Handwashers’ Newsletter 16th August 2020

(Thank you to those who responded to the last call for contributions and come on those who haven’t yet! Ed. timp470@btinternet.com )

BALLET WHILE HE WAITS Chris Burton has run out of patience waiting for a return to singing so has taken up ballet. Never short on aspiration, he uses this as his learning material:




Before I moved to Gloucestershire I lived in Suffolk.  I joined the local village choir numbering about 20 and conducted by a serving policeman! 

We were asked to perform at different functions but one I particularly recall was a local church wedding.  This I remember well not because of what we sang but the presentation.  Guests were welcomed at the church door by a piper in full Scottish dress.  The groom wore morning suit, the bride white accompanied down the aisle by her small dog, and the best man the above-mentioned piper!

This choir also formed part of an amalgamation of other small choirs becoming one entity meeting on the performance day for the first time to rehearse as one before the evening performance. On this particular occasion, given in the Chapel of the Kings School, Ely we were conducted by Stephen Cleobury.

Stephen Cleobury (1948-2019)

Performance day was 5 November and we had just started when nearby a rocket was released making a terrible noise and drowning us out. Stephen Cleobury somewhat annoyed stopped the performance for 5 minutes and then restarted.  I’m pleased to say the rest of the evening went without any further bangs.

Frances Angus

THE MACABRE STORY OF HAYDN’S HEAD (Not to be read before a meal. Ed.)

Haydn died in 1809 while Austria was at war with France and he was buried in Hundsturm Cemetery in Vienna. Within days, Joseph Carl Rosenbaum, a former secretary to the Esterházy family and Johann Nepomuk Peter, a prison governor, bribed the gravedigger to open the grave and remove the head from the corpse. They were followers of Franz Joseph Gall, a leading phrenologist of the time. They took the decomposing head to the hospital where the flesh and contents were removed. Then they set about examining Haydn’s skull and reported, (surprise, surprise) that he had a well-developed musical bump.

In 1820, Haydn’s former patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, was reminded that he had forgotten to carry through his plan of having Haydn’s remains transferred to the family seat in Eisenstadt. When the remains were exhumed, the Prince was furious to find that there was a wig but no head and quickly deduced who was responsible. Rosenbaum was ordered to return the skull but, instead of returning the great man’s, he substituted another he happened to have about the place.

After Rosenbaum’s death in 1829 the real skull passed from hand to hand until in 1895 it was given to the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of the Friends of Music) where it was occasionally brought out and shown to visitors.

In 1932, Prince Paul Esterházy, Nikolaus’s descendant, built a marble tomb for Haydn in the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt, where many of the masses Haydn wrote for the Esterházy family were premiered. The Prince intended to unify the composer’s remains. However, there were many further delays, including a World War, and it was only in 1954 that the skull could be transferred, in a splendid ceremony, to this tomb, thus completing the 145-year-long burial process. When the composer’s skull was finally restored to the remainder of his skeleton, the substitute skull was not removed so Haydn’s tomb now contains two skulls.

Those of you with a strong stomach can listen to a full account of this bizarre story by Simon Townley here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kmgrx . Alternatively, you may prefer to remember Haydn by listening, and perhaps singing along using the music provided, to his final major work, the Harmoniemesse here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8zX86OFgGQ

APOLOGIES Alison Goodall points out that Ethel Smyth didn’t die in 1994 aged 136 but in 1944 aged 86. Thank you, Alison for spotting our error.


Sue Burton enlightens us:

This came to me in the form of a birthday card from my music-loving son.  

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was written while on a diving holiday in the Caribbean: it is therefore known as the Coral Symphony. Beethoven dedicated it to his girlfriend, Joy, who had paid for the holiday, writing on the original score “Owed to Joy