Friday, January 05, 2007


While browsing in a bookstore, I noticed An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin on the classical music shelves. The title intrigued me for two reasons. First, you rarely see books entitled "an incomplete history" of anything. Second, while I had never heard of "the art of funerary violin," the idea of a history of it seemed like it might be eccentric enough to be interesting. The back cover (actually, a paper band wrapped around this cover) explained that "funerary violin" was solo violin music played in Protestant funerals, and went on: "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 ... has haunted Europe's collective unconscious for more than a century." Well, that was certainly intriguing; and the back cover also had a highly favorable quote from The Liberal (which I never heard of, but presumed was one of those respectable English magazines like the New Statesman). Paging through the book, it appeared to be an old-fashioned scholarly monograph. And while the book itself seemed rather dry, consisting mainly of a series of biographies of notable figures in the H. o. t. A. of F. V., the story was intriguing enough that I added the book to my long list of books to take out of the library someday.

And then I had second thoughts. Wasn't the story, perhaps, a little too good to be true? And something didn't fit: the funerary violin was played mainly in Protestant countries, but while paging through the book I'd noticed that Kriwaczek attributed its suppression to the Vatican. Moreover, I'd majored in music as an undergraduate and taken courses in music history, yet had never heard of any of the "major" composers for funerary violin discussed in the book. This didn't mean much: there are thousands of composers I've never heard of, some of whom are undoubtedly "major" in their specialized fields. Still, it wasn't reassuring. On the other hand, if it was a hoax, it was a very elaborate and painstaking one (for instance, there are 68 authentic-looking illustrations and 43 pages of scores), and I didn't see any obvious giveaways.

Conveniently, there was a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Music on the shelf above. I looked up some of the major figures in the Incomplete History, but found none of them. Having failed to settle the issue in that way, I turned back to the book. I found the answer to how the Vatican suppressed the art of funerary violin: by sending their agents to destroy all records and artifacts pertaining to it, as well as to attack the violinists themselves. Now I was really suspicious: this sounded more like The Da Vinci Code than real life. I then noticed the book's epilogue, entitled "A Response from the Vatican." This proved to contain two rather preposterous letters supposedly written by the Vatican to Kriwaczek in response to his "research," followed by Kriwaczek's suggestion that his own life was in danger. Now my money was on a hoax.

When I got home, I immediately got on the internet, where a Google search quickly revealed that sure enough, the whole thing was a hoax, as Kriwaczek has admitted. (The latter link also reproduces the book's foreword.) The "art of funerary violin" as described by Kriwaczek never existed. Nor did the Guild of Funerary Violinists, which Kriwaczek is supposedly the Acting President of and whose archives were supposedly his main source for the book. Nor did any of the composers for funerary violin Kriwaczek discusses. And when I actually read the book, there were various absurdities scattered throughout, such as "funerary duels," in which two violinists would play alternately at the same funeral, with the winner being the one who made the mourners cry more (though I don't know if I would have noticed these absurdities as such if I hadn't known, or at least suspected, that the book was a hoax).

My Google search didn't turn up anyone (except perhaps for the book's publisher) who was taken in, perhaps because the hoax was exposed before the book was published. (A few people wrote as if they believed in it, but were clearly just playing along.) But in the bookstores where I've seen it stocked, as well as in my local public library, the book is placed with genuine works of music history, so some people may come away thinking that the "art of funerary violin" is real. And I have a horrible vision of some poor graduate student believing the book is authentic (perhaps not having read it as a whole, but just having cherry-picked passages relevant to her work, as graduate students do) and using it as a source for her dissertation.

Kriwaczek has set up a website for the "Guild of
Funerary Violinists." Here you can both read about the Guild and buy CDs of "historic" and "modern" recordings of "surviving" compositions for funerary violin, and even hear brief excerpts online. There's also a page of parodic "links," all created by Kriwaczek. In particular, check out the program of the GFVA (Guild of Funerary Violinists America) 2007 Convention and Exposition, which is both funny and deadly accurate.

Tracing a link from the Guild's website, I discovered another bogus institution invented by Kriwaczek, the Rohan Theatre. This one's fictionality is more obvious, as it is said, among other things, to have staged the famous riot at the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. There are also CDs available, along with online excerpts from them (which sound a bit Tom Waits-ish), by the "Rohan Theatre Band," whose supposed history is similarly improbable.

There's a brief but interesting discussion of the affair here.

Ah! I listened to Rohan's album ' The guild of funerary violinists' a few days ago. I loved the album, and was fascinated with the genre of 'funerary violin'. Today, finally, i got down to googling funerary violinists and found your blog. After all it was a hoax!
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