Spooky Classical Music Facts

Skull Thieves

Only a few days after composer Joseph Haydn died in 1809, grave robbers broke into the cemetery, opened his coffin, and stole his skull! The robbers had been hired by two friends of his, Joseph Carl Rosenbaum and Johann Nepomuk Peter, both avid believers in phrenology, because they wanted to see if Haydn’s skull was as developed in musical areas as expected. They might have gotten away with it, too, except that Haydn’s former patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy II, decided to give the composer a more proper burial some ten years after his death. When Haydn was exhumed from his previous resting place, they realized that, while his wig was there, there was no skull underneath it. The investigation of the missing head lead to Rosenbaum and Peter pretty quickly, and Rosenbaum reluctantly produced a skull – one that didn’t actually belong to Haydn. It took 145 years, but Haydn’s skull and his body were ultimately reunited. After Rosenbaum and Peter had both passed away, the head changed hands multiple times before finding its way back to the Esterhazy family, who held a ceremony to reunite the composer’s remains. Of course, by this time, no one knew where the other skull had come from, so they just left it where it was. And that is how Haydn’s tomb ended up with two heads.

Trolls, Gnomes, and Goblins

Grieg’s tension-building masterpiece “In The Hall of the Mountain King” was supposed to evoke a cave full of trolls, gnomes and goblins. Grieg himself wasn’t a huge fan, though: “For the Hall of the Mountain King I have written something that so reeks of cowpats, ultra-Norwegianism, and ‘to-thyself-be-enough-ness’ that I can’t bear to hear it, though I hope that the irony will make itself felt.”

Stay Clear of the Staff

Who knew the baton was a safety device? Before that, conductors used a longer staff to keep time, sometimes to dangerous effect. While conducting a performance in the 1600s, French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully hit his foot with the staff. The injury turned gangrenous and killed him.

Mozart’s Requiem

One of the strangest and spookiest stories in classical music, Mozart was anonymously commissioned to write a requiem (a song for the dead) in 1791. His contemporaries wrote that composing it made him think of his own death, and that Mozart eventually began to feel like he was writing the requiem for himself. Soon after starting, Mozart fell ill but kept feverishly working on the requiem. He died before it could be completed and it was then performed at his funeral, making Mozart’s premonition come true.

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