Classical Music

Joseph Haydn: The Travels of His Purloined Noggin

The old joke goes something like this:

"Why couldn't they find Beethoven's teacher?"

"Because he was Haydn?"

"No, because they stole his freakin' skull and passed it around for phrenologist to fondle!"

Ok, the old joke stops before the decapitation of one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Joseph Haydn was a close friend of W. A. Mozart, and did indeed teach Ludwig Van Beethoven a thing or two about music. He is also the composer of The Creation, The Seasons, and many other works that remain popular in the modern repertoire.

Also, he died successful, rich, and surrounded by family and admirers. We mention this because we rarely get to say it, and every once in a while it's nice to see someone get their due. Today is the 202nd anniversary of old age finally getting the best of Haydn in 1809.

Unfortunately, it's also the anniversary of Napoleon occupying Vienna, so even though a national hero had just died there just wasn't much opportunity to have a big send-off. Instead, he was buried in a small, quiet ceremony.

His head was removed in a smaller, and more quit ceremony just a little while later. To understand why, let's talk about phrenology, the pseudoscience that is actually the precursor to several very important neurological concepts, especially that different areas of the brain control different parts of thought and motion. However, phrenologists believed that you could judge these functions through the bumps in a skull.

They were keen on trying out their studies on so great a mind, and it just so happened that Haydn's patron Joseph Rosenbaum was something of an amateur phrenologist himself. Some money changed hands and Haydn's head got "borrowed."

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner