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Friday, October 14, 2016

Haydn: Two heads are better than one

Phrenology Chart   (Public Domain)
Phrenology was coming into its own when Joseph Haydn died in 1809.

Two amateur phrenologists, Joseph Carl Rosenbaum and Johann Nepomuk Peter, were determined to size up the genius composer’s skull.  After having Haydn’s head stolen from the grave, Rosenbaum “delivered it in a carriage to the hospital for dissection.”  Peter then examined the skull and concluded that “the bump of music… [was] fully developed.”

Peter later kept the skull on display at his home.  It was housed in “a handsome custom-made black wooden box, with a
symbolic golden lyre at the top.”  After a decade or so, Peter passed Haydn’s skull on to Rosenbaum.

When a friend of Haydn’s threatened to “repossess” this relic, Rosenbaum hid it within a straw mattress.  As the house was being searched, Rosenbaum’s wife Therese lay atop the bed feigning menstrual cramps.  Who’s going to mess with that?  The skull remained at Rosenbaum’s for quite a while longer.

When Rosenbaum himself died in 1829, the skull began passing through many hands. In 1932, Haydn’s remains were finally laid to rest in a marble tomb.  One major problem:  The skull was not Haydn’s because Rosenbaum had fooled people with a substitute one for many years.

It wasn’t until 1954 that Haydn’s real skull found its way into the tomb.  Because the substitute one was never removed, phrenologists will now likely claim that two heads are better than one.


Copyright October 14, 2016 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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