Hunting Haydn's Head

Logo for Hunting Haydn's Head

Simon Townley tells the story of the theft of the skull of composer Joseph Haydn by over-zealous fans, shortly after his death in 1809. The man who gave the world The Creation, over a hundred symphonies and the blueprint for the string quartet, had his head stolen by Karl Rosenbaum, the secretary of Haydn's employers, the Esterhazy family, and Johann Nepomuk Peter, governor of the provincial prison. Their motivation for stealing the skull was, it is believed, 'scientific': there was at the time a great interest in phrenology, a now-discredited scientific movement that attempted to associate mental capacities with aspects of cranial anatomy. Simon tracks down what happened to the famous head in the next 145 years, through being displayed for years at the Gesellschaft für Musikfreunde in Vienna in a specially made black wooden casket, until it was finally reunited in 1954 with Haydn's other remains in a marble tomb in the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt. He finds out exactly what the phrenologists were hoping to achieve with the head of the late composer and ponders the curious enthusiasm that fans of classical music have for busts of their favourite composers.