music. It seeks to dispel the idea of classical music as stuffy and boring by cataloging the various titillating troubles that composers and musicians got themselves into. From murder to excommunication to all manner of lover’s quarrels, it’s in here.

    There’s also quite a bit about superstitions, hauntings, and other potential supernatural stuff, presented in a “Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t” manner meant to please skeptics and believers alike.

    For the most part this book has a very tongue-in-cheek tone, although as it approaches the modern era, it mellows out. Mindful of the fact that this book could be picked up today by descendants of 20th century composers, it treads more carefully around their vices and deaths, pointing them out but not as glibly as early chapters.

    This is the sort of book that makes a great gift, and hey, as I’m writing this, Father’s Day is right around the corner. If you have a dad in your life who loves classical music and/or has a bit of a dark sense of humor, he might enjoy this book. It’s ideal for anyone who also just likes to have a head full of random facts. You never know when Baroque composers will come up around the ol’ office water cooler, right?

  • Jeff Wong

    This is a fun book for anyone interested in musical history. There are multiple small snippets of the history of musicians/composers (mainly classical) related to macabre, unusual, or prurient episodes in their lives and deaths. There is enough sarcasm and snark to make such subject matter fun to read. I was a little disappointed that given the nature of this work, the author would not have provided more reference material or source data -- perhaps that wasn't his intention -- but result is that

    This is a fun book for anyone interested in musical history. There are multiple small snippets of the history of musicians/composers (mainly classical) related to macabre, unusual, or prurient episodes in their lives and deaths. There is enough sarcasm and snark to make such subject matter fun to read. I was a little disappointed that given the nature of this work, the author would not have provided more reference material or source data -- perhaps that wasn't his intention -- but result is that the short stories take on more of a gossipy-sort of narrative than one of intentional study.

  • Sergei

    У книги есть подзаголовок — «Мрачные и загадочные истории из мира классической музыки». Этот сборник недлинных очерков открывает классику с новой — неприглядной и сумрачной стороны. К месту вспоминается ахматовское «когда б вы знали из какого сора...». И вот когда вчитываешься в крайне причудливые повороты судьбы, в — мягко говоря — странности характеров тех, чья музыка — золотой культурный фонд человечества, то понимаешь, что буйства современных рокеров это невинные шалости в коротких штанишках

    У книги есть подзаголовок — «Мрачные и загадочные истории из мира классической музыки». Этот сборник недлинных очерков открывает классику с новой — неприглядной и сумрачной стороны. К месту вспоминается ахматовское «когда б вы знали из какого сора...». И вот когда вчитываешься в крайне причудливые повороты судьбы, в — мягко говоря — странности характеров тех, чья музыка — золотой культурный фонд человечества, то понимаешь, что буйства современных рокеров это невинные шалости в коротких штанишках в сравнении с ядерными отжигами мастеров симфоний, элегий и фуг.

    Очерки короткие, но ёмкие. Рейборн рассказывает почти о девяноста композиторах последних двух тысяч лет. Начиная с Терпандера (VII век до нашей эры), заканчивая Питером Уорлоком (1894 - 1930). И в этих очерках у автора нашлось место рассказать и о произведениях (вспоминая авторов забытых, рассказывая об особенностях музыки, коротко и внятно обрисовывая исторический контекст), и о жизни самих композиторов. Книжка получилась познавательная, местами страшная (если вспомнить судьбу Иоганна Шоберта, композитор помимо всего прочего оказал большое влияние на Моцарта, а умер от отравления грибами, да ладно бы он один, а вместе с ним погибли жена, ребёнок, служанка и ещё несколько человек), местами представляет собой жуткий триллер (о злоключениях черепа Бетховена, черепа Моцарта и головы Гайдна это вы сами).

    А помимо этого Рейнборн рассказывает о роли разнообразной мистики и суеверий в классической музыке. Например, одной из самых странных фобий была вера в то, что композитор может написать только девять симфоний. Судьбы Бетховена, Малера, Шнитке тому трагичное подтверждение. Одна из глав ёмко называется «Кровь и кишки», а в следующей рассказывается о классических детских песенках: с какого кошмара они начинались.

    Читаются эти истории взхалёб, иногда с побочными эффектами в виде шевеления волос или мурашек от удивления или ужаса.

    Своей книжкой Тим Рейборн достигает главного. Возникает дикий интерес и к первоисточнику. Эти строки я пишу как раз под музыку Алессандро Страделла, сочинившего немало церковной музыки, что не мешало ему быть редким повесой, оставляя за собой разгневанных мужей. А кончил он тем, что был заколот очередным наёмным убийцей.

    «Череп Бетховена» составляет отличную пару книжке Стивена Фрая «Неполная и окончательная история классической музыки», открывая неформальные и увлекательные тропы в мир академической музыки.

  • Zulfiya

    It was a fun collection of vignettes and some stories pertaining to the darker side of classical music, composers, and artist.

    It was engaging and humorous even when the author dealt with the darker topics ...

    The only but is the final part that contained miscellaneous and quite often IRRELEVANT stories ... thus, three stars ...

  • Kristen

    I have mixed feelings about this. It was interesting enough, but it didn't feel like the subject matter flowed.

  • Zach

    If you ever wanted to learn how death, violence, jealousy, sex, greed, money, royalty, religion and a whole slew of other topics have marked the history of classical music, [i]Beethoven's Skull[/i] is the book for you.

    Probably.

    This book is more a collection of anecdotes than an overall narrative. So if you want an academic biography/history of classical music, this might not be the one for you. But it's an engrossing (no pun intended) look a weird stories throughout the history of c

    If you ever wanted to learn how death, violence, jealousy, sex, greed, money, royalty, religion and a whole slew of other topics have marked the history of classical music, [i]Beethoven's Skull[/i] is the book for you.

    Probably.

    This book is more a collection of anecdotes than an overall narrative. So if you want an academic biography/history of classical music, this might not be the one for you. But it's an engrossing (no pun intended) look a weird stories throughout the history of classical music. Rayborn divides the book into two sections. Part I is more or less a straight chronology of composers from Ancient times to Middle Ages to Renaissance and then the traditional "classical music" eras of Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern (i.e. 20th century). Then Part II has thematic chapters on weird musical stories, such as a whole chapter dedicated to haunted musical buildings, or one on how the 14th century was a very weird time for music.

    Overall it is entertaining, though certainly more of a trifle than anything serious. It's best read in small bursts. So I don't mean this as an insult, but it's probably ideal as a book in a bathroom that you casually read here and there. Still I learned a decent amount about composers. That said, it's probably not ideal for complete classic music novices.

  • Barbara

    An amusing and light-hearted romp through music history, focusing on the bizarre. Not scholarly, but quite fun.

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