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

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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 that kil 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 that kills those who hear it *A composer who lovingly cradles the head of Beethoven's corpse when his remains are exhumed half a century after his death * A fifteenth-century German poet who sings of the real-life Dracula *A dream of the devil that inspires a virtuoso violin piece Unlike many music books that begin their histories with the seventeenth or eighteenth-centuries, Beethoven's Skull takes the reader back to the world of ancient Greece and Rome, progressing through the Middle Ages and all the way into the twentieth century. It also looks at myths and legends, superstitions, and musical mysteries, detailing the ways that musicians and their peers have been rather horrible to one another over the centuries.


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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 that kil 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 that kills those who hear it *A composer who lovingly cradles the head of Beethoven's corpse when his remains are exhumed half a century after his death * A fifteenth-century German poet who sings of the real-life Dracula *A dream of the devil that inspires a virtuoso violin piece Unlike many music books that begin their histories with the seventeenth or eighteenth-centuries, Beethoven's Skull takes the reader back to the world of ancient Greece and Rome, progressing through the Middle Ages and all the way into the twentieth century. It also looks at myths and legends, superstitions, and musical mysteries, detailing the ways that musicians and their peers have been rather horrible to one another over the centuries.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Eagle

    Full of totally wonderful stories, some truly macabre, some just downright ridiculous, about the lives (and more often the deaths) of various composers and musicians. Mostly focused on classical eras and composers, but does touch on some modern era material. One star off because the author writes like a Buzzfeed contributor, trying desperately to sound hip, and it is often distracting as hell.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

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

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

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

  5. 5 out of 5

    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 ...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nugzar Kotua

    Не выдерживает критики. Это даже не книга, не книга о музыке и композиторах, просто сборник сомнительных легенд о композиторах, к тому же написанный дурновкусно. Называть это «курсом истории классической музыки» ... странно.

  7. 4 out of 5

    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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    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 and Beyond 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?

  9. 4 out of 5

    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 classical mus 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn

    I'm guessing that the author kept a large file of anything at all that was strange or -- better yet-- gross that related to music in any way at all. And then at some point, he simply put them all together and called it a book. The first part is a more-or-less chronological account of musical oddities through the ages. Sadly, it begins with ancient music, about which he has nothing at all interesting to say. The sections from the medieval to the romantic are more interesting. He tells about the s I'm guessing that the author kept a large file of anything at all that was strange or -- better yet-- gross that related to music in any way at all. And then at some point, he simply put them all together and called it a book. The first part is a more-or-less chronological account of musical oddities through the ages. Sadly, it begins with ancient music, about which he has nothing at all interesting to say. The sections from the medieval to the romantic are more interesting. He tells about the strange lives and stranger deaths of composers, from the famous to the obscure. When he hits the twentieth century, he backs off, supposedly out of respect for living relatives. Then in the second part of the book, he throws together all the pieces that didn't fit in the first part. Superstitions. Fairy music. Haunted opera houses. Vlad the Impaler (yes, really). The pied piper. Dubious origins of nursery rhymes. A list of rock musicians who died young. Whatever. And in an effort to be hilarious, he throws in snarky little asides filled with puns. They are not funny. Some interesting stories, but not much of a book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    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, the Romant 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    For me this was somewhere between a 2 and a 3 so I'll be nice and round it up. Rayborn freely admits at the beginning that the book does not need to be read straight thru. Rather, what he has provided are small (usually no longer than a page) accounts of weird things (usually how the person has died) that happened to musicians throughout history. He even provides a few stories related to nursery rhymes (I guess that's where the "beyond" comes in) I struggled with the first half of the book - I re For me this was somewhere between a 2 and a 3 so I'll be nice and round it up. Rayborn freely admits at the beginning that the book does not need to be read straight thru. Rather, what he has provided are small (usually no longer than a page) accounts of weird things (usually how the person has died) that happened to musicians throughout history. He even provides a few stories related to nursery rhymes (I guess that's where the "beyond" comes in) I struggled with the first half of the book - I really didn't recognize any of the musicians from Ancient Rome and Greece. The book picked up about halfway through. Maybe it was because things were getting more interesting, maybe it was because I knew more of the people he was discussing, most likely a combination of the two. It's quirky and different. If you do decide to read it don't feel obligated to read the entire thing - there are hidden gems in this book and it's worth just focusing on those.

  13. 4 out of 5

    LobsterQuadrille

    Beethoven's Skull is a darkly funny collection of weird anecdotes about music(mainly classical). Sometimes it feels like there is not enough breathing room between jokes, but it was a fun book to read. This almost made my "lovely covers" shelf, except that for some reason it really bugs me that the green upper half of the cover awkwardly ends in a point just to the left of Beethoven's nostril instead of being a straight line from spine to edge. But that's obviously just a superficial annoyance Beethoven's Skull is a darkly funny collection of weird anecdotes about music(mainly classical). Sometimes it feels like there is not enough breathing room between jokes, but it was a fun book to read. This almost made my "lovely covers" shelf, except that for some reason it really bugs me that the green upper half of the cover awkwardly ends in a point just to the left of Beethoven's nostril instead of being a straight line from spine to edge. But that's obviously just a superficial annoyance and likely nothing to do with the author. And whether you find the cover design lovely or not this is worth reading if you like classical music, weird true stories, or both.

  14. 5 out of 5

    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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Piepie

    I love learning about music, especially the "odd" and "dark" side of classical music! This quirky book contains all sorts of "weird stuff" ... anecdotes, puns, and eclectic information. If you're a music lover, you'll love it! Flip through and see what strikes your fancy. You may end up reading the entire book! I love learning about music, especially the "odd" and "dark" side of classical music! This quirky book contains all sorts of "weird stuff" ... anecdotes, puns, and eclectic information. If you're a music lover, you'll love it! Flip through and see what strikes your fancy. You may end up reading the entire book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joe Vonnegut

    The title and my involvement with our local symphony had me primed for this book, unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. Did learn some interesting facts about the world of classical music and the people who have shaped it, but do not recommend it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Dunlap

    A delightful book of popular history, for lovers of classical music with an interest (however latent) in the macabre. I enjoyed this thoroughly...and learned a great deal! (Who knew, for example, that there are actually TWO skulls in Haydn's grave in Eisenstadt?) A delightful book of popular history, for lovers of classical music with an interest (however latent) in the macabre. I enjoyed this thoroughly...and learned a great deal! (Who knew, for example, that there are actually TWO skulls in Haydn's grave in Eisenstadt?)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Savina

    This was a truly fascinating read! To learn more about the music world and it's composers and players was a truly wonderful read. Now I want to go and read some of the biographies of these composers because they seem so interesting. This was a truly fascinating read! To learn more about the music world and it's composers and players was a truly wonderful read. Now I want to go and read some of the biographies of these composers because they seem so interesting.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jolyn

    A delightful read. Funny and educational. A great way to learn some fun tidbits and stories to share with your friends on a spooky night.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna Katrīna Deņisova

    mehh..

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anelie

    Interesting and fun book to read. Some of the stories I knew about but many I had not heard before.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert Mynatt

    Interesting and informative I learned a lot and rediscovered my liking of classical music, while learning about some of the drama that went into making it

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sandie

    It seemed that every composer who ever lived was crammed into this book. So many! I'd have preferred more depth, less breadth. It seemed that every composer who ever lived was crammed into this book. So many! I'd have preferred more depth, less breadth.

  25. 4 out of 5

    MAria

    Книга, как будто сборник сплетней... Такое количество разных композиторов и фактов, все поверхностно, что ничего из этого в памяти не остается.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wardegus

    Holy shit this book sucked. It was like reading a book of Wikipedia articles about composers. I'm delighted it was a library boo and I never, ever have to subject myself to that dribble again. Holy shit this book sucked. It was like reading a book of Wikipedia articles about composers. I'm delighted it was a library boo and I never, ever have to subject myself to that dribble again.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nick Jones

    Quirky, learned, fascinating

  28. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Very interesting read. The author has a bit of a sarcastic humor which was fun, and he did a good job of covering a variety of topics.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elisa

    Very interesting details about famous and not so famous musicians. It doesn't talk so much about history or musicology, but more of unusual and offbeat details of their lives and personalities. Very interesting details about famous and not so famous musicians. It doesn't talk so much about history or musicology, but more of unusual and offbeat details of their lives and personalities.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

    Got through most of it, but had to abandon because of the intrusion of 12-year-old humour that the author simply could not resist interposing in his otherwise interesting text.

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