Thursday, October 26, 2006

An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin

A special thanks to Prairie Lights bookseller Jim Harris for sending along an advance copy of Rohan Kriwaczek’s AN INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF THE ART OF FUNERARY VIOLIN. As many of you may know along with Mr. Harris, Johann Dieter Wassmann’s brother, the composer Hugo Wassmann, was active in the Lutheran wing of Leipzig’s Guild of Funerary Violinists in the 1890s. Hugo’s ultimate falling out with the Guild came in 1901 over his efforts to introduce the saxophone to funerary rights, a practice that failed in Leipzig, but would eventually take hold in the city of New Orleans with great success, although not among Lutherans. Meanwhile, the art of funerary violin all but died out in Europe by 1915.

Here’s a short excerpt from the book’s dust-jacket, and a link if you’re interested in purchasing this intriguing work:

“During the Reformation a new musical form developed to replace Catholic funerary ritual. A solo violinist became central to the conduct of the Protestant funeral. Despite its enormous influence on classical music generally and on the Romantic Movement in particular, this music has almost entirely vanished. In a series of ‘funerary purges’, the violinists were driven into silence or clandestine activity.

“This is a music that, despite all attempts at suppression, has haunted Europe’s collective unconscious for more than a century. Now Rohan Kriwaczek reveals its incredible history. He acts in the hope that by remembering the Guild we realize afresh what our music once was, and what it might be once again.”

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