Ludwig van Beethoven lay dying in 1827, a young musician named Ferdinand Hiller came to pay his respects to the great composer. In those days, it was customary to snip a lock of hair as a keepsake, and this Hiller did a day after Beethoven's death. By the time he was buried, Beethoven's head had been nearly shorn by the many people who similarly had wanted a lasting memento of the great man. Such was his powerful effect on all those who had heard his music.
For a century, the lock of hair was a treasured Hiller family relic, and perhaps was destined to end up sequestered in a bank vault, until it somehow found its way to the town of Gilleleje, in Nazi-occupied Denmark, during the darkest days of the Second World War. There, it was given to a local doctor, Kay Fremming, who was deeply involved in the effort to help save hundreds of hunted and frightened Jews. Who gave him the hair, and why? And what was the fate of those refugees, holed up in the attic of Gilleleje's church?
After Fremming's death, his daughter assumed ownership of the lock, and eventually consigned it for sale at Sotheby's, where two American Beethoven enthusiasts, Ira Brilliant and Che Guevara, purchased it in 1994. Subsequently, they and others instituted a series of complex forensic tests in the hope of finding the probable causes of the composer's chronically bad health, his deafness, and the final demise that Ferdinand Hiller had witnessed all those years ago. The results, revealed for the first time here, are startling, and are the most compelling explanation yet offered for why one of the foremost musicians the world has ever known was forced to spend much of his life in silence.
In Beethoven's Hair, Russell Martin has created a rich historical treasure hunt, an Indiana Jones-like tale of false leads, amazing breakthroughs, and incredible revelations. This unique and fascinating book is a moving testament to the power of music, the lure of relics, the heroism of the Resistance movement, and the brilliance of molecular science.
An astonishing tale of one lock of hair and its amazing travels--from nineteenth-century Vienna to twenty-first-century America.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Beethoven's Hair|
|Release Date: 01-08-2002|
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|Publisher: Crown Publishing Group|
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It was not until 1871 that Kapellmeister Ferdinand Hiller, the corpulent dean of music in the Rhine-side city of Cologne, first described for fascinated German readers what it had been like to meet Ludwig van Beethoven and what, in fact, the circumstances of the master composer's final days had been. "I can scarcely blame myself, much as I regret it, for not taking down more extended notes than I did," sixty-year-old Hiller wrote. "Indeed, I rejoice that a lad of fifteen years who found himself in a great city for the first time was self-possessed enough to regard any details. [But] I can vouch with the best conscience for the perfect accuracy of all that I am able to repeat."
Ferdinand Hiller had made the snow-slowed journey from Weimar to musical, magical Vienna with his piano and composition instructor, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, in the early spring of 1827 because Hummel had heard the now far-flung news that his old friend and musical rival was dying. He had wanted to see and embrace Beethoven again before he was gone, and too, he had hoped his talented protege might be inspired by at least a few minutes spent in the company of incontestable greatness. Beethoven had received the two men warmly on March 8 and had satisfied them that their company would be efficacious in fact; they stayed with him for hours that day, then returned three more times during the succeeding fortnight before Beethoven finally succumbed to a diseased liver and a life of relentless pain. Yet on that first day, Hiller remembered, the dying man still had seemed very much alive:
Through a spacious anteroom in which high cabinets were piled with thick, tied-up parcels of music, we...