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Twilight of Innocence: The Disappearance of Beverly Potts

James Jessen Badal

Tracks to Murder

Jonathan Goodman

Terrorism for Self-Glorification: The Herostratos Syndrome

Albert Borowitz

Ripperology: A Study of the World’s First Serial Killer and a Literary Phenomenon

Robin Odell

The Good-bye Door: The Incredible True Story of America’s First Female Serial Killer to Die

in the Chair

Diana Britt Franklin

Murder on Several Occasions

Jonathan Goodman

The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories

Elizabeth A. De Wolfe

Lethal Witness: Sir Bernard Spilsbury, Honorary Pathologist

Andrew Rose

Murder of a Journalist: The True Story of the Death of Donald Ring Mellett

Thomas Crowl

Musical Mysteries: From Mozart to John Lennon

Albert Borowitz




ML3916.B6 2010



British Library Cataloging-in-Publication data are available.

1413121110 54321

@ 2010 by The Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio 44242

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 2009047059

ISBN 978-1-60635-026-3

Manufactured in the United States of America


“‘Pore Jud is Daid’: Violence and Lawlessness in the Plays of Lynn Riggs” and “Lamech, the

Second Biblical Killer: A Song with Variations” were first published in Legal Studies Forum. “Lully

and the Death of Cambert” and “Gilbert and Sullivan on Corporation Law: Utopia, Limited and

the Panama Canal Frauds” first appeared in Albert Borowitz, A Gallery of Sinister Perspectives:

Ten Crimes and a Scandal (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1982), and are reprinted here

with permission. “The Stalking of John Lennon” first appeared as a chapter in Albert Borowitz,

Terrorism for Self-Glorification: The Herostratos Syndrome (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press,

2005), and is reprinted with permission.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Borowitz, Albert, 1930—

Musical Mysteries: From Mozart to John Lennon / Albert Borowitz.

  1. cm. — (True crime history series)

Includes index.

ISBN 978-1-60635-026-3 (hbk.: alk. paper)

  1. Music and crime. 2. Crime in music. 3. Musicians—Death. I. Title.


In memory of

Jonathan Goodman,

generous friend


master of crime history




Part One. The Musician as Murderer or Victim

Kindle Cloud Reader


10 Gilbert and Sullivan on Corporation Law: Utopia. Limited and the Panama

al Fra

U_yore Jud is Daid”; Violence and Lawlessness in the plays of Lynn Riggs


Lully and the Death of Cambert

Salieri and the “Murder” of Mozart

Finale Marked Presto: The Killing of Leclair

Carlo Gesualdo: Murder and Madrigals

Alessandro Stradella: Revenge for Love

The Tragic Night of Anton Webern

The Deadly Vacation of Marc Blitzstein

The Stalking of John Lennon

Part Two. Crime in Music

9 Lamech. the Second Biblical Killer: A Song with Variations

Posizione 46






Since this volume is entitled Musical Mysteries, I should begin, as old-fashioned music

used to do, by clearly announcing the principal themes. In my discussion (in Part One)

of the encounters of musicians with homicide, real or suspected, I will be emphasizing

three recurring motifs. The first will be envy and competition between musicians. The

second theme will be in the form of a question: Can genius and criminality coexist in

the same soul? And finally a third theme will keep cropping up like a rondo subject:

the jarring contrast between the sublime activity of the creative artist and the violent

melodrama of everyday life from which none of us—musicians included—is safe.

Let us begin with theme one, envious and competitive musicians. Who was the

first of them to suffer the pangs of rivalry gone mad? If we were to urge the claim

of Antonio Salieri to this sinister distinction, we would be many millennia too late.

Perhaps the earliest example of a composer-performer who turned to murder to

eliminate a competitor was the very inventor of the musical arts, the god Apollo. This

well-known story has a Mozartian ring for it features the first magic flute, a double

flute that Athena made from a stag’s bones and played at a banquet of the gods. She

was nettled to see that Hera and Aphrodite were laughing at her behind their hands

while all the other gods seemed quite transported by the music. After the concert “she

went away by herself into a Phrygian wood, took up the flute again beside a stream,

and watched her image in the water, as she played.” Immediately she understood why

the two goddesses had laughed at her. Her efforts on the instrument had turned her

face an unflattering blue and caused her cheeks to swell. In disgust “she threw down

her flute, and laid a curse on anyone who picked it up.”

The unfortunate victim of Athena’s spell was the satyr Marsyas. No sooner did he

put the flute to his lips than it played by itself, reproducing Athena’s divine music.

The satyr, though, claimed the music as his own and wandered through Phrygia

enthralling the peasants with his performance. They told him that even Apollo

couldn’t do better on his lyre, and Marsyas was foolish enough to accept their critical

appraisal. His vainglory provoked the anger of Apollo, who invited him to a music

contest, “the winner of which should inflict whatever punishment he pleased on the

loser.” Marsyas consented, and Apollo irnpaneled the Muses as a jury—as clear a fix as

there ever was at least before the judging scandals in modern Olympics. The Muses

claimed to be charmed by both instruments until Apollo came up with a trick. He

challenged Marsyas to do with the flute what the god could do with the lyre. Turn it

upside down, he ordered, and both play and sing at the same time. Marsyas failed to

meet this tall order, but Apollo, with ease, “reversed his lyre and sang … delightful

hymns in honour of the Olympian gods.” The Muses awarded victory to Apollo.

Thereupon the god took cruel revenge on the musical upstart Marsyas. He flayed him

alive and nailed his skin to a pine tree.

If the divine creator of music could be moved to murder by envy of a mortal

competitor, how was more restrained behavior to be expected from Salieri and his

ilk? My article, “Salieri and the ‘Murder’ of Mozart,” published seven years before

Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, explores not only the envy motif but also the psychological

compatibility of genius and crime. A classic (but optimistic) pronouncement on the

latter subject is attributable to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself, not, however,

as he appears in Shaffer’s drama but in the pages of Alexander Pushkin’s chamber

play Mozart and Salieri. A seventeenth-century analogue to the whispering campaign

against Salieri was the assertion that opera composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, after driving

his rival Robert Cambert out of the French theaters, murdered him in England.

The claims that homicide caused the deaths of Mozart and Cambert are

ungrounded, but the mysterious murder of eighteenth-century composer and

violinist Jean-Marie Leclair is well documented by surviving records of the police

investigation. The solution to the case that I propose on the basis of my examination of



the detective work suggests that the killing of Leclair was inspired by envy and a sense

of frustration over the failure of musical ambition.

The third theme of Part_Qne of Musical Mysteries will show musicians trapped in

lurid events of everyday life, in tales of homicide more suited to the Police Gazette

than to the Musical Quarterly. In these true stories the musician appears as vengeful

husband or as victim of a mistress’s former lover. Perhaps the greatest musician to

have figured as murderer in a domestic tragedy was the madrigal composer Carlo

Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa. In 1586 he married a noble Neapolitan lady, Donna Maria

d’Avalos. Four years later, having learned of her love affair with the Duke of Andria,

he had her murdered by servants and himself took an active part in the killing. A

century later another Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella, became as famous for

amatory scandal and tragedy as for his music. After eloping with the mistress of a

Venetian nobleman, Stradella was wounded by assassins sent from Venice. But he did

not change his ways. Another group of avengers, apparently in punishment of a later

romantic escapade, murdered Stradella in 1682.

Unlike the murders of Stradella and of Gesualdo’s wife and her lover, which

were actuated by passion and a desire for revenge, the violence of the modern age

does not always derive from a personal link between assailant and victim. Killings

committed at random or among persons unknown to each other are now common

occurrences. Musical Mysteries recounts the deaths of three celebrated twentieth-

century composers who died at the hands of complete or virtual strangers. In the

evening of September 15, 1945, three shots fired in panic by a soldier in the

American army of occupation in post—World War II Austria deprived the music world

of one of its modernist geniuses, Anton Webern. My chapter on the composer’s death

summarizes evidence uncovered by Hans Moldenhauer regarding the circumstances

of the tragedy and pursues echoes of the case in literature and in an Internet hoax.

American composer Marc Blitzstein had made only the slightest acquaintance with

the three sailors who attacked him in Fort-de-France, Martinique, on January 21 , 1964.

After coming upon Blitzstein at a waterfront bar and accompanying him on a pub

crawl, they robbed and beat him in an alley. Blitzstein, who throughout his musical

career had sung the praises of the common man, died in a hospital on the following

evening. His plan for the night of the assault may have been a rough-trade sexual

encounter, but the sailors were satisfied with the contents of his wallet. Mark David

Chapman, the perpetual failure who stalked and killed the famous Beatle John Lennon,

was also unknown to his victim. In his world of private fantasies, however, Chapman

had more and more embedded himself in the name and personality of Lennon, whom

he simultaneously admired and envied. Like the ancient Greek arsonist Herostratos,

Chapman hoped to achieve fame through the destruction of his idol.

of this work, “Crime in Music,” considers three examples, widely

separated in time and culture, of the use of crime subjects in various musical forms

and genres. In my study “Lamech, the Second Biblical Killer: A Song with Variations,”

the exploits of Cain’s descendant, Lamech, are encapsulated in an enigmatic set piece

that he sings for his two wives in Genesis. In the “Song of Lamech,” or the “Song of the

Sword,” as his lyric outburst is called, he boasts of two killings that outdo fratricide.

I trace variant interpretations of Lamech’s song from Rabbinic commentaries to

Victorian poetry. Lamech has attracted the attention of many English writers,

including Chaucer, Kipling, George Eliot, and Arthur Clough; these authors have

portrayed him as the first multiple murderer, the father of feuds, and an innovator in

murder weaponry. He is also an early embodiment of inherited criminality.

George Bernard Shaw found the libretto of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1893 operetta

Utopia, Limited completely puzzling. From a clue in promoter Goldbury’s patter song, I

develop the thesis that the plot was inspired by the Panama Canal criminal fraud case

of the same year and relate the Goldbury song to Gilbert’s career-long interest in law

and crimes, whether perpetrated by businessmen, thieves, or murderers.

As my finale, I offer an elucidation of the character Jud Fry in Rodgers and

Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! I explore Jud’s roots in Lynn Riggs’s play Green Grow the

Lilacs, on which Oklahoma! is based, and consider other works by Riggs that deal with

violence and lawlessness. The study also draws on insights into Riggs’s life (including

a family murder and a fire) that were communicated to me in interviews with the

playwright’s then-surviving relatives.

What are the “mysteries” that my title promises? Some of my chapters offer

genuine whodunnits. Who killed Leclair or Stradella? In other cases, the mystery runs

deeper. Was a crime committed at all, or have Lully and Salieri been wrongly accused

through all these centuries? In several instances that I study here, we never learn

the roots of the violent act. Why did Lamech surpass Cain by taking the lives of two

victims, and what was the motive of the sailors who attached Marc Blitzstein? Such

questions are mysteries of the human soul, the most intractable enigmas of all.

Bibliographical Notes

The story of Apollo recounted here comes from Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (Baltimore:

Penguin, 1955), 1:77.

Throughout the volume, the translations of foreign-language works are mine unless

otherwise noted.



The Musician as Murderer or Victim


Lully and the Death of Cambert

Musicians have not been immune to the venom of professional rivalry. Tradition

appears to attribute the most intense rivalries to operatic composers. In the case of

one of the great competitive pairings, Gluck and Piccinni, neither man seems to have

had any basis to reproach the other for acts of unfairness. The guilty parties were the

factions of the Paris opera world that attempted unsuccessfully to pit the two men

against each other in an operatic mano a mano by assigning them the same libretto

based on Quinault’s Roland. The legends of other rivalries are darker. In the accounts

of the enrnity of Salieri for Mozart and of the victory of Jean-Baptiste Lully over Robert

Cambert, we read not only testimonies to professional antagonism but also hints or

outright charges of assassination.

The Mozart-Salieri traditions have often been summarized and will be the subject

of detailed examination in the next chapter. However, the story of how Lully came

to be blamed for the death of Cambert in London in 1677 is relatively little known

to the English-reading public. In fact, little effort has been made by prior researchers

(principally French) to determine whether the traditional view that Cambert died

violently can be documented from English records. My two purposes here will be to

review the anti-LuIIy traditions that have grown up around Cambert’s death and to

demonstrate, on the basis of a survey of English records, the diffculty of producing

evidence that Cambert was murdered by anyone at all.


It is not an accident that the most extreme traditions of musical rivalry from the

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries derive from the world of opera. Many factors

fed the potentialities for conflict that are never wholly lacking when sensitive artists

are struggling to find acceptance for their work. Due to the cultural centralism of

monarchic society and the great expense of opera productions, the commissioning

and subsidizing of operas were primarily under control of the court. The success

of opera composers was accordingly determined not only by talent but also by the

political strength of their supporters. Courtiers electioneered for the opera composers

under their patronage, and their campaigns were marred by “dirty tricks.”

The passions stirred by opera politics were further inflamed by nationalism. In the

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Italian opera, and Italian operatic composers

and troupes, were exported to the major European capitals, where they met with

native resistance. To the extent that this led to adaptation of Italian style or

development of newer national styles, such resistance was musically fruitful, but it

also took its toll in personal animosities directed against the cultural invaders. The

libels against Salieri were based in large measure on his Italian origin. Lully was not

able, either by his writ of naturalization from Louis XIV or the changed spelling of his

name, to convince the people of Paris that he had, “in spite of all temptations to belong

to other nations,” become a true Frenchman.

The story of the competition of Cambert and Lully for mastery of the French opera

world might read like the race of the hare and the tortoise if we were to attribute

more cunning to the tortoise than is granted by proverb. Cambert was off the mark

thirteen years sooner, but he rested for a decade; when success was in sight, his more

resourceful adversary overtook him.

Cambert’s musical career in Paris was anchored by significant offcial posts. He

served as organist of the Church of St. Honoré and, from 1662 or 1663, as Anne of

Austria’s Master of Music. Early in his career Cambert conceived the idea of creating

a comédie en musique in the French language. Under Cambert’s concept, musical

continuity would be provided by the use of recitative on the Italian model, and

the singers would move freely about the stage instead of striking wooden postures.

Cambert’s first effort in the new operatic genre, written to a libretto by the clumsy and

conceited poet Pierre Perrin, was the so-called Pastorale of Issy, which was performed

at a private country home at Issy near Paris in 1659. Unfortunately, Cambert was

never inclined or able to push the borders of opera beyond pastoral scenes. A second

opera, Ariane et Bacchus, was composed in 1659 under a commission from Mazarin,

but its performance was called off after Mazarin’s death.

Cambert did not turn to opera again until 1669, when he renewed his association

with Perrin, who in June of that year had obtained a royal privilége authorizing him to

organize an Académie de musique for the production of opera. In March 1671 Cambert

and Perrin presented their opera Pomone as the inaugural work of the Académie. It was

immensely successful and may have enjoyed more than seventy performances within

an eight-month period.

It is speculated that the success of Pomone encouraged Lully to enter the opera

world and make it his own, to the exclusion of Cambert and other possible rivals.

However, he might have arrived at the same destination in any event, though his

route was circuitous. The narrative of the spectacular rise of Lully from obscurity

is well-known. A son of an Italian miller, Lully was brought to Paris as a youth to

serve Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle) as an Italian tutor and

attendant. Having displayed musical precocity while in her employ, he was astute

enough to change sides during the wars of the Fronde and to enter the service

of the young Louis XIV. Enjoying Louis’ admiration and affection, Lully began as

dancer, ballet director, and orchestra conductor and then became an important court

composer, both of ballets and ceremonials and of incidental music to the comedies

of another favorite of Louis XIV, Moliere. About the same time as the premiere of

Pomone, Lully’s Psyche was produced. Although ballet and stage machinery remained

dominant, critics agree that elements of opera were also present in the work.

Somehow, Lully became convinced that he should acquire the Perrin privilége

and fashion a wider musical monopoly for himself. It is not clear whether the idea

originated in Lully’s own ambition or in the encouragement of Colbert or Mme de

Montespan or Louis XIV himself. Lully always attributed the idea to the king, and it

would certainly have been consistent with the king’s belief that each important task

ofthe nation, whether political or cultural, should be exclusively committed to trusted


In any event, Lully’s original acquisition of the Perrin privilege cannot be regarded

as a wrong to Cambert. The theater partnership that had been operating under the

privilege had been torn by dissension, Perrin was languishing in debtors’ prison, and


Cambert’s role in the venture had been reduced to that of a hired musician (hired

but, alas, not paid). Lully worked out a businesslike agreement with Perrin for the

transfer of the privilége in consideration for Lully’s discharge of Perrin’s debts. Lully’s

transgressions against his musical colleagues, including Cambert, arose not from his

agreement with Perrin but from his ruthlessness in obtaining and enforcing a new

royal privilége of unparalleled scope. Under this broad authority, and undeterred by

litigation brought by his adversaries, Lully closed the theater at which Pomone had

triumphed, raided its opera troupe, drove all competing opera composers from the

field, and even placed severe restrictions on musical accompaniment in the theater of

his old collaborator, Moliére.

The musical career of Cambert in London has been traced, as well as the scanty

records permit, by André Tessier and W. H. Grattan Flood in separate studies published

in 1927 and 1928. Cambert arrived in London in either 1672 or 1673. He was possibly

influenced to make this move by the fact that his student Louis Grabu was Master

of the King’s Music at the court of Charles II. In the fall of 1673 Cambert founded in

London a so-called Royal Academy of Music in which he held the post of director. This

institution was an essentially private opera theater, although Cambert appears to have

enjoyed for a time a measure of royal patronage, which may have included a loan of

stage sets. The high-sounding name Cambert chose for the theater was undoubtedly

intended to reflect some of the authority of the Parisian operatic monopolies and

apparently served its purpose at least posthumously by misleading historians into

attributing to Cambert an offcial position as royal director of music at Charles’s court.

In the early spring of 1674, Cambert’s Royal Academy presented his opera Ariane,

which had been modified with the assistance of Grabu, at the new Royal Theatre in

Bridge’s Street (Drury Lane). This theater had been built to replace a predecessor that

was destroyed by fire in 1672. It appears that Ariane was performed in French by

a troupe of French musicians who had been assembled by the Academy. Cambert’s

destiny to remain obscure was mirrored by the libretto, published in London in 1674,

which identifies Grabu as the sole composer. The libretto bears a prefatory letter to

Charles II dedicating the work of the Academy to his service and is signed, perhaps too

optimistically, “your Academy of Music.” It may be that other of Cambert’s works were

performed in London in his early years there. It is possible that Pomone and Les Peines

et Plaisirs de I’Amour were also produced in London, and a surviving libretto attributes

to Cambert’s pen a portion of a Ballet et Musique pour le Divertissement du Roy de la

Grande Bretagne performed at the court in 1674.

Unfortunately, Cambert’s royal favor seems to have been short-lived. In August

1674, his mainstay at the court, Grabu, was abruptly dismissed as Master of the

King’s Music and replaced by Nicholas Staggins, an Englishman. After 1674 Cambert

is lost from sight until April 1677, when Le Mercure Galant reported his death with a

resounding eulogy. “Let us say that Music is unfortunate this year in every way, and

that if some musicians have lost their lawsuits, others have lost their lives. M. Cambert,

master of music of the late Queen Mother, has died in London, where his genius was

greatly esteemed. He had received many benefits from the King of England and from

the greatest noblemen at his Court, and all that they had seen of his work did not belie

in the least what he had done in France. It is to him that we owe the establishment of

the operas that we see today.” This obituary did not impute to Lully a role in Cambert’s

death. However, both in his historical assessment of Cambert’s achievement and in a

possibly ironic linking of Cambert’s death to another man’s suffering at the hands of

Lully, the writer appears to have intended to identify Cambert in death both as the

superior of Lully and as his enemy. The assertion that France owed to Cambert the

establishment of its operas obviously amounted to a rejection of Lully’s claims to that

distinction. Not content with this critical judgment, the article delivered a personal

blow against Lully by comparing Cambert’s loss of life to another musician’s loss of

a lawsuit. This reference was clearly to Lully’s judicial persecution of Henri Guichard,

a business associate of Pierre Perrin who had held an interest in Perrin’s theater and

royal opera franchise.

Lully, in order to counter Guichard’s opposition to his opera monopoly, had

initiated a criminal proceeding against Guichard for an alleged attempt to murder

him by the administration of poisoned snuff. The poisoning plot, if it existed at all,

was carried forward with all the clumsiness one associates with murder conspiracies

in opera librettos. If there was any truth in the accusation, it is likely that the plot

was, after feeble beginnings, largely an invention of Lully himself for the purpose

of entrapping his adversary. The allusion in Le Mercure’s Cambert obituary to Lully’s

legal victory was based on the fact that Guichard had been convicted of the attempted

poisoning in September 1676, but the comment was premature: Guichard appealed

and was exonerated by the appellate court within a month after the appearance of

the article. However, the association made between Cambert’s death and Lully’s own

charge of foul play against Guichard was to bear fruit in the creation of a murder


Lully died in 1687, and his death was marked by both praise and bitter invective.

One of the most extravagant literary tributes was an account of Lully’s reception

into the Elysian Fields by the great departed spirits of music. Possibly in response

to this piece or similar exercises in hyperbole, poet and humorist Antoine Bauderon

de Sénecé published in 1688 a satirical account of what really happened to Lully in

the Elysian Fields. Sénecé’s book is in the form of a letter from the sixteenth-century

court poet Clément Marot to a fictional editor, circumstantially specifying as place and

date of mailing “Elysian Fields, April 20.” In describing Lully’s entry into the Temple

of Persephone, Sénecé, like the Cambert obituary writer, makes a reference to Lully’s

charges against Guichard, and he leaves no doubt as to his feeling with regard to their

lack of substance: “Barely had he [Lully] taken a few steps when he was seen to change

color and to show on his countenance more fear than he had ever had for the alleged

poison of Guichard.”

Persephone’s Temple was the Elysian tribunal at which judgment was passed on

the qualification of a new entrant to be granted immortality. Lully’s advocate was

the Italian musician Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, who, like Lully, had found favor at

the French court. Beaujoyeulx appears to have been a rather maladroit spokesman,

since he spiced his eulogy with Sénecé’s own animus. When the ancient Greek poet

Anacreon opposed Lully’s claims on the ground that Lully refused to recognize the

primacy of the poet’s contribution to opera, Beaujoyeulx rejoined that Lully was well

aware of the important role of poetry. why else would he have headed his scores with

laudatory verse epistles to Louis XIV?

At this point Perrin’s ghost stepped forward and, still bitter over the loss of opera

rights to Lully, urged that, far from being entitled to immortality, Lully should be

punished “as the thief that he was of the labors and reputations of others.” Perrin’s

final charge that Lully had used his opera monopoly to “cut the throat of so many”

is immediately taken up in a melodramatic intervention by the tortured ghost of


“Yes, yes, cut the throat!” a furious shade cried in a terrifying out-burst, and,

breaking through the crowd, was immediately recognized as that of poor

Cambert, still entirely disfigured by the wounds that he had received when

he was in England. “You see, Madame,” he continued in the same tone, “to

what end I was brought by the tyranny of Lully. The applause that I received

from the public for the merit of my compositions aroused his indignation. He

wanted to seize the fields that I had prepared, and reduced me to the cruel

necessity of going to seek my bread and glory in a foreign court, where envy

found a way of finishing, by depriving me of life, the crime that it had begun

by exiling me from my homeland. But regardless of whose hand struck the

blows that took my life, I shall never impute them to anyone but Lully, whom

I regard as my real murderer, and against whom I demand that you give

justice. And it is not for myself alone, Madame, that I implore your equity; it

is in the name of all those who distinguished themselves in their times by

some rare ability in music, whom he never ceased to persecute by all sorts of


Like the Mercure obituary, this passage can be read as falling far short of a murder

accusation against Lully. The “crime” of which Lully is most clearly accused is that

of having driven Cambert into exile by unfair competition, and in Sénecé’s view this

crime also entails moral responsibility for Cambert’s death in exile, regardless of the

identity of the actual assailant. But the author’s reference to “envy” as a common

element in the crimes of exile and murder created an ambiguity. Did Sénecé mean to

imply that minions of Lully pursued Cambert to London to complete his destruction,

or that Cambert fell victim of envy from musical circles in London as he had done in


The various strands of Sénecé’s innuendos were taken up by later historians, and

his fictional account of a lacerated ghost became the surrogate of a corpus delicti.

The historians do not acknowledge their debt to Sénecé, and it is understandably

embarrassing to footnote an assertion of murder by reference to a satirist. But the

mark of The Letter of Clément Marot is everywhere to be seen in the commentaries on

Cambert’s death from the eighteenth century on. In 1705 Le Cerf de La Viéville, a great

admirer of Lully, developed the anti-Eng1ish possibilities of Sénecé’s charges, perhaps

in the belief that he would thereby deflect blame from Lully. While Sénecé had left

ambiguous the source of the “envy” that had destroyed Cambert, Le Cerf pointed his

finger directly at Cambert’s English competitors:

Cambert seeing himself of no use in Paris after the establishment of Lully,

moved to London, where his Pomone, which he presented there, attracted to

him considerable evidences of friendship and favor from the King of England

and the greatest nobles of the Court. But the envy that is inseparable from

merit cut short his days. The English do not find it good for a foreigner to

intrude into their entertainment and instruction. The poor fellow died there

a little earlier than he would have died elsewhere.

The brothers Parfaict in their Histoire de l’Académie royale de musique paraphrased

the above passage from Le Cerf de La Viéville and also referred to a rival tradition

that Cambert had been murdered by a valet. This accusation (a parallel to the

familiar mystery novel formula that “the butler did it”) leaves open the question as to

whether the servant was acting for himself or for an undisclosed principal, and some

whispered that the murderer was engaged by Lully. In addition to all the mysteries this

theory summons up as to the details ofthe hiring and escape ofthe murderer, the valet

legend makes us wonder how Cambert, obscure as he was in 1677 , could have afforded

a manservant.

A less sensational residue of the Sénecé lampoon is a suggestion that Cambert died

of heartbreak in his London exile. This version leaves those who adopt it free to blame

Lully or not, depending on their views of Lully’s musical merits and of the fairness of

the steps he took to win and enforce his operatic monopoly.

Although none of the modern authorities attributes Camberft death to Lully,

a surprising number assume that Cambert was murdered. No evidence is cited in

support of this assumption, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that it is based

solely on Sénecé’s book. The writers accepting Sénecé may well have asked: would

Sénecé have dared describe the bleeding Cambert while his survivors still lived if

Cambert had died peacefully or in his sleep? After all, it is one thing to speculate about

a poisoning when a man has died suddenly (as in Mozart’s case) and quite another to

make vivid reference to knife wounds when Cambert’s family presumably had seen his

body and could tell the public whether he had been stabbed.

In view of the fact that Cambert’s allegedly violent end came in London, it is odd

that the tradition of his murder appears to be an exclusively French product. My

researches in London libraries and record offces have not uncovered any evidence

either that Cambert was murdered or that there were any rumors to such effect

current in London at the time of his death. Although exhaustive searches might prove

more successful, I have not found any English record of his death or burial. At the time

of his death, burial records were maintained by individual parishes, of which there

were more than one hundred in London and its environs. None of the published or

unbound parish burial registers for London or Middlesex County that I have reviewed

contains any record of Cambert’s death or burial, nor do the will indexes list any will

in his name. In fact, the only surviving offcial English record I have discovered with

relation to the Cambert family in or after 1677 is a note in the State Domestic Papers

of the grant of a passport for France to Cambert’s daughter, Marianne, on December I,


Cambert’s death came too early in journalistic history for us to expect to find a

story on his death (however lurid it might have been) in the London newspapers. The

most important journal, the semi-offcial London Gazette, devoted most of its space

to news of the wars of Louis XIV. Unfortunately, however, it contains no news of

Cambert’s death. Accounts of murders were not considered appropriate daily fare for

the Gazette’s readers. However, if Cambert had indeed been murdered by a valet who

had committed the additional capital offense of stealing plates or linens from his

master’s household, notice of the theft would have been permitted to appear among

the Gazette’s frequent advertisements for runaway servants and stolen household


The absence of newspaper coverage of crime in the late seventeenth century was

compensated for by a welter of pamphlets devoted to murders and executions. These

pamphlets are indexed by Donald Goddard Wing in his bibliography of seventeenth-

century publications. The name of Cambert does not appear in the index. There is

no reference to criminal proceedings arising out of Cambert’s death in the selective

edition of the records of the Middlesex Sessions, and a search made at my request of

the surviving indictments in the Court of King’s Bench during the Hilary Term of 1677

(January—March 1677) was also unproductive.

And the principal English diarists also make no reference to Cambert’s death.

Robert Hooke, friend of Sir Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys, was in London in

early 1677 and made daily entries in his diary during the period. He was an aficionado

of crime, if we can judge by an entry in 1677 referring to “H. Killigrews man stabbd

next the Kings bedchamber” and by his speculation in a 1679 diary page on the motive

for the murder of Sir Edmundbury Godfrey. However, Hooke’s diary does not mention

Cambert’s death.

Therefore, in the scales against Bauderon de Sénecé’s vivid description of Cambert’s

wounds we place the English silence. This silence is capable of conspiratorial

interpretation, particularly if we accept the strand of French tradition that implies

that Cambert was disposed of by English rivals. However, it is a strain on credulity

to suppose that conspirators, however highly placed, could have imposed a total

censorship not only on offcial records but also on gossip, one of the most highly

developed arts in London. If we are to reconcile the possibility of Cambert’s murder

with the apparent disregard of his death in London, we must hypothesize that by

1677 Cambert had fallen into obscurity, that his murderer was unknown and went

unpunished, and that there was no inquiry into the circumstances of his death. In

view of the diffculties presented in researching the records of this period, these

possibilities cannot be excluded. However, unless evidence of murder should someday

be discovered in England, it will remain diffcult to accept not only the libels against

Lully in the matter of Cambert’s death but also the more widely accepted hypothesis

that he died a violent death by someone’s hand.

A century after Cambert’s death, Sir John Hawkins set down what can still serve

as the offcial English view of the Cambert affair. According to Hawkins’s account,

Cambert “died, with grief, as it is said, in 1677.” The source of his grief was the

rejection of his work by the English public. Hawkins found no fault with the public’s

judgment. Ironically, Hawkins paired the antagonists Lully and Cambert as coworkers

in a style that could not fall pleasingly on English ears:

Perhaps one reason of the dislike of the English to Cambert’s Pomone, was

that the opera was a kind of entertainment to which they had not been

accustomed. Another might be that the levity of the French musical drama is

but ill suited to the taste of such as have a relish for harmony. The operas of

Lully consist of recitatives, short airs, chiefly gavots, minuets, and courants,

set to words; and chorusses in counterpoint, with entrées, and splendid

dances, and a great variety of scenery; and, in short, were such entertainment

as none but a Frenchman could sit to hear, and it was never pretended that

those of Cambert were at all better.

Hawkins’s chauvinistic rejection of French taste was matched by his outrage at the

tradition, stemming from Le Cerf de La Viéville, that Cambert had been done away

with by envious English musicians. Referring to a republication of Le Cerf’s innuendo

in Bourdelot’s music history originally published in 1715, Hawkins comments wryly

on the hypothesis that English musicians envied Cambert: “A modest reflexion in

the mouth of a man whose country has produced fewer good musicians than any in


It is appropriate that this tale of the musical animosities of Italy, France, and

England should end on a note of nationalism.

Bibliographical Notes

The Gluck—Piccinni rivalry is discussed in Alfred Einstein, Gluck (New York: Collier, 1962), 162—

  1. For an analysis of the tradition of Mozart’s murder, see “Salieri and the ‘Murder’ of Mozart,”

chapter 2 in this volume. An excellent description of the cultural centralism that fostered Lully’s

control over French opera is presented in Robert M. Isherwood, Music in the Service of the King:

France in the Seventeenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1973), 170—247.

The two principal theoretical works contrasting the French and Italian styles as developed in

the late seventeenth century were Abbé Frangois Raguenet’s Paralléle des Italiens et des Frangxis

(Paris, 1702) and Jean-Louis Le Cerf de La Viéville’s Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la

musiquefranqaise, 3 parts (Brussels: F. Foppens, 1705—06). The best biographical works on Lully

are those by Henry Pruniéres: Lully (Paris: Laurens, 1909) and the fictionalized La Vie Illustre

et Libertine de Jean-Baptiste Lully (Paris: Plon, 1929). Later biographies appear to be highly

derivative from Pruniéres, for example R. H. F. Scott, Jean-Baptiste Lully: The Founder Of French

Opera (London: Peter Owen, 1973); Eugéne Borre1,Jean-Baptiste Lully (Paris: La Colombe, 1949).

For appraisals of Cambert’s contributions to French opera, see Arthur Pougin, Les Vrais Créateurs

de l’Opéra Franqais: Perrin et Cambert (Paris: Charavay, 1881); Charles Nuitter et Ernest Thoinan,

Les Origines de l’Opéra Frangis (Paris: Plon, 1886). References to Cambert’s career in London are

drawn from André Tessier, “Robert Cambert Londres,” La Revue Musicale, Dec. 1927 , 101, 110—

11, 118; W. H. Grattan Flood, “Quelques précisions nouvelles sur Cambert et Grabu å Londres,”

La Revue Musicale, Aug. 1928, 351.

Musicologist Philippe Beaussant, in Lully ou Le musicien du Soleil (Paris: Gallimard, 1992),

provides a balanced assessment of Cambert’s talent and tribulations: “What shall we say about

Cambert? Without making him, as some have believed themselves able to do, the great genius

shamefully evicted by Lully, the ‘true founder’ of French opera, despoiled of his work, let us say

that he deserved better than the misfortune that never ceased to pursue him and his bad luck in

having Perrin as a librettist” (453).

The posthumous tribute to Lully referred to is Le triomphe de Lully aux Champs-Elysées (1687),

reprinted in a special Lully issue of La Revue Musicale, Jan. 1925, 90. I have translated passages

from the first edition Of Antoine Bauderon De Sénecé, Lettre de Clément Marot Monsieur de…

touchant ce qui s’est passé, å l’arrivée de Jean Baptiste de Lulli, aux Champs Elysées (Cologne,

1688), 32—3 3, 51—53. For Le Cerf’s theory of Cambert’s death, see his Comparaison de la musique

italienne et de la musique frangise, part 2:177. The brothers Parfaict are quoted in Pougin,

Les Vrais Créateurs, 250n1. See also Romain Rolland, Les Origines du Théåtre Lyrique Modeme

—Histoire de l’Opéra en Europe avant Lully et Scarlatti (Paris, 1931), 259113. An example Of the

“heartbreak” theory of Cambert’s death is found in Castil-B1aze (Frangois Henri Joseph Blaze),

Moliére Musicien (Paris: Castil-Blaze, 1852), 2:126.

In the course of my research, I reviewed all of the parish records published by the Harleian

Society as well as the unbound parish records for London and Middlesex County in the

possession Of the Society for Genealogists in London. I also consulted will records at the

Guildhall Library, the County Hall, and the Middle-sex Record Offce. The reference to Marianne

Cambert’s passport is in Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, Mar. 1, 1678 to December

31, 1678 (London, 1913), 614. The record reflects the grant of a passport to “Marie du Moulier

and Marianne Cambert.” It is possible that the first name is a misprint of the maiden name of

Cambert’s widow, Marie de Moustier.

I am indebted to records agent Stephen Goslin for the search of the King’s Bench Records.

The comments of Sir John Hawkins are drawn from his General History of the Science and

Practice of Music (London: T. Payne, 1776), 4:239n. For Bourdelot’s republication of Le Cerf’s

innuendo, see Histoire de la Musique et de ses Effets, depuis son origine, jusqu’å présent, begun by

Abbé Pierre Bourdelot, continued by Pierre Bonnet-Bourdelot, and completed and published by

Jacques Bonnet (Amsterdam, 1725), 3:163—64.

Charles Burney also cites a French music history source for the statement that “Cambert, who

died in London in 1677, broke his heart on account of the bad success of his operas in England.”

Charles Burney, A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (London,

1789), 4:188.


Salieri and the “Murder” of Mozart

On October 14, 1791, in his last surviving letter, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to

his wife, Constanze, at Baden that he had taken the Italian composer Antonio Salieri

and singer Mme Cavalieri to a performance of The Magic Flute and that Salieri had

been most complimentary. “from the overture to the last chorus there was not a single

number that did not call forth from him a bravo! or bello!” Less than two months later,

Mozart was dead. In a report from Prague written within a week of the composer’s

death, the Musikalisches Wochenblatt mentioned rumors of poisoning based on the

swollen condition of his body. Suspicion gradually came to focus on Salieri, who,

despite his recently professed delight over The Magic Flute, had for a decade been an

implacable rival of Mozart’s in Vienna. In the years prior to Salieri’s death in 1825,

the rumors of his recourse to poison as a final weapon of rivalry were fed by reports

that, while in failing health, he had confessed his guilt and, in remorse, had atternpted


The rumors that Mozart was murdered and that Salieri was his assassin have

produced controversies and traditions in the fields of medicine, musicology, history,

and literature that have not lost their vigor today. In 1970 David Weiss’s novel The

Assassination of Mozart appeared in bookstores, and Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus

(1979) and the film version brought the poisoning contentions to the notice of an

international audience. Medical and historical debate on Mozart’s untimely demise

continues both in this country and abroad, and German writers and researchers in

particular show a remarkable preoccupation with the composer’s death. The writings

on this fascinating subject differ widely in quality and point of view, and many of

the authors seem unaware of the sources on which others have drawn. It therefore

remains tempting to return to this classic historical mystery with a view to providing

a “confrontation” among the various contending parties, including those who blame

Mozart’s death on natural causes, poisoning, professional jealousy, Viennese politics,

the Masons, and the Jews. In this centuries-long debate no possible suspect is spared.

Virtually no organ of Mozart’s body is regarded as above the suspicion of having failed

in its appointed function, and, with the exception of the composer’s wife, no group or

individual is cleared of complicity in his death.

The story of Mozart’s last days must begin with the mysterious commissioning

of the Requiem, which apparently caused his sensitive soul to brood on death.

Around July of 1791, when Mozart’s work on The Magic Flute was virtually complete

and rehearsals had already begun, Mozart received a visit from a tall, grave-looking

stranger dressed completely in gray. The stranger presented an anonymous letter

commissioning Mozart to compose a requiem as quickly as possible at any price. It is

now accepted that the commission had a very prosaic explanation. The messenger’s

patron was Count Franz von Walsegg, who wanted a requiem composed in memory of

his late wife and who intended to pass himself off as the composer. Mozart accepted

the commission but put aside his work on it when he received an offer to write an

opera, La Clemenza di Tito, for the coronation of Emperor Leopold in Prague. Just as

Mozart and his wife were getting into the coach to leave for Prague, the gray-clad

messenger appeared “like a ghost” and pulled at Constanze’s coat, asking her, “What

about the Requiem?” Mozart explained his reason for the journey and promised to turn

to the Requiem as soon as he came back to Vienna.

Franz Niemetschek, Mozart’s first biographer, reports that Mozart became ill in

Prague and required continuous medical attention while he was there. He states that

Mozart “was pale and his expression was sad, although his good humour was often

shown in merry jest with his friends.”

On Mozart’s return to Vienna, he started work on the Requiem with great energy

and interest, but his family and friends noted that his illness was becoming worse and

that he was depressed. To cheer him up Constanze went driving with him one day in

the Prater. According to her account, which she gave to Niemetschek, “Mozart began

to speak of death, and declared that he was writing the Requiem for himself. Tears

came to the eyes of this sensitive man. ‘I feel definitely,’ he continued, ‘that I will not

last much longer, I am sure I have been poisoned. I cannot rid myself of this idea.'”

This conversation, which is one of the cornerstones of the poisoning legend, Constanze

later repeated to her second husband, Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, who recorded it in

his biography of Mozart in much the same terms as the Niemetschek version. And

Constanze was still recounting the episode as late as 1829, according to the journal

of Vincent and Mary Novello, who paid her a visit in Salzburg that year. In fact, the

Novellos’ journal reveals that Constanze told them Mozart had clearly identified the

poison that he thought had been administered to him as aqua toffana. This poison,

whose principal active ingredient is supposed to have been arsenic, was introduced by

a Neapolitan woman named Toffana in seventeenth-century Italy and had startling

effect on the statistics of sudden death. It is perhaps regrettable that history has not

seen fit to choose the most sublime of her various nicknames for the potion, the

“manna of St. Nicholas di Bari.”

One of the most dependable accounts of Mozart’s terminal illness is provided by

Constanze’s sister, Sophie Haibel, in a report sent in 1825 to Nissen at his request for

use in his biography. Most of the symptoms with which the medical historians have

dealt we owe to her account: the painful swelling of his body, which made it diffcult

for him to move in bed; his complaint that he had “the taste of death” on his tongue;

his high fever. Despite his suffering, he continued to work on the Requiem. On the last

day of the composer’s life, when Sophie came to see him, Franz Xaver Süssmayr was

at his bedside and Mozart was explaining to him how he ought to finish the Requiem.

(It is reported by a newspaper article contemporaneous with Sophie’s memoir that

earlier on this day Mozart was singing the alto part of the Requiem with three

friends who supplied falsetto, tenor, and bass.) Mozart retained his worldly concerns

to the point of advising Constanze to keep his death secret until his friend Johann

Georg Albrechtsberger could be informed, so that his friend could make prompt

arrangements to succeed to Mozart’s recently granted rights as colleague and heir

apparent of the Kapellmeister of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. When Mozart appeared to be

sinking, one ofhis doctors, Nikolaus Closset, was sent for and was finally located at the

theater. However, according to Sophie’s account, that drama lover “had to wait till the

piece was over.” When he finally arrived, he ordered cold compresses put on Mozart’s

feverish brow, but these “provided such a shock that he did not regain consciousness

again before he died.” According to Sophie, the last thing Mozart did was imitate the

kettledrums in the Requiem. She wrote that thirty-four years later she could still hear

that last music of his.

Nissen, in his biography, states that Mozart’s fatal illness lasted for fifteen

days, terminating with his death around midnight (probably the early morning)

of December 5, 1791. The illness began with swellings of his hands and feet

and an almost complete immobility, and sudden attacks of vomiting followed.

Nissen describes the illness as “high rniliary fever.” He writes that Mozart retained

consciousness until two hours before his death.

Neither Dr. Closset nor Mozart’s other attending physician prepared a death

certificate with the cause of death stated. No autopsy was performed. From the very

beginning, doctors and other commentators have differed widely as to the cause of

death. Nissen’s identification of the fatal illness as miliary fever accords with the

cause of death as set forth in the registers of deaths of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and

Parish in Vienna. Although that nomenclature does not fit any precise modern medical

definition, it is surmised that the term as used in the medicine of the eighteenth

century denoted a fever accompanied by a rash. However, a number of other illnesses

have been put forward as the cause of death, including grippe, tuberculosis, dropsy,

meningitis, rheumatic fever, heart failure, and Graves’ disease. The hypotheses of

some of these diseases, such as tuberculosis, appear to have been based not so much on

any of the observable medical phenomena as on a biographical conclusion that Mozart

in his last years was killing himself with overwork and irregular living. The suggestion

of Graves’ disease, a hyperthyroidism, is derived from facial characteristics of Joseph

Lange’s unfinished 1782 portrait of the composer, which include, in the words of an

imaginative medical observer, “the wide angle of the eye, the staring, rather frightened

look, the swelling of the upper eyelid and the moist glaze of the eyes.” Art historian

Kenneth Clark has quite a different interpretation of Mozart’s intent gaze in the Lange

portrait. The painting conveys to Clark not the sign of death nine years off but “the

single-mindedness of genius.”

Probably the prevailing theory of modern medical authorities who believe Mozart

to have died a natural death is that he suffered from a chronic kidney disease,

which passed in its final stages into a failure of kidney function, edema, and uremic

poisoning. This theory was advanced as early as 1905 by a French physician, Dr.

Barraud. It is argued that this diagnosis is most in keeping with the recorded

phenomena of Mozart’s last sufferings, including the swelling of his body and the

poisonous taste of which he complained. Modern medicine has established that

certain chronic diseases of the kidneys are commonly caused by streptococcal

infections suffered long before the effect on the kidney function becomes noticeable.

Medical commentators on Mozart’s death have implicated a number of childhood

illnesses as likely contributors to his chronic kidney disease. They are aided in their

researches by detailed descriptions of the illnesses of the Mozart children in the

letters oftheir father, Leopold. Certainly their recurring health problems were a proper

subject of parental concern, but the pains Leopold takes to describe his children’s

symptoms and the course of their illnesses and recoveries stamp him as an amateur of

medicine. In fact, he often administered remedies to the children, his favorites being a

cathartic and an antiperspirant he refers to as “black powder” and “margrave powder,”

respectively. It is fortunate that the children survived both the diseases and their

father’s cures.

In 1762, when Wolfgang was six years old, he was ill with what a doctor consulted

by Leopold Mozart declared to be a type of scarlet fever, an infection capable of causing

kidney injury. In the following year, 1763, young Mozart contracted an illness marked

by painful joints and fever, which have led some observers to postulate rheumatic

fever, which could also lead to adverse effects on the kidney. When Mozart was nine

he took sick with what Leopold called a “very bad cold,” and later the same year both

his sister and he were more seriously ill. Nannerl was thought to be in such serious

condition that the administration of extreme unction was begun. No sooner had

she recovered than Wolfgang was struck by the illness, which in his father’s words

reduced him in a period of four weeks to such a wretched state that “he is not only

absolutely unrecognizable, but has nothing left but his tender skin and little bones.”

Some modern commentators identify this severe illness as an attack of abdominal

typhus. Two years later, in 1767, Wolfgang contracted smallpox, which left him quite

ill and caused severe swelling of his eyes and nose. He also suffered throughout his

childhood from a number of bad toothaches, which have led some supporters of the

kidney disease theory to invoke the possibility of a focal infection contributing to

kidney damage. The last reference to an illness prior to his final days is in a letter from

Leopold to Nannerl in 1784, when her brother was twenty-eight. This letter reported

that Wolfgang had become violently ill with colic in Vienna and had a doctor in almost

daily attendance. Leopold added that not only his son “but a number of other people

caught rheumatic fever, which became septic when not taken in hand at once.” There

is no other evidence of a serious illness of Mozart’s until the period of a few months

preceding his death. Dr. Louis Carp attempts to demonstrate the presence of severe

symptoms of kidney disease as early as 1787 by quoting from a letter from Mozart

to his father in April of that year. “I never lie down at night without reflecting that

—young as I am—I may not live to see another day.” This letter, written to console

Mozart’s dying father, gives us an important insight into the composer’s speculations

about mortality. However, it does not provide any clue to his physical condition or to

his feelings about his health.

Locked in combat with the medical authorities attributing Mozart’s death to

disease is a substantial body of modern physicians who would support Mozart’s own

suspicion by declaring that he was indeed poisoned. These doctors, including Dieter

Kerner and Gunther Duda of Germany, believe that the poison administered was

mercury, which attacks the kidneys and produces much the same diagnostic picture

as that presented by the final stages of a natural kidney failure. Both Kerner and Duda

minimize much of the evidence that has been cited in support of the theory that

Mozart suffered from a chronic kidney disease stemming from streptococcal infection.

Dr. Duda believes that the severity and nature of Mozart’s childhood illnesses have

been misstated. He is convinced that the so-called scarlet fever identified as such

by the physician whom Mozart’s father consulted was, in fact, erythema nodosum,

a disorder of uncertain origin resulting in raised eruptions of the skin and of far

less severity than scarlet fever. Moreover, Duda is not at all certain that Mozart’s

other illnesses, which have been regarded as outbreaks of rheumatic fever, were not

common cases of the grippe. Unimpressed by the speculation that Mozart’s toothaches

may have involved harmful focal infections, he points out that Mozart’s sister, who

was exposed to and suffered most of the same childhood illnesses as Mozart, lived

to the age of seventy-eight. Duda also emphasizes the lack of evidence that Mozart

himself had any substantial illness between 1784 and the last year of his life.

Dr. Kerner believes that the characteristics of Mozart’s last illness more closely

resemble those of mercury poisoning than of the last stages of a chronic kidney

illness. No contemporaries relate that Mozart complained of thirst, which Kerner

associates with chronic nephritis. He also notes that Mozart was conscious until

shortly before his death, worked actively to the last, and, during the final months of

his life, composed some of his greatest masterpieces. In contrast with this spectacular

creative activity, it is Kerner’s experience that “uremics are always for weeks and

usually months before their death unable to work and for days before their death are

unconscious.” Kerner accepts the contemporary report that Mozart first became ill in

Prague and assumes that small doses of mercury were given to him in the summer of

1791, followed by a lethal dose close to the time of his death. Noting that in the Vienna

of Mozart’s time mercury was in limited use as a remedy for syphilis, Kerner states that

such use was introduced by Dr. Gerhard van Swieten, whose son Mozart knew. From

such observations a commentator has erroneously read the Kerner study as arguing

that Mozart poisoned himself in an effort to cure himself of syphilis.

It is hard for a modern reader of these arguments to rid himself of the prejudice

against regarding a poisoning as anything but an exotic possibility. Unfortunately,

and for good experiential reasons, it was not so regarded in the eighteenth century.

Gunther Duda, in an effort to prepare his readers to accept his thesis, begins his book

with the reminder that before firearms became generally available, poison was an

extremely common weapon, and the subtle art of its use well-known. It is remarkable

how many of Mozart’s contemporaries who figure in some manner in the controversies

over his death regarded poisoning or suspicion of poisoning as risks to be taken quite


Even if the medical evidence and eighteenth-century experience do not exclude the

poisoning of Mozart as a possibility, there has always been diffculty in identifying

a murderer and finding an appropriate murder motive. Salieri has always been the

prime candidate for the unhappy role of Mozart’s murderer. He fits this assignment

imperfectly at best. Although (in large part due to the effect of the murder legend)

time has not been kind to Salieri’s musical reputation, he was undoubtedly one of the

leading composers of his period and an important teacher of composition, counting

among his pupils Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Hummel, Süssmayr, and Meyerbeer. He

was also a famous teacher of singing. All his students loved and respected him. Friends

remembered him as generous, warm, and kind-hearted, and he even had the ability to

laugh at himself (at least at his diffculties with the German language). He must have

had a way with people, since he apparently established a close personal relationship

with the diffcult Beethoven.

However, the musicians whose careers Salieri helped to forward shared an

advantage that Mozart lacked—they all had the good fortune not to be competitors of

Salieri in the composition of Italian opera. There seems little question but that he was

a formidable professional opponent of Mozart, although they appear to have been able

to sustain correct and even superficially friendly social relationships. Salieri enjoyed

a competitive supremacy over Mozart and many other aspiring composers in Vienna,

and only partly because of the undoubtedly high regard in which his contemporaries

held Salieri’s own operatic works. Of far greater importance in his ascendancy was

the fact that because of his favor with Joseph II until the emperor’s death in 1790,

and because of his successive roles as court composer, director of the Italian Opera,

and court conductor, Salieri was able to wield powerful influence over the availability

of theaters and patronage. Mozart, his father, and many of their contemporaries

believed that Salieri had caused the emperor to be unfavorably disposed toward The

Abduction from the Seraglio and had also been responsible for the later plot (fortunately

unsuccessful) to induce the court to hamper the opening of The Marriage of Figaro.

In his letters to his father, Mozart also accused Salieri of having prevented him from

obtaining as a piano pupil the princess of Württemberg. In December 1789 Mozart

wrote to his fellow Freemason and benefactor, Michael Puchberg, that next time they

met he would tell him about Salieri’s plots “which, however, have completely failed.”

Although Mozart was undoubtedly very sensitive about barriers to his career, his

feeling that Salieri used court influence to frustrate his musical competitors is borne

out in the memoirs of tenor Michael Kelly and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, who worked

with both Mozart and Salieri and were on friendly terms with each. Kelly refers to

Salieri as “a clever, shrewd man, possessed of what Bacon called crooked wisdom” and

adds that Salieri’s effort to have one of his operas selected for performance instead of

The Marriage of Figaro was “backed by three of the principal performers, who formed a

cabal not easily put down.” Da Ponte blames attempts to disrupt rehearsals ofFigaro on

the opera impresario Count Orsini-Rosenberg and a rival librettist, Casti, rather than

directly on Salieri, although both men appear to have been in Salieri’s camp. He also

remarks that before he came to the rescue, “Mozart had, thanks to the intrigues of his

rivals, never been able to exercise his divine genius in Vienna.” Da Ponte was a slippery

man with an elastic memory; it is probably fair to attribute to him the assessment of

Salieri that he claimed to have heard from the lips of Emperor Leopold: “I know all his

intrigues…. Salieri is an insufferable egoist. He wants successes in my theatre only for

his own operas and his own women…. He is an enemy of all composers, all singers, all

Italians; and above all, my enemy, because he knows that I know him.”

Nevertheless, there is much to suggest that Salieri’s hostility toward Mozart did

not extend to the sphere of personal relations. He was one of the small group of

mourners who followed Mozart’s coffl as it was carried from the funeral service at

St. Stephen’s Cathedral toward the cemetery, making a greater display of public grief

over Mozart’s death than Constanze, who stayed at home, supposedly still overcome by

her husband’s death. Moreover, Salieri later became the teacher of Mozart’s son Franz

Xaver Wolfgang and in 1807 gave him a written testimonial that procured him his first

musical appointment.

It is difficult to decide whether Constanze or the Mozart family gave any credence

to the rumors against Salieri. Would Constanze have entrusted the musical education

of her son to a man she believed to be the murderer of his father? Nissen’s biography

contains an allusion to Salieri’s rivalry but rejects the poisoning charges. Nissen

reports that Constanze attributed Mozart’s suspicion of poisoning to illness and

overwork. Moreover, he included in his biography an anonymous account of Mozart’s

early death that was published in 1803. The quoted article dismisses the possibility of

poisoning and attributes Mozart’s fears to “pure imagination.” Nissen’s biography was

undoubtedly written and cornpiled with Constanze’s blessing. However, as witnessed

by her conversations with the Novellos, which took place at approximately the same

time as the appearance of the biography, Constanze never put Mozart’s suspicions out

of her mind. Her preoccupation with this subject reappears a decade later in a letter

written to a Munich official, quoted by Kerner in his study, to the effect that “her son

Wolfgang Xaver knew that he would not, like his father, have to fear envious men

who had designs on his life.” Her other son, Karl, on his death in 1858, left behind

a handwritten commentary in which there is further discussion of the poisoning of

Mozart—this time by a “vegetable poison.”

The views of Mozart’s contemporaries as to Salieri’s guilt doubtlessly divided along

lines of personal or musical loyalties. In the years 1823 through 1825, partisans of

Salieri rallied to the defense of his reputation in the face of widely circulated reports

that he had confessed to the murder and attempted suicide by cutting his throat.

When Kapellmeister Johann Gottfried Schwanenberg, a friend of Salieri’s, was read

a newspaper account of the rumor that Mozart had fallen victim of Salieri’s envy,

he shouted, “Crazy people! He [Mozart] did nothing to deserve such an honor.” But

believers in the poisoning rumors were tireless and ingenious in spreading their

gospel. At a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna on May 23, 1824,

leaflets containing a poem that pictured Salieri as Mozart’s rival “standing by his

side with the poisoned cup” were distributed to concertgoers. Giuseppe Carpani, a

friend of Salieri and an early biographer of Haydn, responded with an effective public

relations campaign on behalf of his maligned compatriot. He published a letter he

had received in June 1824 from Dr. Guldener, who had not attended Mozart but had

spoken to Mozart’s physician, Dr. Closset. The latter had advised him, Guldener wrote,

that Mozart’s fatal illness had been a rheumatic and inflammatory fever that attacked

many people in Vienna in 1791. Dr. Guldener added that in view of the large number

of people who had seen Mozart during his illness and the experience and industry

of Dr. Closset, “it could not have escaped their notice then if even the slightest trace

of poisoning had manifested itself.” (Presumably Dr. Closset was quite industrious

after theater hours.) Carpani appended the text of Guldener’s letter to his own article

defending Salieri’s innocence. The Salieri press campaign also included a statement by

the two men who served as Salieri’s keepers in his last years of declining health. They

attested that they had been with him day and night and had never heard him confess

the murder.

The views of Beethoven on the poisoning rumors have always been intriguing

because of his love of Mozart’s music and his friendship with Salieri. We know from

the entries in his conversation books that Beethoven’s callers gossiped about the case

with him. In late 1823 publisher Johann Schickh referred to Salieri’s unsuccessful

suicide attempt. In the following year Beethoven’s nephew Karl and his friend and

future biographer Anton Schindler discussed the reports of Salieri’s confession of

the poisoning, and Karl, in May 1825, the month of Salieri’s death, mentioned the

persistence of the rumors. It is generally agreed that Beethoven did not believe Salieri

was guilty. He was fond of referring to himself as Salieri’s pupil, and after Mozart’s

death he dedicated the violin sonatas Opus 12 (1797) to Salieri and wrote a set of ten

piano variations on a duet from Salieri’s charming opera Falstaff (1798). Nevertheless,

wagging tongues delighted in passing along a spurious anecdote that Rossini, when

he had induced Salieri to take him to visit Beethoven at his Vienna home, was angrily

turned away at the door with the words, “How dare you come to my house with

Mozart’s poisoner?”

The irony of the Beethoven—Rossini anecdote lies in the fact that the lives of

both men were touched by fears and rumors of poisoning. Beethoven believed that

his hated sister-in-law Johanna had poisoned his brother and intended to poison his

nephew. Rossini’s mourning for the early death of his friend Vincenzo Bellini in Paris

was followed by rumors of poisoning, as was Salieri’s attendance at Mozart’s funeral.

But the Bellini poisoning legend was cut down in its infancy as a result of decisive

action on the part of Rossini. Francis Toye writes that “Rossini, unwilling, perhaps,

to figure as a second Salieri, insisted on an autopsy, which put an end to the rumor

once and for all.” It almost appears that Salieri was the only musical protagonist in the

case who is not reported to have been subject to fears of poisoning. However, we have

the intriguing biographical note that Salieri, though from a land of wine, drank only

water. His modest drink, unlike headier beverages, would have given his taste buds

early warning should an enemy have surreptitiously added a splash of aqua toffana.

Most of Mozart’s principal biographers have either held aloof from the poisoning

theory or rejected it outright. Franz Niemetschek appears to straddle the issue.

Although he purported to blame lack of exercise and overwork for Mozart’s death,

he left room for a more sinister possibility: “These were probably the chief causes of

his untimely death (if, in fact, it was not hastened unnaturally).” He also attributed

Emperor Joseph’s critical remarks about The Abduction from the Seraglio to “the

cunning Italians” and added that “Mozart had enemies too, numerous, irreconcilable

enemies, who pursued him even after his death.” These enemies, including Salieri,

were still alive, and Niemetschek, whatever his suspicions, could not very well have

gone much further in pointing a finger.

Edward Holmes was the first to exonerate Salieri expressly. He relegated the

poisoning legend to a footnote and concluded that “Salieri, the known inveterate foe

of Mozart, was fixed upon as the imaginary criminal.” Otto Jahn, in his great study

of Mozart, continued to keep the charges of poisoning imprisoned in a footnote and

referred to the suspicions of Salieri’s guilt as “shameful.” Hermann Abert preserves

Jahn’s fleeting reference to the murder legend and observes that Mozart’s suspicion of

poisoning evidenced his “morbidly overstimulated emotional state.” Arthur Schurig

blames Mozart’s death on a severe grippe. Alfred Einstein not only fails to dignify the

poisoning tradition by any mention but even finds the only explanation for Salieri’s

animosity in Mozart’s “wicked tongue.” Eric Blom and Nicolas Slonimsky have rejected

the possibility of murder but have fortunately taken the trouble to chronicle some of

the excesses of the various murder theories. However, both Russia and Germany have

in our time produced writers who claim to have found “historical” evidence that not

only supports the murder thesis but reveals a political motive for the crime and for the

prevention of its detection.

Soviet musicologist Igor Boelza (or Belza), in his brochure Motsart i Sal’eri,

published in Moscow in 1953, exhibits a chain of hearsay evidence to the effect that

Salieri’s priest made a written report of his confession to the murder. He claims

that the late Soviet academician Boris Asafiev told him that he had been shown the

report by Guido Adler, also deceased. Boelza states that Adler had also spoken of the

document to “colleagues and numerous scholars,” none of whom is named in the

brochure. According to Boelza, Adler engaged in a detailed study of the dates and

circumstances ofthe meetings of Mozart and Salieri and established that they bore out

the facts of the confession and satisfied the classic element of “opportunity.” But Adler

apparently was no more ready to publish his Inspector French—style timetable than he

was willing to publish the Salieri confession itself. It is small wonder that Alexander

Werth, in commenting on Boelza’s book, remarks, “It looks as if the Adler mystery has

taken the place of the Salieri mystery.”

Boelza also seeks support for the murder case in the mysterious circumstances of

Mozart’s funeral and burial, which German writers like to refer to as die Grabfrage

(the burial question). Posterity has always been puzzled by the fact that only a few

friends (including Salieri) accompanied the funeral procession, and that even they

turned back before arriving at the cemetery. The burial was that of a poor man, and

Mozart’s body was placed in an unmarked grave. These bitter facts, so inappropriate

to memorializing the passing of a great genius and a man who had loving friends

and family, have been variously explained, and even the explanation least flattering

to Mozart’s circle usually falls short of implication of criminal conduct. Constanze’s

absence and the mourners’ desertion before the cemetery gates have traditionally

been blamed on a wintry storm, but this explanation is belied both by a contemporary

diary and by an intelligent modern inquiry made by Nicolas Slonimsky at the

Viennese weather archives. Nissen does not mention the weather in his biography and

attributes Constanze’s absence to her overpowering grief. The poverty ofthe burial has

sometimes been taken to reflect the stinginess of Mozart’s friends and patrons, notably

of Baron van Swieten, though others have claimed that the burial was in keeping with

the surviving spirit of decrees of Emperor Joseph II enacted in 1784 and repealed

in the following year. These decrees, inspired by the reforming emperor’s dislike for

the pomp of burial, had provided that the dead not be buried in coffns but merely

sewn in sacks and covered with quicklime and had also abolished most of the funeral


In Boelza’s version, all the events of Mozart’s interment take on a more sinister

significance. He conjures up a plot headed by Baron van Swieten and joined by all of

the composer’s acquaintances and relatives (with the exception of Constanze). On van

Swieten’s orders, all the mourners departed on the way to the grave and the body was

intentionally interred in unmarked ground. In supplying a motive for this strange plot

to suppress traces of the murder, Boelza brings the case into the political arena and

adds a Marxist twist. It seems that van Swieten was afraid that “nationalist upheavals”

would result if the working masses of imperialist Vienna learned of the report that

Mozart had been poisoned by a court musician and, what was worse, by a foreigner.

German writers have produced a rival tradition that Mozart was murdered by

his Freemason brethren. The Masonic murder theory apparently originated in 1861

with Georg Friedrich Daumer, a researcher of antiquities and a religious polemicist.

Daumer’s work was elaborated in the Nazi period, notably by General Erich Ludendorrf

and his wife, Mathilde, who were so fired by enthusiasm for their revelations that they

devoted the family press to the propagation of their indictment of the Freemasons.

The case against the Freemasons takes a number of lines. Daumer claimed that

Mozart had not fully carried out Masonry’s “party line” in The Magic Flute. Mozart, in

his view, had offended the Masons by his excessive attachment to the figure of the

Queen ofthe Night and by his use of Christian religious music in the chorale ofthe Men

of Armor. Daumer also believed that the murder thwarted Mozart’s plan to establish

his own secret lodge, to be called “The Grotto.” Mathilde Ludendorff built on Daumer’s

imaginings. She preferred, however, another explanation of the Masons’ outrage at

The Magic Flute. She believed that Mozart had hidden beneath the pro-Masonic surface

of the opera a secret counterplot that depicted Mozart (Tamino) seeking the release

of Marie Antoinette (Pamina) from her Masonic captors. Mathilde Ludendorrf, like

Igor Boelza, added an element of nationalism. She claimed that the murder was

also motivated by the opposition of the Freemasons to Mozart’s hope of establishing

a German opera theater in Vienna. Both Daumer and Mathilde Ludendorrf related

Mozart’s death to other murders of famous men in which they likewise saw the

Masonic hand at work. Daumer’s conviction of the correctness of his view of Mozart’s

death was reinforced by his belief that the Freemasons had also murdered Lessing,

Leopold II, and Gustav Ill of Sweden (who was assassinated at the famous masked

ball only a few months after Mozart’s death). Mathilde Ludendorrf expanded this list

of victims to include Schiller and, in a virtuoso display of freedom from chronology,

Martin Luther as well.

It is not surprising that the Ludendorrf writings have a heavy overlay of anti-

Semitism. General Ludendorrf claimed that the secret of Masonry was the Jew and

that its aim was to rob the Germans of their national pride and to ensure the “glorious

future of the Jewish people.” He attempted to establish a Jewish role in Mozart’s

murder by commenting mysteriously that Mozart had died “on the Day of Jehovah.”

The combination of anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic prejudices had been common since

the nineteenth century and was intensified at the turn of the century in the heat of

passions generated by the Dreyfus affair. It is ironic to observe this marriage of hates

in retroactive operation in the Mozart case, since Masonic lodges of the eighteenth

century generally excluded Jews from membership. There is reason to speculate,

at least, that Mozart himself did not develop the racist insanity so many of his

countrymen showed in later periods of history. Paul Nettl observes that if he had done

so, the world would have lost the fruits of his collaboration with the talented Jewish

librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. To be regarded as further evidence of Mozart’s receptivity

to the ideas of Jewish writers is the catalog of his library of books left at his death,

which lists a work on the immortality of the soul by Moses Mendelssohn.

The anti-Masonic murder theory, like the Boelza theory, assumes a conspiracy of

Mozart’s friends and family. Mathilde Ludendorrf incriminates Salieri, van Swieten,

and even the mysterious messenger who commissioned the Requiem. She accuses

this oddly assorted group of slowly poisoning Mozart and of employing Nissen to

cover up the crime in his biography. Constanze is, as a good and loyal housewife,

spared any suggestion of involvement. However, as in Boelza’s theory, her absence

from the burial and its strange character are removed from the plane of personal and

financial circumstance and explained by the conscious design of the conspirators.

Frau Ludendorff even supplies the ghoulish hypothesis that the burial conformed to

requirements of Masonry that the body of a transgressor against its laws must be

denied decent burial.

Strangely enough, the Masonic murder legend has also been denied burial. Dr.

Gunther Duda, whose medical views of the case have already been cited, is a “true

believer” in the research of Daumer and the Ludendorffs. His book Gewiss, man hat

mir Gift gegeben (“I am sure I have been poisoned”), a comprehensive study of Mozart’s

death written in 1958, is prefaced with a quotation from Mathilde Ludendorrf. He

views the charges against the Masons as having been established with the same

compelling force as a mathematical or logical formula. He supports the condemnation

ofthe Masons by the following syllogism, all ofthe links in which he accepts as fact: ( 1)

Mozart was a Mason; (2) the Masonic lodges claimed the right to sentence disobedient

members to death; (3) Mozart was a disobedient member; and (4) the execution of the

Masonic death sentence is evidenced by Mozart’s death, the manner in which he died,

and the circumstances of his burial. However, Duda’s zeal for his cause carries him well

beyond the bounds of medical history or even plain logic. Faced with the question of

why the Masons would have punished only Mozart but not the librettists of The Magic

Flute as well, he notes with suspicion the sudden deaths of the two men who may

have collaborated on the libretto. The principal librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, died

in 1812 (twenty-one years after the opera’s premiere), and Karl Ludwig Gieseke, who

may also have had some role in shaping the libretto, died in 1833. Duda must surely be

suggesting that the Freemasons had at their disposal the slowest poison in the annals

of crime.

Kerner, in the 1967 edition of his study of Mozart’s death, does not expressly join

in the accusations against Freemasonry. However, his sober medical discussion passes

at the end of his work into a vapor of astrology and symbolism that may enshroud

suggestions of conspiracy. He points out that a “Hermes stele” pictured on the left

side of an engraving on the frontispiece of the first libretto of The Magic Flute contains

eight allegories of Mercury, the god who gave his name to the poison that Kerner

believes killed Mozart. The engraving was made by the Freemason Ignaz Alberti. The

allusion to Mercury in Alberti’s frontispiece indicates to Kerner that more people were

“in the know” about the murder than is generally assumed. He demonstrates the

continuity of this secret knowledge over the centuries by observing that the special

Mozart postage stamp issued by Austria in 1956 shows eight Mercury allegories in its

frame. Kemer passes from iconography to alchemy and then to sinister hints. He states

that in the symbolism of the alchemists, the number eight as well as the color gray

represented the planet Mercury, “which reawakens lively associations of thought with

the ‘Gray Messenger,’ who often put Mozart in fear in his last days.”

Neither Dr. Duda nor Dr. Kerner attempts to reconcile with the Masonic murder

theory their shared medical assumption that Mozart’s poisoning began in the summer

of 1791, before The Magic Flute was first performed. Moreover, if Mozart was out of

favor with his Masonic brethren, a mind disinclined to conspiratorial thinking would

find it hard to explain either the commission he received shortly before his death to

compose a Masonic cantata or the emotional oration that was delivered to a Masonic

lodge in memory of Mozart and was printed in 1792 by the very same Freemason

Alberti whose “Hermes stele” struck Kerner as suspicious.

The elements of conspiratorial thinking and exoticism have recently been supplied

in abundant measure. Since the publication of their separate research, Kerner and

Duda have, in collaboration with Johannes Dalchow, written two books that make

more explicit their incrimination of the Masons as the murderers of Mozart. As

elaborated in Mozarts Tod (1971), Masonry’s involvement in Mozart’s death was

complex and premeditated. According to the authors (who in this respect, as in many

others, parrot the writings of Mathilde Ludendorrf), the “gray messenger” ordering

the Requiem was not the agent of Count von Walsegg but an emissary of the Masons

announcing their death sentence. What was the reason for Mozart’s murder? The

authors provide two possibilities and like them both so well they do not choose

between them: (I) a “ritual murder” in which Mozart was offered as a sacrifice to the

Masonic deities; and (2) a punishment of Mozart by the Masons, with the participation

of Salieri, for the crime of having revealed Masonic secrets in The Magic Flute. The

authors engage in an extended nurnerological exegesis of The Magic Flute that they

believe proves the Masonic murder (and presumably also Mozart’s acceptance of his

execution). The authors assert that the number eighteen is paramount in the music

and libretto of the opera, by intentional association with the eighteenth Rosicrucian

degree of Masonry, and that Mozart’s death was also scheduled to give prominence to

this number. It is observed with triumph by Kerner and his colleagues that Mozart’s

Masonic cantata was performed on November 18, 1791, exactly eighteen days before

his death! Amid all this mystification the medical research of the authors has come to

play a minor role, and the bigoted spirit of Mathilde Ludendorrf lives again.

The novelists have, since the very year of Salieri’s death, had a field day with the

theme of the poisoning. The succession of bad novels that stress the poisoning has

continued unabated to our own day; certainly in the running for honors as the worst

novel on the poisoning is David Weiss’s The Assassination of Mozart, which summons

up a vision (straight out of John Le Carré and Len Deighton) of a reactionary Austrian

regime giving tacit approval to Salieri’s murder of Mozart and ruthlessly suppressing

every attempt to investigate the crime.

However, the poisoning tradition has produced one authentic masterpiece,

Pushkin’s short dramatic dialogue Mozart and Salieri, conceived in 1826 (only one

year after Salieri’s death), when the rumors of his confession were still in the air, and

completed in 1830. In the Pushkin play (later set by Rimsky-Korsakov as an opera),

Salieri poisons Mozart both because Mozart’s superior gifts have made Salieri’s lifelong

devotion to music meaningless and because Mozart has introduced Salieri’s soul to the

bitterness of envy. Unlike many of Mozart’s later admirers, Pushkin does not depict

Salieri as a mediocre hack but rather as a dedicated musician who was intent on the

perfection of his craft and who was able to appreciate innovative genius (as in the case

of his master, Gluck) and to assimilate it into his own development. However, Salieri

refers to himself as a “priest” of music to whom his art is holy and serious. He is

enraged by Mozart’s free, creative spirit and by what he sees as Mozart’s lighthearted,

almost negligent, relation to the products of his genius. Salieri’s assessment of his

rival is confirmed for him by the joy Mozart takes in a dreadful performance of

an air from Figaro by a blind fiddler. As was true in their real lives, both Salieri

and Mozart in Pushkin’s pages inhabit a world where poisoning is assumed to be a

possible event even in the lives of famous and civilized men. Mozart refers to the

rumor that “Beaumarchais once poisoned someone,” and Salieri alludes to a tradition

that Michelangelo committed murder to obtain a dead model for a crucifixion. In

Pushkin’s play the murder of Mozart brings no relief for torment but only

furnishes final proof of his inferiority. At the close of the play Salieri is haunted by

Mozart’s observation ir-nmediately before being poisoned that “genius and crime are

two incompatible things.”

Even if we suspect that the play has attributed to Salieri more subtlety as a criminal

than he displayed in years of crude plotting against Mozart’s musical career, Pushkin

possibly comes closer to explaining how Salieri could have made a confession of guilt

than does the inconclusive medical evidence or reference to Viennese court intrigue

or Masonic plots. Salieri might have recognized the depth of the animosity he had

harbored. He might have come to the understanding that, if the essential life of a

divinely gifted composer is in his art, he and others who had stood again and again

between Mozart and his public had, with malice aforethought, set out to “murder”

Mozart. Pushkin’s view of the criminality of selfish opposition to artistic greatness is

incisively stated in a brief comment he wrote in 1832 on the origin of the poisoning

legend. Pushkin records that at the premiere of Don Giovanni, the enthralled audience

was shocked to hear hissing and to see Salieri leaving the hall “in a frenzy and

consumed by envy.” The note concludes: “The envious man who was capable of hissing

at Don Giovanni was capable of poisoning its creator.”

There is more reason to attribute to Salieri the symbolic crime of attempted

“murder” of a brother artist’s work than to speculate that Salieri was a poisoner.

This judgment would be supported by the testimony of Ignaz Moscheles. Moscheles,

who was a former pupil of Salieri and who loved him dearly, visited the old man in

the hospital shortly before his death. According to Moscheles’s account, Salieri hinted

at the poisoning rumors and tearfully protested his innocence. Although Moscheles

wrote that he was greatly moved by the interview and that he had never given the

rumors the slightest belief, he added the following comment: “Morally speaking he

[Salieri] had no doubt by his intrigues poisoned many an hour of Mozart’s existence.”

In his fictional account of the Salieri protestation, Bernard Grun attributes Moscheles’s

comment about moral guilt to Salieri himself, thus harmonizing the interview with

the rumors of Salieri’s “confession.” According to the Novellos’ journal, Mozart’s son

Franz Xaver Wolfgang expressed a similar view, namely that Salieri had not murdered

his father but that “he may truly be said to have poisoned his life and this thought

pressed upon the wretched man when dying.”

If Moscheles’s narrative is accepted, many events become easier to explain. Salieri’s

delight over The Magic Flute may have been genuine. It is possible that even in

Mozart’s lifetime Salieri finally acknowledged Mozart’s genius and tempered his own

feeling of rivalry. Tardy recognition of Mozart’s greatness (and, perhaps, regret for

their estrangement) may also account for Salieri’s attendance at the funeral and his

kindness to Mozart’s son.

If Salieri was guilty of hostility toward Mozart’s art but not of poisoning the artist,

his punishment can only be called “cruel and unusual.” After all, Salieri’s plots against

Mozart’s fame ultimately failed, and yet he was long punished—by reason of the evil

legend that clings to his name—with almost total obscurity for his own music. For

many years only minor instrumental works of Salieri were available on commercial

recordings. The situation is now changing for some of the operas that made

reputation, including Les Danaides and Falstaff, which have been released on CDs.

Perhaps the time has arrived to turn from the documentation of Mozart’s death to a

closer investigation ofthe music of Salieri. Perhaps such a study will provide evidence

that even without his adroitness in Viennese opera politics and his prestigious

positions, Salieri would have afforded substantial musical competition to Mozart.

Bibliographical Notes

An English translation of letters of Mozart and his family is Emily Anderson, ed. and trans. ,

The Letters of Mozart and His Family, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966).

Leopold Mozart’s administration of “black powder” and “margrave powder” to young Wolfgang

is referred to in a letter of October 30, 1762 (p. 9).

A selective list of reminiscences and biographies of Mozart include•. Hermann Abert, W. A.

Mozart, 2 vols., 7th ed. (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1955—56), 2:69 3; Georg Friedrich Daumer,

Aus der Mansarde (Mainz: Verlag von Franz Kirchheim, 1861), Otto Erich Deutsch,

Mozart: A Documentary Biography, 2nd ed. (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1966), 432,

523; Alfred Einstein, Mozart: His Character, His Work (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), 86;

Edward Holmes, The Life Of Mozart (1845; reprint, London: J. M. Dent, 1939), 279n1; Otto Jahn,

The Life of Mozart, trans. Pauline D. Townsend, 3 vols. (London: Novello, Ewer, 1882), 3:354n7;

Lorenzo da Ponte, Memoirs of Lorenzo da Ponte (New York: Orion, 1959), 67, 100; Charlotte

Moscheles, ed. , Recent Music and Musicians as Described in the Diaries and Correspondence Of

Ignatz Moscheles (New York: Holt, 1873), 59; Franz Niemetschek, Life of Mozart (London:

Leonard Hyman, 1956), 43; Georg Nissen, Biographie W. A. Mozarts (Leipzig: G. Senf, 1828), 563—

64, 5 72; Vincent Novello and Mary Novello,A Mozart Pilgrimage (London: Novello, 1955), 125,

127—28; Michael Kelly, Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, 2 vols. (1826; reprint, New York: Da Capo,

1968), 1:254; Arthur Schurig, Wolfgang Amade Mozart, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1923),


Books and articles on the death of Mozart include the following sources in English, German,

and Russian: Carl Bär, Mozart-Krankheit-Tod-Begräbnis (Salzburg: Salzburger Druckerei, 1966);

Eric Blom, “Mozart’s Death,” Music and Letters 38 (1957): 320—26; Igor Boelza (Belza), Motsart

i Sal’eri (Moscow: Muzgiz, 1953), and Boelza’s supplementary 1962 essay, Motsart i Sal’eri

(0b istoricheskoi dostovernosti tragedii Pushkina),

(accessed July 23, 2009); Johannes Dalchow, Gunther Duda, and Dieter

Kerner, W. A. Mozart—Die Dokumentation seines Todes (Pähl: Bebenburg, 1966), and Mozarts

Tod 1791—1971 (Pähl: Hohe Warte Bebenburg, 1971); Gunther Duda, “Gewiss, man hat mir

Gift gegeben” (Pähl: Hohe Warte, 1958); Dieter Kerner, Krankheiten Grosser Musiker (Stuttgart:

Schattauer, 1967); C. G. Sederholm, “Mozart’s Death,” Music and Letters 32 (1951): 345; Nicolas

Slonimsky, “The Weather at Mozart’s Funeral,” Musical Quarterly 46 (1960): 12—21; William

Stafford, The Mozart Myths: A Critical Reassessment (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1991);

Alexander Werth, “Was Mozart Poisoned?” New Statesman, Apr. 14, 1961, 580, 582.

Ties between anti-Semitism and anti-Masonic prejudice are considered in Paul Nettl’s Mozart

and Masonry (New York: Philosophical Library, 195 7), 85.

Art historian Kenneth Clark commented on Joseph Lange’s portrait of Mozart in Clark’s

Civilisation (London: British Broadcasting Corp., 1971), 240.

Salieri’s character is rehabilitated in Volmar Braunbehren’s Maligned Master: The Real Story of

Antonio Salieri (New York: Fromm International, 1992).

Three scientific researchers have recently concluded that Mozart died Of a streptococcal

infection contracted in an epidemic of that affliction in Vienna: Richard H. C. Zegers, Andreas

Weigl, and Andrew Steptoe, “The Death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: An Epidemiologic

Perspective,” Annals of Internal Medicine 151, no. 4 (Aug. 18, 2009), 274—78. The authors

surmise that the streptococcus led to an acute nephritic syndrome.

Among novels based on Mozart’s death are: Bernard Grun, The Golden Quill (New York:

Putnam, 195 6), wherein Grun attributes Moscheles’s comment about Salieri’s “moral guilt” to

Salieri himself (366); Michael Levey, The Life and Death of Mozart (New York: Stein and Day,

1971); David Weiss, The Assassination of Mozart (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970).

The two principal dramas based on the “murder” of Mozart are Alexander Pushkin, Mozart and

Salieri, in The Poems, Prose and Plays of Alexander Pushkin (New York: Random House, 1936); and

Peter Shaffer, Amadeus (London: André Deutsch, 1980).

In the revision of Amadeus for American audiences, the elderly Salieri, contemplating suicide,

asserts that he is innocent of murdering Mozart but has been falsely confessing the crime so as

to be remembered in infamy. See Albert Borowitz, Terrorismfor Self-Glorification: The Herostratos

Syndrome (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 2005), 140—41.




Finale Marked Presto: The Killing of Leclair

The murder of Jean-Marie Leclair, eighteenth-century composer and violin virtuoso, is

a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie. The Paris detective forces headed by Lieutenant

of Police Antoine Gabriel de Sartine picked their way through a maze thickly populated

with suspicious characters and lying witnesses and, to make their path more diffcult,

encountered many red herrings. The motive for the crime was perhaps the most

bewildering enigma of all; the investigators were compelled to consider the possibility

that Leclair’s sudden death was due to robbery, marital discord, professional hostility,

or perhaps the dark act of a sardonic psychopath.

In 1764 the sixty-seven-year-old Leclair would have been justified in resting on the

laurels of his distinguished career. Born in 1697 in Lyon, the eldest of eight children

of a rnaster lace maker, he reportedly made his debut as a dancer at Rouen. He later

followed his father’s profession for a while in his native city, where he married the

daughter of a liquor merchant in 1716. In 1722 he went to Turin to serve as principal

dancer and ballet master. It was in the Turin theater that he mounted his first

stage works, mythological ballets composed in the popular taste of the time. He then

returned to Paris, where in 1723 he published his earliest work of instrumental music

(which was to be his principal genre); this maiden effort was a book of sonatas for

violin and basso continuo. Five years later Leclair made a brilliant debut as a violinist

in the Concert Spirituel. About that time he published a second book of sonatas in

which his characteristic and frequent use of double stops showed the influence of the

violinist Giovanni Battista Somis, with whom he had studied at Turin. Leclair’s first

wife died, and in 1730 he married Louise Roussel, a music engraver who had published

some of his works.

Leclair’s career continued to blossom. Beginning in 1733 he performed in the Royal

Orchestra, where he encountered a formidable rival, violinist Pierre Guignon. Neither

of them wanted to play second fiddle to the other’s first violin, so they agreed to

change places on a regular monthly rotation. Guignon allowed Leclair to begin the new

arrangement by occupying first place. However, it is said that when Leclair’s month

had run out he resigned from the orchestra rather than pass to the second rank.

After leaving the Paris orchestra, Leclair spent several years in Holland under the

sponsorship of Princess Anne of Orange and of Frangois du Liz and was subsequently

called to the court of Don Philip of Spain at Chambéry. In 1746 Leclair’s only opera,

Glaucus et Scylla, was performed with moderate success at the Paris Opéra. In about

1749 he came under the protection of his last patron, the Duke de Gramont, who had

established a fashionable theater in his villa at Puteaux. Here Leclair served as first

violinist and contributed ballet pieces and divertissements to its repertory.

By the end of the next decade, a streak of misanthropy, quite in the style of Moliére,

seems to have afflicted Leclair. In 1758 he left his wife and lived alone in a house on the

rue de Caréme-Prenant in a northeast suburb of Paris near what is now the St. Martin

Canal. It was a small, ramshackle two-story structure situated within a walled garden

entered through a gate from the street. The Duke de Gramont was concerned about the

dangerous circumstances of his favorite musician living in seclusion and many times

offered Leclair lodging at his own residence. According to Barnabé Farmian Durosoy,

the principal authority on Leclair’s last years, the composer was going to accept the

offer, but he was not fated to do so.

At about 6:00 A.M. on October 23, 1764, Louis Bourgeois, a sixty-fouryear-old

gardener, passed by Leclair’s garden gate and noticed that it was open. This seemed

strange—but not strange enough to overcome his early-morning appetite, and he went

on to his regular place for breakfast. On his way back he met Jacques Paysant, who

tended Leclair’s garden, and told him about the open gate. Shortly afterward, Paysant

appeared at Bourgeois’ house in obvious distress. In the garden he had found his

employer’s hat and wig lying on the ground. Fearing some calamity, he did not dare

enter the house alone and wanted Bourgeois to accompany him. They summoned

other neighbors and, buoyed by the strength of numbers, returned to the garden. Near

the front door ofthe house lay the hat and wig, as Paysant had said. The door was open,

and even before they entered the vestibule they could see Leclair’s body.

He was lying on his back on the floor of the vestibule in front of the staircase, with

his bare head resting against the door leading to the cellar. He was dressed in ordinary

street attire—gray jacket, a vest, two shirts (one heavy and decorated and the other

of mousseline), trousers, black woolen stockings, and shoes with copper buckles. His

shirts and camisole were stained with blood. He had been stabbed three times by a

pointed instrument: above the left nipple, in the lower stomach on the right side, and

in the middle of his chest. Frightened by what they found, the witnesses locked the

garden gate. Paysant ran to notify Mme Leclair and Leclair’s son-in-law, the painter

Louis Quenet. Within an hour Mlle Nigotte Petitbois, the Leclairs’ goddaughter,

arrived after having alerted Commissaire Thiot at the Paris police headquarters in

the Chåtelet. She was accompanied by a lawyer named Godard, whom one of her

neighbors had summoned. Quenet arrived shortly afterward.

The police investigation, under the immediate direction of Commissaire Thiot and

Inspector Hubert Receveur, was soon in full swing. Jacques-Pierre Charles, master in

surgery, was called in to examine the body. He observed bruises in the lumbar area and

on the lips and jawbone, which tended to show that, after a struggle with his assailant,

Leclair had been thrown onto his back. His body had been surrounded by a number of

oddly assorted objects that seemed to have been deliberately arranged by the murderer

to create a bizarre mise-en-scöne, much in the manner of whodunnit authors of the

1930s. In addition to the hat and the wig, the police found near the vestibule door a

roll of blank music manuscript paper and a book (apparently from the victim’s own

library) on which the hat had been placed. The book was a collection of witticisms

entitled L’EIite des bon mots. Caught up in a trellis outside the vestibule door, the

police also found a hunting knife with its bare, unstained blade pointed downward; it

fit precisely the scabbard attached to the sash Leclair wore. At a corner of the trellis,

which showed no signs of being disturbed, the police came on another knife lying on

the ground. It was a blunt table knife and appeared to be stained only with rust.

A search of Leclair’s pockets turned up a snuff box (with only two pinches left), a

black leather case containing a pair of spectacles, a bread roll, and two handkerchiefs,

one of them wrapped around a meat sandwich. It was observed that his gilded copper

watch was missing. The detectives surmised that the murderer might have taken

the watch to lay a false trail, for they ransacked the house without uncovering any

evidence of theft or breaking and entering. It was noted, however, that many of the

shutters of the windows facing the garden were open and that two panes of the first-

story window were half open; one of the leaves of the vestibule door had been found

ajar by the original investigators. In the locked drawer of a commode in Leclair’s

bedroom, the police found four louis d’or of twenty-four livres and two and a half louis

in six-franc crowns—a cache of money suffcient to rule out burglary as a motive for

the crime. Nevertheless, the garden and adjacent properties were also examined for

possible evidence of a nocturnal intrusion. The police observed that about a foot of the

coping of the garden wall facing the house was damaged; the plaster was detached,

and many pieces of it lay on the ground of Leclair’s garden and his neighbor’s. It

was also noticed that behind the wall on the left of Leclair’s garden (on the property

belonging to the father of the gardener Bourgeois) there was a large mass of earth mold

that would have made it very easy to pass over the wall onto Leclair’s premises. The

police determined, however, that the mold had been placed there a very long time ago.

One of the central mysteries of the murder scene, the role played by the house

keys in the fatal encounter, is not clarified in the surviving police archives. However,

the testimony of Jeanne Louise Aubert, a sixty-yearold widow living on the rue de

Caréme-Prenant, suggests that keys to both the vestibule and garden door may have

been found on the premises. She testified that when Leclair’s neighbors left the house

after discovering the body, they locked the vestibule door and gave the key to her for

safekeeping pending the arrival of the family. She also noticed on leaving the house

that the latchkey to the street gate was resting on the trellis.

The police also investigated reports of movements of strangers in the

neighborhood on the night of the crime. Pierre Dangreville, a sentry on duty nearby

that evening, noticed a driverless carriage drawn by two horses coming from the

direction of Paris toward the suburbs; it stopped at the corner of Leclair’s street. He

approached the carriage and found it laden with pottery. About a quarter of an hour

later, two soldiers who appeared to be on guard duty stopped in the middle of the road

near the rue de Caréme-Prenant. Dangreville observed them closely, concerned that

they might steal the pottery. But they did not show the slightest interest in the vehicle.


One of them passed beyond the carriage into the rue de Caréme-Prenant and was lost

to view; about fifteen minutes later he returned, running to rejoin his comrade. It was

raining very hard, and Dangreville had assumed that this was the reason for his haste.

While the soldier was absent, Dangreville heard no cries or noise from the direction of

street. A few moments later the soldiers’ patrol appeared, and they rejoined its

ranks on the way back to the city. Later that night the mystery ofthe driverless pottery

carriage was solved: Dangreville was introduced to a cart driver, who inquired about

the carriage. He said that after he entered a cabaret about 9:00 P.M. to have a drink, the

horses wandered off. police efforts to determine the identity of the suspicious soldier

were fruitless.

Another mysterious stranger was seen on the night of the crime by Rose Pelletier,

the wife of mounted patrolman Antoine Claude. At about 10:00 P.M., while entering the

rue de Caréme-Prenant on her way home from a visit to the Bourgeois family, she saw

a large man standing with his back against a garden wall. He was dressed in a black or

gray coat and had brown unpowdered hair. He frightened her, and she hurried home.

For the most part the police inquiries as to Leclair’s actions immediately before

the crime were not illuminating. As was his custom, Leclair had played several games

of billiards on Monday evening, October 22, at the establishment of Pierre Lamotte.

Lamotte recalled that at 9:30 P.M. Leclair invited him to join him for supper at an

inn and, after he declined, bid him good night. At about 9:45 Leclair entered Charles

Roussel’s food shop and purchased a roll, perhaps having decided to dine alone. From

his sentry box Pierre Dangreville saw Leclair light a candle within a little paper lantern

and proceed on his way home. His last stop before reaching his house was at the

neighboring shop of Jean Thibault, where he purchased a ball of twine.

Inspector Receveur was able to account for the probable sources of the money

found in Leclair’s commode. Mme Leclair told him that she had given Leclair some

funds about ten days earlier and that M. Geoffroy had given him five louis about two

days before his death. An intriguing piece of information was supplied by the café

keeper, Roussel. On Sunday, October 14, Leclair had awakened him around midnight

and asked him for the duplicate house key he had left with him about eighteen months

earlier for safekeeping. He told Roussel that either someone had stolen his keys at a

theatrical performance or that he had lost them during the day.

From the many dubious figures referred to in the police interrogations, two

principal suspects emerged. The first was Leclair’s gardener, Paysant, who aroused the

interest of the investigators with his lies, misleading testimony, and defensive, hostile

gossip. When no watch was found on Leclair’s body, Paysant claimed that Leclair had

not possessed one for eighteen months. But Lamotte, the proprietor of the billiard

parlor, told the police that he had seen Leclair consult his watch before leaving the

parlor on the night of the crime. Paysant also swore that Leclair had no money, a

statement contradicted by the testimony of others and by the police’s discovery of cash

in Leclair’s commode. The gardener also may have given inaccurate information about

the time of his discovery of the body and his whereabouts on the night of the murder.

He asserted that he had first seen the open garden gate at 6:00 A.M., but other witnesses

stated that Paysant and Bourgeois had awakened them as early as 4:30 to ask their help

in inspecting Leclair’s house. Paysant also informed the police that he had returned

home at 7:30 P.M. on October 22, but his mistress told a woman named Laborgne

that he had not actually come back until 10:30, perhaps a half hour after Leclair had

completed his evening’s purchases and arrived at his house.

The gardener’s talkativeness also weighed against him. He remarked to one of the

neighbors whom he had enlisted to visit Leclair’s house on the morning of October

23 that perhaps Leclair had an attack of colic, to which he was prone, and had died

for want of assistance. He repeated this when the body was discovered, even though

the blood-drenched shirt should have convinced him that a more violent incident had

occurred. Paysant was not present at the burial of his employer in the St. Laurent

Church on October 25, and his brother drew many questioning looks by his efforts

to eavesdrop on the conversations of those in attendance. At the very moment when

the body was to be lowered into the grave, a woman from Leclair’s neighborhood

exclaimed, “M. Paysant told me that he would do the same to my husband.”

Questioning by the investigators indicated that the gardener’s odd behavior might

be partly due to his having a police record that he feared might bring him under

suspicion. Paysant also remarked that this was the second time he had had the

misfortune of having an employer die during his service. However, Paysant’s past

encounters with the police had nothing to do with murder or other serious crimes.

He had been jailed for some minor scrape during his service in a regiment of the

French Guard and had been brought before the Chåtelet as the putative father of an

illegitimate child borne by a woman of bad reputation with whom he had lived for

many years.

Paysant’s worries about his past inspired him not only to equivocate about his own

actions and knowledge but also to suggest a rival suspect to the police. Why not,

he suggested, investigate the Duke de Gramont himself? The duke had often visited

Leclair in his presence, he said, and the gardener drank wine with both of them. This

testirnony, when the duke heard of it, drove him to fury. The gossip about his drinking

in ill-assorted company had the ring of truth about it, for he was reputed to be a

drunkard who “looked as if nature had intended him for a barber.” But he did not care

to be branded an alcoholic or a murderer and dashed off an angry (and misspelled)

letter to Lieutenant Sartine: “It has come to my attention through the nephew of M.

Leclair that his gardener said to Commissaire Guiot [sic] in his interrogations that he

had seen me many times with M. Leclair and that the three of us had often drunk

together. I have been at M. Leclair’s house only twice and I have never drunk or eaten

there. Besides such company is not made for me. Furthermore, for about seven or eight

years I have drunk nothing but water. A man who, in order to clutch at straws as best

he can, says whatever comes into his head is a man to be mistrusted.”

The police briefly arrested Paysant, but his release was ordered by the Chåtelet. He

undoubtedly was an untrustworthy witness, but there was little ground to consider

him guilty of murder.

A more likely suspect was Leclair’s nephew, mentioned in the duke’s letter. Frangois

Guillaume Vial, aged forty, was the son of Leclair’s sister Francoise. Himself a

musician, he came to Paris around 1750 and, abetted and pampered by Mme Leclair,

never tired of beseeching his uncle to find him a post in the musical service of the Duke

de Gramont. On many occasions Vial gave vent in the bitterest terms to his resentment

of his uncle’s failure to advance his career. Among letters discovered at Leclair’s house,

Inspector Receveur discovered four in which Vial asked Leclair’s pardon for grave

offenses against him. But even his uncle’s murder could not induce him to moderate

his expressions of grievance. He told the surgeon Charles that “his uncle had done

him many injustices and had refused to introduce him to the Duke de Gramont.” To

Mme Roussel he asserted that Leclair “had only received what he deserved, having

always lived like a wolf” and that “he had always hoped to die suddenly.” To Tetart,

the mounted patrolman who was on duty at the Leclair house, Vial delivered a tirade

of abuse against his dead uncle. Leclair, he said, was a recluse who “didn’t want to see

anyone from the family and desired to die suddenly, even by murder”; he “had never

wanted his nephew to have a career or to give him his protection,” but now that Leclair

was dead, “he [Vial] was going, thank God, to have a career!” When Tetart proposed

to Vial that he view the body, he refused, stating that “he knew very well what it was

Vial was anxious to establish an alibi for himself at the time of the crime. He said

that he had arrived in Paris from Conflans (where he claimed to have gone to see the

archbishop) and that on his return to Paris he had found waiting for him at home a

procureur who advised him of his uncle’s death. He added that it was fortunate for him

that he was not in Paris at the time of the murder, for otherwise people might perhaps

have said that he was the guilty party. Inspector Receveur visited the archbishop and

discovered that Vial’s alibi was a complete and shameless fabrication. He had not been

to Conflans on the date of the crime, and he was unknown to the archbishop, the

members of the archbishop’s household, and the religious community of Conflans.

The methodical Receveur confirmed these facts through interviews, not only with

the archbishop’s lackeys and valets de chambre but also with the mother superior of

the neighboring convent. Receveur returned from Conflans resolved to redouble his

measures to investigate Vial’s actions.

The inspector’s suspicions of Leclair’s nephew were strengthened by his strange

behavior at his uncle’s funeral. According to Receveur, “a trembling and astonishing

agitation on the day of burial called him to the attention” of police and others

who were in attendance. To make matters worse, Vial had apparently attempted to

influence the testimony of other witnesses in a direction that he may have thought

favored his own alibi. Desnos, a soldier on guard at the Leclair house, saw Vial take the

gardener Bourgeois aside and heard him say that he should not tell the police he had

seen the garden gate open between 4:00 and 5:30; others, Vial whispered, had already

testified that they had not seen the gate open until 6:00 or 6:30, and there was no

point in creating contradictions in statements on the subject. Receveur also noted in

his summary of the evidence that Vial’s physique appeared to match that of the large

man dressed in black who had been seen moving along Leclair’s wall on the night of

the murder, but he dutifully conceded that this point was “very vague.”

Bemused by the complexities and ambiguities of the case, Inspector Receveur

summarized his tentative theories in a report to his superiors. He had arrived at the

belief, he wrote, that it was not professional thieves who killed Leclair, and he was

prepared to find the perpetrator of the crime among envious men or among those

who would inherit from the victim. The nephew seemed to merit attention, and he

was “prepared to look into him deeply.” Vial, he noted, was “well advanced in the good

graces of the widow,” a fact that authorized him to extend his investigation to her as

well. The canny Receveur had conceived a new means ofreconciling the disappearance

of the watch with the theory of Vial’s guilt; it was possible that the watch had been

stolen by Bourgeois, the gardener, or one of the others who were among the first group

to discover the body.

Despite Receveur’s suspicion of a conspiracy between Vial and Mme Leclair,

the police archives do not indicate that an intensive investigation was made into

the widow’s possible involvement in the crime. Her deposition was taken, but

the questioning appears to have been superficial and pretty much limited to the

circumstances under which she learned of her husband’s murder. Perhaps it is not

unfair to read in her testimony an exaggerated effort to put herself at a safe distance

from the crime. She stated that she did not learn of the murder until the afternoon

of October 23, even though Paysant had brought the news to her apartment in

the morning and had alerted Mlle Petitbois. Mme Leclair did not accompany her

goddaughter to Leclair’s house, and although it is conceivable that she was not at

home that morning, the police records do not indicate that she ever paid a visit

thereafter to the scene of the crime.

The investigation into Leclair’s death was eventually closed without anyone being

charged with the crime. Leclair’s devoted memorialist Durosoy had to content himself

with inveighing against the unknown murderer: “There are no doubt monsters who

do not belong to their country or their age. Such beings have nothing human about

them except the face of a man.”

The detailed police records that survive provide some basis for hazarding an

opinion as to the identity of the guilty party. Was it the gardener Paysant? It hardly

seems likely. There is no apparent motive, although a secret grievance of an employee

cannot be ruled out. But Paysant seems unfit for the role of murderer. He appears to

have been one of those maddeningly unstable witnesses, in love with mystification for

its own sake, with whom the annals of French crime have abounded from the Fualdés

case of 1817 to the mysterious murder of “little Gregory.”

Mme Leclair, the estranged wife of the composer, is the choice of Nicolas Slonimsky.

Though she seems to have had little to gain financially from her husband’s death

—their community property was heavily burdened with debts to a butcher, a wine

merchant, a grocer, a mason, and others—we cannot ignore Dorothy Sayers’s adage

that in a murder case marriage itself can be a motive. Slonimsky, in placing the blame

on Mme Leclair, notes that “the three wounds … inflicted in the front part of Leclair’s

body as he faced his murderer might have been caused by a sharp tool used for

music engraving—yet there was no examination of these tools in Madame Leclair’s

apartment in Paris.” He also observes that only a person “intimately acquainted with

the victim’s mode of life” could have gone through the motions of placing the odd

group of objects around the corpse and that such a person could only have been Mme

Slonimsky, like a good detective-story writer, makes up in strength of assertion

for what he lacks in logic. Given the evidence of the violence of Leclair’s resistance, it

is unlikely that he could have been overwhelmed by a female assailant of advancing

years. It also seems possible that Leclair, in wearing a hunting knife at home, may

have had reason to fear an enemy more formidable than his wife; he may, in fact,

have drawn the knife in his own defense, only to have been overpowered. Moreover,

it is not true that only Mme Leclair had suffcient knowledge of Leclair’s household

to assemble the hat, wig, book, and manuscript paper. Another such person is my

candidate for the murderer, the composer’s nephew Vial. We cannot determine the

cause of estrangement of the Leclairs or the widow’s feelings toward her husband; we

only know that she claimed to be continuing to supply him with funds in his last days.

However, there is no doubt of the depth of Vial’s malice or of his irrational conviction

that his uncle stood in the way of his musical advancement. He would have known

where to find Leclair’s manuscript paper (assuming that Leclair, still passionately

engaged in composition to the end of his life, did not have the paper at hand when

his murderer called), and presumably Vial could have located the joke book in Leclair’s

library shelves. If the mise-en-scéne near the vestibule door contained an ironic

message from the murderer, it would have accorded with Vial’s bitter spirit for him to

have said, through the empty manuscript page, that he had brought the career of his

fancied rival to an end and to have sneered, through the title of the joke book, that he

had had the last laugh.

Of course, it is possible that Mme Leclair egged Vial on. It is all too apparent that she

did not mourn her late husband or grieve the abrupt end of his glorious career. Shortly

after his murder, she applied to the police for permission to take an inventory of the

contents of his house on rue de Caréme-Prenant. On October 26 and 2 7, 1764, the sale

of Leclair’s property was carried out and produced less than 2,000 livres, which was

insuffcient to pay the creditors in full. The following January Leclair’s widow sold her

husband’s violins.

Bibliographical Notes

The principal source for biographical facts and the account of the crime regarding Jean-Marie

Leclair (called the “elder” to distinguish him from a younger brother Of the same name), and

which contains Barnabé Farmian Durosoy’s work, is Lionel de la Laurencie, L’Ecole frangaise de

violon de Lully å Viotti, 3 vols. (Paris: Delagrange, 1922—24), 1:269—349 (Quotations on pp. 298,


The records of the investigation of the Paris police into the murder of Leclair, on which this

article is based, are located in Archives Nationales (Paris) Yl 3773 and Archives de la Bastille

(Paris) 10068. These archives consist primarily of depositions of witnesses and Inspector

Receveur’s summary of evidence.

Nicolas Slonimsky’s alternative solution to the Leclair mystery is contained in his collection

of informal essays on musical subjects, A Thing or Two about Music (New York: Allen, Towne and

Heath, 1948), 86-90.

The Leclair murder is the subject of a mystery novel by Gérard Gefen, L’Assassinat de Jean-

Marie Leclair (Paris: Beyond, 1991).


Carlo Gesualdo: Murder and Madrigals

Igor Stravinsky has pointed out that Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa (1566—

1613), may not have been the first murderer among composers of the Italian

Renaissance. In 1570 Massimo Troiano, a poet, singer, and composer, was suspected

of involvement, together with another singer, in the murder of a string player, Battista

Romano, near Munich. Troiano and the other singer sought by the authorities fled

Bavaria to avoid arrest.

On April 27, 1570, Prince Wilhelm of Bavaria wrote (in Latin) to Duke Alfonso of

Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio soliciting his aid in apprehending the wanted men: “Two

days ago two of our musicians, one Camillo of Parma, the other Massimo Troiano of

Naples, who a little before, for no significant cause, conceived hatred against another

musician of ours who was outstanding in his art, Battista Romano; and having

followed him outside the walls of the town of Landeshut where we are accustomed

to reside, suddenly caught sight of him. Each of them fired his weapon at him and

one of them lethally wounded the poor fellow.” Prince Wilhelm asked Duke Alfonso to

do his best to arrest the malefactors, whose descriptions were attached to the letter.

Troiano was identified as of middle height with a short reddish beard and speaking

in Neapolitan dialect; in “all his words and manners he showed arrogance and

haughtiness.” Since Troiano never reappeared, his culpability cannot be determined

with assurance. However, even if Gesualdo should be regarded as having been second

to enter Italian music’s murder annals, he far surpassed his predecessor in fame as

musician and murderer.

The Gesualdo tragedy was the appalling outcome of a falsely glittering marriage.

On the death of his elder brother Luigi in 1585, Carlo, second of two sons, became

heir to the Gesualdo family’s titles and properties. To ensure the continuity of his

line, Carlo’s father, Fabrizio, arranged a wedding the following year between Carlo

and his twice-widowed first cousin, Donna Maria d’Avalos. Both spouses could boast

distinguished ancestry. The Norman noblemen of Gesualdo (taking the family name

from a village east of Naples) traced from the eleventh century; Don Carlo’s mother,

Girolama Borromeo, was a sister of Carlo Borromeo (who became a cardinal in 1560

and was canonized in 1610) and a niece of Pope Pius IV. Donna Maria’s father was Don

Carlo d’Avalos, Prince of Montesarchio, and her mother was Donna Sveva Gesualdo,

her bridegroom’s aunt. Donna Maria’s two previous husbands, whom she had wed

in 1575 and 1580, respectively, were Federigo Carafa, Marchese of San Lucido (with

whom she had two children, one surviving only a few months after his birth), and a

Sicilian, Alfonso Gioeni, son of the Marchese di Giulianova. An insensitive chronicler

speculated that Carafa’s early death was perhaps due to excessive indulgence in

sexual intercourse with his wife. Musicologist Cecil Gray writes of Donna Maria,

who was only twenty-five when she embarked on her third and final marriage: “All

contemporary chronicles are agreed on one point, namely, the ‘surprising beauty’ of

Donna Maria, one of them even going so far as to say that she was reputed to be

the most beautiful woman in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This may seem to us

somewhat excessive praise if the portrait of her in the picture … of the Carafa family

in the church of San Domenico Maggiore at Naples is at all like her.”

The first few years of the marriage between Don Carlo and Donna Maria seemed

successful, at least from the viewpoint of the Gesualdo family patriarch, because the

grandson for whom he had hoped and planned, Emmanuele, was born. Before long,

however, the marriage turned a dangerous corner. The events that led Carlo and

Maria to catastrophe are chronicled in an early Italian account, known as the Corona

Manuscript, which, in its most cornplete form, has been translated into English by

Glenn Watkins in his Gesualdo: The Man and His Music. The authors ofthe manuscript

place the blame for the tragedy squarely on uncontrolled female desire: “How much

ruin lust has brought to the world is evident for the pages of writers are filled with

it, and there is no doubt whatsoever that it brings along with it all sorts of evils and

discords, and weakens the body and does harm to all virtues and goodness of the

soul…. It is lust for which men debase themselves in order to submit the body and

soul to the inconstant will and unbridled desire of an unbalanced and vain woman.”

The marriage of Don Carlo and Maria, according to the narrative, was happy for three

or four years, but “the enemy of human nature not being able to endure the sight of

such great love and such conformity of tastes in two married people, implanted in

the bosom of Donna Maria unchaste and libidinous desires, and an unbridled appetite

to enjoy the beauties” of Don Fabrizio Carafa, Duke of Andria, “perhaps the most

handsome and graceful cavaliere in the city.”

Not only is Maria condemned for the initiation of the torrid affair that followed, but

she is held responsible for overruling the duke’s proposal to break off their relations

when there was reason to know that their secret was out. “My Lord Duke,” she

supposedly told him, “more deadly to me is a moment when you are away from me

than a thousand deaths that might result from my crime.”

It proved dangerous for the lovers to wish for disaster. Don Carlo Gesualdo, intent

on revenge after his uncle Giulio, himself besotted with Maria, informed him of the

adultery, laid his murder plans. “Vlith great speed [he] had all the locks of all the doors

of [the Palazzo San Severo, his Naples residence] removed and put out ofworking order

so that [Maria] should not suspect anything” and “spread the news one day that he was

going to go hunting … and would not return until the following day.” Instead, he came

back home toward midnight, October 16, 1590, “accompanied [by] a troop of armed

cavalieri.” After routing a maid who was on watch nearby, he broke down the door of

Maria’s bedroom and surprised his wife “lying naked in bed in the arms of the Duke.”

Even at the sanguinary culmination of their tale, the chroniclers’ sympathies for

Carlo, the “poor Prince,” are unflagging: “At such a sight one can well imagine how

dumbfounded the poor Prince was, who, nevertheless, shaking himself loose from

the stunned state which such a scene had precipitated in him, slew the sleepy lovers

with many dagger thrusts before they could catch their breath.” Without reproof

to Gesualdo’s inhumanity, the Corona Narrative ends by swiftly piling horror upon

horror. The bodies were dragged outside the bedroom and left on the stairs, naked to

the public gaze. After ordering his servants not to move them and to attach to the

palace door “a placard which explained the cause of the slaughters,” Carlo departed

with some relatives for his principality of Venosa.

The bodies remained on display “all the following morning . .. and the entire

city ran thither to view such a spectacle. The Princess’s wounds were all in her belly

and especially in those parts which most ought to be kept honest; and the Duke

gave evidence of having been even more grievously wounded than she.” The Corona

authors draw a concluding moral that echoes their story’s beginning by censuring

only the victims: “Such was the end of their unchaste love.”

Fuller and more reliable information about the murders is provided in records of

three staternents of witnesses preserved in records of the investigation undertaken by

the Grand Court of the Vicaria on October 27, 1590, in Don Carlo’s Naples residence.

The statements, which have been translated by Glenn Watkins in his biography of

Gesualdo, are those of Dominico Micene, Master of the Court, reporting for himself

as well as for two royal councillors and criminal judges of the court and the court’s

prosecuting attorney; Silvia Albana, Donna Maria’s twenty-year-old maid; and Pietro

Malitiale, alias Pietro Bardotti, Don Carlo’s valet.

Micene’s description of the murder scene revealed the multiplicity and brutality of

the killers’ attacks. The Duke of Andria’s body, stretched out on the floor and bizarrely

clad in a “woman’s nightdress with fringes at the bottom, with ruffs of black silk,” was

covered with blood and pierced with many wounds: “an arquebusade on his left arm

which went straight through his elbow, and even went through his breast, the sleeve of

the above-mentioned shirt being scorched; signs of diverse wounds made by pointed

steel weapons on the breast, arms, on the head and on the face; and another arquebus

wound in his temples and over his eye where there was a great flow of blood.” Donna

Maria’s body lay on a gilt couch with bed curtains of green cloth; she “was in her

nightshirt all bathed in blood.” Her throat had been cut, and there were “also a wound

on the head on the side of her right temple, a stab on the face and a number of dagger

thrusts on her hand and right arm, and on her breast and side there was evidence of

two other wounds inflicted by weapons.”

Confirming certain puzzling details of the Corona Narrative, the statement of the

court master Micene reports that “in the quarter of [Donna Maria’s] apartment,” the

door “was found to be smashed at the bottom and could not be shut with the handle

in view of the fact that the keyhole was so gouged out that it could not be shut, nor

could one secure the door nor the lock of said door.” If the door could not be shut or

locked, why would intruders have smashed the bottom of the door, except in rage?

An additional issue is raised by the damage to the door in advance of the crimes:

the conspirators’ tinkering with the keyhole and lock, apparently in order to ease

surreptitious entry on the murder night, might have alerted the lovers to imminent


The two domestic servants who gave evidence to the court investigators

substantiated the active role of Don Carlo in the murders. Silvia Albana testified that

on the night of the murders she and another servant, Laura Scala, put Donna Maria

to bed as usual. After a while her mistress told her she wished to dress, explaining

that she had heard the Duke of Andria whistle and wished to go to the window, as

Silvia had seen her do many times. Donna Maria, having dressed and gone out on

the balcony, instructed the witness to stand guard. A half hour later, Donna Maria

closed the window and told the maid to undress her once again. She also ordered

her to bring her a fresh nightshirt because the one she was wearing was wet with

perspiration; the nightshirt that Silvia brought her mistress was the same garment

that the witness had seen the Duke of Andria wearing when she later discovered him

in Donna Maria’s bedroom, dead on the floor. Her lady’s last instruction was to “shut

the door without turning the handle and do not come in unless I call you.” She had

decided not to undress after all and fell asleep reading a book. Later that night the

maid was awakened by a sound on the spiral staircase that led to a mezzanine where

Don Carlo had his quarters. She saw three men enter whom she did not recognize.

They opened the door to her mistress’s bedroom, and she saw that “one of them, who

was the last of the three, was carrying a halberd.” The witness then heard two shots

and almost simultaneously the words “There he is!” Nearly at the same time she saw

Don Carlo enter the bedroom by the staircase attended by his valet, Pietro Bardotti,

carrying two lighted torches. Don Carlo was carrying a halberd and thundered, “Ah,

traitress, I shall kill you. You shall not escape me now!” The witness fled into a room

“where the boy child was,” and from there she heard Don Carlo saying in her mistress’s

bedroom, “Where are they?” The maid begged that “for the love of God he should

not hurt the child.” Don Carlo ordered his valet to close the door of the closet where

his wife kept her jewels and then departed. When she asked her fellow servant what

had happened, Bardotti replied, “Both of them are dead!” Watkins interprets Silvia’s

testimony as suggesting that “Gesualdo’s helpers, while entering first, disposed of the

Duke of Andria and left the Princess to Don Carlo.”

The valet, Pietro Bardotti, about forty years old, told investigators that he had

served his master and his house for twenty-eight years. On the murder night Don

Carlo called him to ask for a drink of water. After returning from the well, he saw

that Don Carlo was dressed. When the witness asked where he was going at such a

late hour, his master replied that he wanted to go hunting. When Bardotti expressed

surprise, Don Carlo answered, “You will see the kind of hunting I am going to do!”

After Bardotti lighted two torches as instructed, “Don Carlo took from under the bed

a sword and gave it to the witness to carry under his arm, also a dirk and a dagger

together with a small arquebus.” As the two men went to the staircase that led to

Donna Maria’s apartment, Don Carlo said, “I am going to slay the Duke of Andria and

that whore, Donna Maria.” As Don Carlo was going up, Bardotti saw three men, each

of whom was carrying a halberd and a small arquebus. When the witness arrived, the

men threw open Donna Maria’s door. As they entered the bedroom, Don Carlo said,

“Kill that scoundrel along with this harlot! Shall a Gesualdo be made a cuckold?” The

witness then heard the sound offirearms but could not distinguish any voices because

he stayed outside. When Don Carlo’s henchmen came out, Bardotti recognized “one

to be Pietro de Vicario, a servant, another as Ascanio Lama, and a third as a servant

whose name was Francesco.” They descended by the same staircase by which they had

come. When Don Carlo emerged, his hands covered with blood, he had a sudden qualm

that compelled him to reenter the bedroom, saying, “I do not believe they are dead!”

Bardotti followed him with a torch and saw the duke’s dead body near the door. As

he looked on, Don Carlo went up to Donna Maria’s bed and “inflicted still a few more

wounds upon her saying, ‘I do not believe she is dead.'”

Watkins relates that immediately after the murders Don Carlo consulted the

Spanish viceroy of Naples, Don Giovanni Zunia of Miranda, seeking his advice as to the

best course of action, and also razed the forest that surrounded his castle in Gesualdo

to prevent possible enemies from lying in wait. It is not clear that the viceroy took

any official action in the murder investigation. Cecil Gray comments, “The copyist of

the document adds that the inquiry was discontinued at the command of the Viceroy,

in view of the manifest justification for the Prince’s act in slaying the Duke of Andria

and his own erring spouse. But this would seem merely to be a personal opinion of the


There is strong evidence that the violence and unhinged emotion in Gesualdo’s

life did not end with the murders in his Naples residence. However, biographer Glenn

Watkins justifiably dismisses as incredible a rumor that Gesualdo also murdered a

second son, who would have been only a few months old. The rumor claimed that

“Gesualdo believed that he recognized in the presumed child certain features of the

Duke of Andria. His mind having been thus poisoned, he soon reached a state of

mental frenzy, had the infant ‘put in a cradle in the large hall of his castle, and

suspended it with cords of silk hanging down from two nails which were hammered

into the arch. He then ordered that the crib be subjected to wild undulations, until

through the violence of the motion, not being able to draw breath, the child rendered

up its soul to God.”‘ Watkins notes that there is no surviving record of the birth of a

second Gesualdo son.

Far from desiring to add to the sum of his murders, Gesualdo by 1592 was in a

mood for atonement. In that year he completed the building of a Capuchin monastery

at Gesualdo, with a chapel named S. Maria delle Grazie. Glenn Watkins describes

a painting in the chapel that appears to represent divine forgiveness for Gesualdo’s

killings: “At the top of the picture in the centre the Redeemer sits in judgement. The

Prince [Gesualdo] appears in the lower left-hand corner in a kneeling position dressed

in the Spanish fashion, while Saint Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan and his

maternal uncle, ‘attired in his Cardinal’s robes, places his right arm protectively on his

erring nephew’s shoulder, with his face turned towards the Divine Redeemer in the act

of presenting him.'”

In spite of his search for religious comfort, Gesualdo’s personal life remained in

wild disorder. In the years after a politically inspired marriage to Donna Leonora

d’Este of Ferrara in 1594, his repeated beating and abuse of her brought the couple

close to divorce. Symptoms of masochism were also the subject of comment in Don

Ferrante della Marra’s 1632 chronicle, Rovine di Case Napolitane del suo tempo (Ruins

of Neapolitan Houses of His Time): “The third misfortune was that through the agency

of God, [Gesualdol was assailed and afflicted by a vast horde of demons which gave

him no peace for many days on end unless ten or twelve young men, whom he

kept specially for the purpose, were to beat him violently three times a day, during

which operation he was wont to smile joyfully.” A medical treatise of 1635 offered an

alternative report that the Prince of Venosa was flogged by a valet to relieve his chronic


For more than four hundred years, the Gesualdo murder case has evoked responses

in diverse genres of literature. The preeminent poet Torquato Tasso (1544—1595), a

friend of the killer and his victims, met Gesualdo in 1588, perhaps at the camerata,

or academy, that the Prince sponsored at his Naples residence. Invitations to the

camerata assembled composers, musical performers, and poets. During the years of

these gatherings, Gesualdo, according to musicologist Cecil Gray, learned composition

and received instruction in the playing of several instruments, including the bass-lute.

From 1592 on, Tasso, a leading exponent of madrigal poetry, sent Gesualdo more than

forty madrigals to be set to music, and at least fourteen have been identified as having

made their way into the prince’s published compositions. The five-voice madrigal

became Gesualdo’s principal musical form.

The double murder did not interrupt Tasso’s friendship for Gesualdo, but in four

sonnets he poured out his grief over the deaths of Donna Maria and the Duke of Andria.

In one of his poems, “On the Death of Two Most Noble Lovers” (as translated by Glenn

Watkins), no palliation is offered for the “horrible event” that took the lives of “two

most noble lovers”:

Weep, O Graces, and you too bewail, O Loves, the cruel trophies of death

and the cruel spoils of the beautiful couple whom death enviously takes from

us, both the funeral pomps and the shadowy horrors.

Weep, O Nymphs, and strew blossoms on this couple, their moist leaves

painted with old lamentations; and all you who vie with each other in

distilling the piteous anguish and the scent of tears.

Other poets, some distinguished and others anonymous, also memorialized the dead


The story of Donna Maria and her lover was told by Gesualdo’s contemporary, Pierre

de Bourdeilles, Seigneur and Abbé BrantÖme (ca. 1540—1614), in his Lives of Fair and

Gallant Ladies. Brantöme apparently did not believe that Don Carlo personally took

part in the slaughter of the lovers, but his book related the legend that the morning

after the murder “the fair and noble pair, unhappy beings, were seen lying stretched

out and exposed to public view on the pavement in front of the house door, all dead

and cold, in sight of all passers-by, who could not but weep and lament over their

piteous lot.” The lady’s relatives were hot to avenge her killing “by death and murder

as the law of [Naples] doth allow,” but the focus of their anger struck Brantöme as

distinctly odd. They would not have sought satisfaction from Gesualdo if he had

struck the blows with his own hands. What Donna Maria’s family resented was that

the prince had had his wife slain by “base-born varlets and slaves who deserved not

to have their hands stained with so good and noble blood.” The outraged relatives felt

that this point alone should be the ground for their seeking satisfaction from Don

Carlo “whether by justice or otherwise.” Brantöme regarded this position as a foolish

quibble: “I make appeal to our great orators and wise lawyers that they tell me this:

which act is the more monstrous, for a man to kill his wife with his own hand, the

which hath so oftentimes loved and caressed her, or by that of a base-born slave?”

The names of two characters in John Ford’s tragedy Love’s Sacrifice (1633) clearly

identify the Gesualdo murder case as a real-life source of the work: Philippo Caraffa,

Duke of Pavia, and his secretary, Roderico d’Avolos, respectively bear, in variant

spellings, the surname of Donna Maria’s first husband and of her lover and her own

family name. The drama’s plot, like the adultery in the Gesualdo household, leads

inexorably to multiple deaths caused by a husband’s jealousy. The Duke of Pavia has

wed Bianca, a young Milanese beauty who refers to herself as a “simple gentlewoman.”

Bianca falls in love with the Duke’s favorite, Fernando, but spurns his repeated

advances. At last, slipping into his bedchamber, she confesses a reciprocating passion

that may be even stronger than his own:

Since first mine eyes beheld you, in my heart

You have been only king. If there can be

A violence in love, then I have felt

That tyranny.

Because of Fernando’s loyalty to the Duke, the young couple express their love only by

the exchange of chaste kisses.

While this romance blossoms, two dangerous conspirators are waiting for the

strategic moment to inform the duke: Fiormonda, the duke’s sister, and Roderico

d’Avolos, an ambitious courtier. When d’Avolos persuades the duke that Bianca has

cuckolded him, the enraged husband pretends to leave on a journey to Lucca but

returns to confront his wife in her bedchamber. Although denying infidelity, Bianca,

more bravely than wisely, explains her preference for Fernando. You married me, she

tells her husband, “because you thought I had / a spark of beauty more than you had

seen.” Her reason for loving Fernando was the same:

The selfsame appetite which led you on

To marry me, led me to love your friend.

O he’s a gallant man.

Her husband stabs her to death with a dagger. Fernando takes poison, and the duke, in

remorse after learning of his wife’s innocence, “sacrifices his life” on her altar.

In his short story “History of Doha Maria d’Avalos and Don Fabricio, Duke d’Andria,”

Anatole France (1844—1924) pursued the narrative tradition of the Corona Manuscript

and of Brantöme. Unlike the Corona version of the underlying events, France’s retelling

invites sympathy for Maria’s youthful inexperience and her prefigured surrender to

the overwhelming power of love. To emphasize her innocence, France omits any

reference to Maria’s previous marriages. He forecasts her doom by describing a tableau

vivant on a cart in her wedding procession that features a “winged youth treading

underfoot three old hags of incredible ugliness”; a sign above the vehicle proclaimed

that “Love Vanquishes the Fatal Sisters.” By this deceptive maxim “‘twas to be

understood that the new-wedded pair would enjoy many a long year of happiness by

each other’s side,” but “this presage of Love, more strong than the Fates, was false


When Maria saw the Duke d’Andria, she found him “a gallant, handsome and well-

knit man, and did straight love the same. An honest girl and a well-born, heedful of

her noble name and still in that callow youth when women have not gotten boldness

Considered as a Murderer,” and its mock-aestheticism reflect Thomas De Quincey’s

famous articles of 1827 and 1839, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” In

view of the butchery for which Gesualdo was responsible, it was an unfortunate lapse

of taste that led Gray to adopt the satiric manner of these essays; a more appropriate

tone could have been borrowed from De Quincey’s 1854 supplement, “Three

Memorable Murders,” in which the author turned from humor to suspenseful and

psychologically acute crime narratives. Nevertheless, when the distractions of literary

parody are overcome, it is possible to perceive the lines of Gray’s crime analysis. He

maintains that, “contrary to expectations, Gesualdo was not… in position, despite his

exalted rank to kill anyone who happens to annoy [him] with absolute impunity.”

He further observes that “one of the Venetian ambassadors to Naples about this time,

Michele Suriano, considered it one of the defects of the viceregal government that

affairs of justice were executed without making any distinction between nobles and

common people—a defect because punishment means so little to a mere commoner,

and so much to a nobleman.”

Gray sees Gesualdo’s crimes as typical of the late Renaissance—in which “even

creative artists, philosophers, and scholars, were not averse to dabbling occasionally

in he cites many exemplars, including Tasso: “The poet Chiabrera

murdered a Roman gentleman in revenge for an insult; the historian Davila also

committed a murder and was himself assassinated; Tasso, in his periodic fits of frenzy,

was wont to attack people with a dagger.” The essay suggests in its conclusion that

Gesualdo’s life can be compartmentalized, that “it was not until Gesualdo gave up

murder that he seriously took up composing.”

A chapter entitled “Don Carlo GesuaIdo—A Murdered Love” is included in

Shoham’s Art, Crime and Madness. Professor Shoham, who has written on crime,

deviance, philosophy, religion, psychology, and the human personality, constructs an

unflattering image of Gesualdo’s psyche: “Don Carlo’s personality was presumably

doubly fixated, both at the early and later oral stages of development, so that

a ‘black hole’ was structured within it. Gesualdo tried to ‘fill’ this abyss by

unrequited love, both sadistic and masochistic, and after he murdered his wife, by

guilt and self-inflicted pain.” Shoham finds support for his conception of Gesualdo’s

sadomasochistic nature not only in the composer’s addiction to being flogged but also

in his fondness for madrigal lyrics associating love with physical pain. He cites, for

example, a Tasso lyric for a Gesualdo madrigal in which love causes a painless array of

torments to assail the heart:

O Love, my blessed one,

I feel without pain

another dart, other chains,

another flame.

In Shoham’s vision, the composer’s music reflects his guilt over the murder of Donna

Maria: “Gesualdo’s wish to join his beloved wife [Maria] in death” is “linked to his

magnificently expressionist and tortured music.”

It is a risky venture, of course, to seek reflections of Gesualdo’s violent impulses in

the music he composed years after his double murder. Gesualdo’s musical style became

adventurous only gradually; Glenn Watkins observes that Gesualdo’s early madrigals

reveal “a composer well versed in the traditions of contrapuntal practice” and refers

to “the greater harmonic orientation of many of his later works.” Only as the murders

receded in his past did Gesualdo become a musical innovator. If a search for violence in

his music will baffe us, still less confidently can we read Gesualdo’s psyche in the lyrics

of others he chose to set in his madrigals. The pains of lost or spurned love were the

stock in trade of madrigal poets.

Bibliographical Notes

The Latin letter from Prince Wilhelm about Massimo Troiano’s involvement in murder is

published in the article “Massimo Trojano als Flüchtling [Massimo Trojano as a Fugitive],”

Monatshefte fiir Musikgeschichte 23, 1 (1891): 1—4. The weapons used were apparently a

stonebow (parvum tormentum) and a firearm (bombarda).

The most complete Italian edition of the so-called Corona Manuscript relating the Gesualdo

murder case is editor Angelo Borzelli’s Successi Tragici et Amorosi di Silvio et Ascanio Corona

[Cases of Tragedy and Love by Silvio and Ascanio Coronal (Naples: Casella, 1908), 192—203.

Existing variants of this manuscript date from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century.

Borzelli believes that many authors had a hand in this work and that Corona was their common

pseudonym. English translations of the Corona Manuscript and of the police investigation into

the Gesualdo murders are found in both the Cecil and Heseltine and the Watkins biographies

cited below.

Biographical studies of Gesualdo include Cecil Gray’s essay “Carlo Gesualdo Considered as a

Murderer,” found in Carlo Gesualdo Prince of Venosa Musician and Murderer (London: Kegan Paul,

1926), which he coauthored with Philip Heseltine (Gray’s murder essay at pp. 61—74); Denis

Mortier, Carlo Gesualdo (Paris: Fayard, 2003); Shlomo Giora Shoham, Art, Crime and Madness

(Brighton, England: Sussex Academic Press, 2002), 73—93; and Glenn P. Watkins, Gesualdo: The

Man and His Music, with a preface by Igor Stravinsky, 2nd ed. (Oxford, England: Oxford Univ.

Press, 1991), 3—91 (biography), 6—23 (Corona Manuscript and murders), 32 (portrayal of G. in

the chapel of Santa Maria delle Grazie), 33—34 (infanticide rumor), 73—81 (G.’s mistreatment of

second wife), 83 (masochism OfG. and its report in Rovine di Case Napolitane del Suo tempo).

A novel based on the Gesualdo murders is Michel Breitman’s LeTémoin de poussiére (The

Witness of Dust] (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1985), in which Gesualdo’s devoted servant, Gioseppe

Pilonij, narrates his master’s rise and tragedy resulting from two murder plots: a faked hunting

accident claiming the life of Gesualdo’s elder brother, Luigi, and the massacre of Maria d’Avalos

and her lover. In reality Pilonij was a Neapolitan under whose name Gesualdo published his early

Other works of fiction include include a collection of scandalous anecdotes by [Pierre de

Bourdeilles] Seigneur and Abbé de Brantöme, Fair and Gallant Ladies, trans. A R. Allinson

(New York: Liveright, 1933); Alberto Consiglio’s novel Gesualdo ovvero Assassinio a Cinque Voci

(Gesualdo: or, Murder in Five Voices] (Naples: Berisio, 196 7); John Ford’s play Love’s Sacrifice, ed.

  1. T. Moore (Manchester. Manchester Univ. Press, Revels Plays, 2002); Anatole France’s “History

of Dona Maria d’Avalos and the Duke d’Andria,” in The Well of Saint Clare, trans. Alfred Allinson

(London: John Lane, Bodley Head, 1909), 271—86; and Jean-Noél Schifano’s novella Madrigal

napolitain, in Chroniques napolitaines (Paris: Gallimard, 1984).

The murders of Donna Maria and her lover have inspired two operas entitled Gesualdo, one

by Alfred Schnittke (premiered in Vienna, May 26, 1995) and the other by Franz Hummel

(first produced in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in 1996). Director Werner Herzog’s self-indulgent

1995 film for television, a so-called “documentary fiction” called “Death for Five Voices,” has no

relation to the similarly named novel by Alberto Consiglio. The Herzog film is available on DVD,

distributed by Image Entertainment.


Alessandro Stradella: Revenge for Love

A French history of music begun by Abbé Pierre Bourdelot and completed and

published in 1715 by his nephew Jacques Bonnet established the myth that long

surrounded the first attempt to murder Alessandro Stradella (1639—1682). According

to this tantalizing story, a Venetian nobleman engaged composer Stradella to give

music lessons to his mistress. Stradella eloped with his pupil to Rome, pursued by

two assassins hired by his vengeful employer. On arrival in the Eternal City, the bravi

learned that the faithless Stradella was to perform a new oratorio on the next day at

the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, one of Rome’s four patriarchal churches. The

murderous pair planned to attack the composer when he left the church, but they were

so strongly moved by the beauty of his music that they could not bring themselves to

strike. Instead, they implored Stradella to save his life by leaving Rome immediately.

The Stradella legend is so romantic that, according to Stradella’s biographer

Carolyn Gianturco, it inspired six nineteenth-century operas of which the best known

is Alessandro Stradella (1837) by Friedrich von Flotow. In Flotow’s comic opera,

Stradella’s music softens the hearts of his would-be killers and of the master whom

they served. At the end of the second act, the bandits who have entered Stradella’s

house surreptitiously are diverted from their bloody mission when he sings a ballad

of landscape painter Salvator Rosa glorifying the compassion of highwaymen. In the

opera finale the vindictive nobleman also recovers his humanity, calling on Stradella to

forgive and forget after hearing the composer’s rehearsal of a hymn to the Virgin Mary.

Gianturco’s Alessandro Stradella, 1639—1682: His Life and Music has made the

most decisive shift from fiction to fact in treating the biography and career of this

significant figure in music history. Stradella, described by Ellen Rosand in her review

of Gianturco’s book as “an important composer of vocal and instrumental music in

Italy during the third quarter of the seventeenth century,” produced cantatas, operas

and other theater music, oratorios (including one of his finest works, San Giovanni

Battista), vocal pieces, madrigals, and instrumental music. He is credited with

inventing the concerto grosso.

The birthplace of Stradella was the city of Nepi, near Viterbo in central Italy. His

father, Marc’Antonio, was, according to Gianturco, “one of the leading figures of Nepi,”

and the family was well-connected with luminaries in aristocratic and church circles.

Marc’Antonio died in 1648, and five years later the fourteen-year-old Alessandro

moved with his mother, Vittoria, and his brother, Stefano, to Rome; Vittoria joined

Duke Ippolito Lante’s household, which her two sons served as pages. The details of

Alessandro’s musical training are obscure, but in 1667 a Latin oratorio of his was

performed during the Lenten season in a series paid for by a society of aristocrats.

Throughout his productive life, Stradella served many patrons. A particularly loyal

supporter was a Venetian nobleman, Polo Michiel, and in about 1675 Queen Christina

of Sweden (who had taken up residence in Rome after her abdication) made one of her

many contributions to his career, writing a scenario that was developed into a verse

that Stradella set to music in his cantata II Damone.

The fact that Stradella served numerous masters was a mixed blessing at best. The

continuity of his work was not assured, and his noble patrons were not always quick

to pay for the music that they had commissioned. These inherent risks of musical

freelancing may have been exacerbated by Stradella’s high living. Whatever the causes,

by the autumn of 1670 the young composer found himself in debt for 7,000 scudi

and turned to Cardinal Flavio Chigi for assistance. In a letter of November 27 to the

cardinal, Stradella emphasized both his humility and the danger he faced: “I am here

with this sheet of paper, prostrate at Your Excellency’s feet, kneeling before Your

Clemency to beg for help, and to request your magnamity to free me from a disgrace

which is hovering above me, [a situation] in which, if I have no protector, I could be

deprived of my belongings, reputation, and perhaps also freedom.” The root cause of

his misery, Stradella submitted, was his professional independence: “Your Excellency

should… know that it is already two years that I am free-lancing to earn some money,

and that so far I have had reasonable good luck; but, whoever navigates this particular

sea, and does not have someone to protect him from the abuses of fortune, must

succumb to several encounters with the same.” Stradella informed the cardinal that

to satisfy his needs, a loan of 2,000 scudi would be suffcient because he had already

put together the rest. He then attempted to apply time pressure: “The time left to

remedy this misfortune is only until the coming Saturday; it is therefore the shortness

of the [time] that leads me to disturb Your Excellency. If by any chance you would

agree to help me, your money is safe.” It is not known whether or how the cardinal

responded, but Gianturco suggests that Stradella’s plight may have been ameliorated

by 1671 when he became active in work for Rome’s first public opera theater, the

Teatro Tordinona.

Years earlier, however, Stradella had set a dangerous precedent for supplementing

his income by disreputable marriage brokering. Gianturco summarizes a 1667 letter

from Abate Settimio Olgiati to Polo Michiel informing him that Stradella “has arranged

a marriage and, because of it, has had to escape to a religious institution and may even

have to leave Rome.” A similar affair cropped up nine years later. Stradella makes a

veiled reference to this new misstep in his letter of October 20, 1676, to Polo Michiel,

where he alludes to “a certain misfortune having happened to me in Rome, which does

not permit me to live here at the moment.” One account cited by Gianturco asserted

that “he contrived to get 10,000 scudi from a woman ‘of low birth, not respectable,

also ugly and old.”‘ Another version of the rumor claimed that Stradella and an

accomplice, a well-known contralto castrato, tried to cover their tracks by marrying

their victim offto a relative of Cardinal Alderano Cibo; supposedly the chosen husband

was an unidentified member of the Cibo family. The consequence of this attempted

offense against family honor was that the cardinal had the woman put in a nunnery,

“one ofthe most vile” in Rome. Stradella thought it best to decamp for Venice.

No sooner had he arrived there than he became involved in a new imbroglio before

which his earlier troubles paled. Alvise Contarini, a member of a rich and powerful

Venetian family, asked Stradella to give music lessons to his inamorata, Agnese Van

Uffele. But by June 1677 the composer no longer had tutorial duties on his mind; he

eloped with the young woman to Turin, capital of the Duchy of Savoy. Contarini was

furious, railing not over a broken heart but stolen goods; he insisted that the fugitives

had robbed him of 10,000 ducats. He was not believed, Gianturco relates, “since he was

talking about jewels of little value which he had given his mistress.” The nobleman’s

anger, if not his financial loss, was real, for in late July he arrived in Turin in search of

the lovers; he found that the girl had sought refuge in a convent for “lost sheep” and

her lover had claimed sanctuary at the Convent of San Domenico. Through pressure

applied by an archbishop, Contarini insisted that Agnese either marry Stradella or

become a nun. By the end of the month, Contarini left the city, and Stradella turned to

his patron Polo Michiel for intercession. In a letter of August 21, 1677, Stradella asked

Michiel for written recommendations to the Turin court.

The reason why I ask Your Excellency this favour is because Signor Aluigi

[Alvise] Contarini having advanced his cause here just by saying that I am

a thief, that I robbed him of money, with a thousand other lies, … I need

letters to this court which testify to my actions…. The same Signor Aluigi

was nevertheless not believed, and they excused his slander by believing him

to be very passionate and in love; but with all that, I have always been open

with the court and … am always ready to receive every reprimand whenever

I have committed by my actions a positive error. As far as the woman is

concerned,… I did not take her away to remove her from Signor Aluigi, but

because of the compassion that I had for the misfortunes of the same, for the

dangers in which I saw her, and because of the continuous and innumerable

supplications she made me.

On September I I Stradella wrote again, expressing the hope that Michiel would lend

his support in the continuing dispute, since he had “the opportunity of using [his] very

powerful contacts with Signor Aluigi Contarini.” By the following month, negotiations

seemed to be bearing fruit. On October 8 an informant reported to Michiel that

Stradella had at last agreed to marry Agnese; in return, Contarini would return the

girl’s belongings. After the wedding, the nobleman would in writing both pardon

Stradella and recommend him to Savoy’s regent, Maria Giovanna. The rejoicings of

the now affanced couple were, however, premature, as a news bulletin from Turin

to Rome soon reported: “Sunday evening [October 101 Alessandro Stradella, Musico

Romano, was assaulted by two outsiders forestieril, and they dealt him several knife

wounds, leaving him on the ground for dead, and being brought into the Palazzo of S.

Giovanni, orders were immediately given by Madama Reale [Maria Giovanna) to bring

him to the rooms he has in the Convent of San Domenico, and therefore a rigorous

search is being made to find the emissaries.” In fact, the identity of the man who

ordered the attack (from which Stradella recovered) was, in the minds of many, an

open secret. On October 16 the Bavarian ambassador reported the crime to Munich and

named Contarini as responsible. Ultimately, nobody was brought to justice because the

case became snarled with diplomatic quarrels between France and Savoy.

Stradella’s correspondence with Michiel shows that the victim of the assault

was also quick to put the dangerous conflict behind him. He informed Michiel on

November 26, 1677, that “every difference that the most excellent Signor Aluigi

Contarini had with me is completely settled to my great satisfaction, as well as the

way [it was done],” and in a letter of December 16 he further assured his patron: “Your

Excellency is already well informed of my peace of mind with regard to the most

excellent Signor Contarini.”

There is no further mention of Agnese Van Uffele in Stradella’s correspondence.

This passionate triangle disappears from history only to reemerge in the happier form

of the BourdeIot-Bonnet myth and the Flotow opera. For Stradella, though, destiny

proved far harsher than these fictions. Although to all appearances unchastened by

his close brush with disaster, he thought it best to move to Genoa, where he was well-

settled by January 1668. It was in this city that the composer’s reckless nature set him

on a course leading to a last misadventure.

From a professional point of view, Stradella’s years in Genoa turned out to be

brilliantly successful. To keep this musical star in their city, a group of Genoese gave

him an annual stipend of 100 Spanish doubloons as well as a house, food, and a

servant; he was also entrusted with management of the Teatro Falcone. In Genoa

Stradella produced three of his operas, La forza dell’amore paterno, Le gare dell’amor

eroico, and II Trespolo tutore; another opera was commissioned from Rome and an

oratorio, La Susanna, was presented in Modena. His pupils burgeoned among the


In other respects, however, Genoa was far from a perfect location for Stradella.

Both the public and private spheres of the city were extremely puritanical. The three

ruling doges, as well as the Genoese Senate, closely regulated the social behavior of

citizens. Rules of conduct published in 1680 made detailed prescriptions for clothing

and adornment, decreeing black for the dress of women and requiring simplicity in

jewelry and wigs. The rigor of such ordinances was contagious, arousing the public to

emulate the zeal of its government. Gianturco cites an anonymous letter of complaint

to the governing council in which an unflattering reference was made to Stradella.

The writer found that women were ostentatious and their husbands extravagant. The

men, he fulminated, gave too much money to a fashionable hairdresser nicknamed

“the Roman” and to two composers, Stradella, and his friend, Carlo Ambrosio Lonati,

a hunchbacked singer, violinist, and throw money so that these

brazen scoundrels can stay in Genoa.” The letter concluded that the three offenders

should be expelled from the city. Gianturco notes that the thrust of the letter’s author

was ambiguous, targeting either money or immorality: “He is opposed to women

being glamorous and, what is more, suspicious of their dealings with men outside the

family…. He is against all expenditures for things he believes valueless, for example

money paid to Stradella and Lonati supposedly for their compositions or music

lessons. He would presumably have seen their lessons to ladies as immoral encounters

simply because of the proximity of the sexes.”

A spate of anonymous letters beginning on December 2, 1681, commented on the

recent wounding of Pier Francesco Guano that required twelve stitches on his face.

The letters asserted that Guano had been attacked for having “talked too loudly and

sarcastically especially about having seen nude noblewomen.” On February 28, 1682, a

news brief sent from Genoa to Florence reported another attack, this one claiming the

life of Alessandro Stradella: “Wednesday evening [February 251 at two at night [about

7:00 P.M.] while he was going home accompanied by his servant who had a cape in his

hand, the musician Stradella was stabbed three times, and died immediately without

being able to say a word, and the servant whom he had ahead [of him] observed

nothing until he saw him fall flat on his face, and then he died, and it is not yet

known who did it.” A composer of admired music, Stradella died in silence. His burial

in Santa Maria delle Vigne, one of Genoa’s most aristocratic churches, confirmed what

his unbroken ties with noble patrons had already demonstrated: private indiscretions

had not dimmed the respect he had enjoyed because of his music and his family ties.

Although the news report of February 28 termed the perpetrator unknown,

political and public opinion, expressed anonymously, placed the blame on the four

Lomellino brothers. One unsigned note in the records of the investigation suggested

that if Stradella “had paid attention to the admonitions he had received in Turin[,l he

would not have had such an accident which might have been caused by his wanting

to raise his sight to the sun. Therefore whoever rises too high is bound to fall.” This

implication that Stradella’s sin was to pursue love affairs in Genoa’s high society was

sardonically phrased in musical terms by news reports stating that “in order to touch

too high he had played in the bass.” Reports also claimed that three other leading

musicians had left Genoa so as to avoid Stradella’s fate.

On March 5 the Genoese Senate ordered Giovanni Battista Lomellino (known as

Bacciolo or Baccio) and his brother Domenico to be imprisoned. A month later the men

were released on a payment of 2,000 silver scudi. They were never formally charged

with Stradella’s murder, nor was sufficient evidence assembled to support such an

accusation. Anonymous letters had charged that the killing was arranged because

Stradella was having an affair with the accused men’s married sister, Maria Lomellino

Garibaldi. This imputation may have been no more than an attempt to suggest

comparison to Alvise Contarini’s commissioned act of revenge in Turin. Apart from

the lack of proof, biographer Gianturco finds an additional reason to doubt this theory,

finding it “a bit surprising to learn that Maria Caterina Lomellino’s husband, Giuseppe

Maria Garibaldi (one of the managers of the Teatro Falcone), took care of distributing

the composer’s possessions to his heirs, and not only kept Stradella’s music for himself

but tried later on to enlarge his personal collection ofit, behaviour one would think too

generous and full of respect for a nobleman towards a musician who had cuckolded

him.” This reservation is superficially appealing, but it is possible that Garibaldi’s

apparently “generous” conduct might have been well-calculated to protect his wife’s

virtue or to immunize his in-laws against criminal reputations.

One of the news bulletins from Genoa gave another reason for deadly anger of the

Lomellino brothers against Stradella. According to this rumor, an actress had been

impregnated and abandoned by a priest; Giovanni took the young woman under his

protection but became jealous when he found that she was in love with Stradella.

It is diffcult to choose between the two hypotheses that both point to guilt within

the Lomellino family. However, despite the puzzles that remain about the details of the

Stradella assassination plot, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the composer was

undone by his old nemesis, revenge for love.

Bibliographical Notes

My source for the biography of Stradella is Carolyn Gianturco’s Alessandro Stradella, 1639—1682:

His Life andMusic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 262-65, 266-67, 33, 267-69, 272-73, 42, 56,

5 7, 59, 60. This includes, in Italian and English, Stradella’s extant writings, among them twenty-

four letters that have been translated into English and published for the first time. Gianturco

opines that “many of the documents which [Remol Giazotto cites” in his two-volume Vita di

Alessandro Stradella (Milan: Curci, 1962) “cannot be found, whereas others which contradict

them have since come to light.” I note that Giazotto has misnamed Agnese Van Uffele, the first

femme fatale in Stradella’s life.

Ellen Rosand’s review of Gianturco’s biography appeared in the online Journal of Seventeenth-

Century Music 1, 1 (1995), http://sscm-jscm, (accessed Dec.

13, 2007).

The origin ofthe “Stradella myth” is in the biography of the composer in Histoire de la musique

depuis son origine, les progres successifs de cet artjusqu’ å présent, et la comparaison de la musique

italienne et de la musique franqaise (Paris: C. Cochart, 1715), which was begun by Abbé Pierre

Bourdelot, continued by Pierre Bonnet-Bourdelot, completed and published by Jacques Bonnet.

Friedrich Wilhelm Riese’s libretto for Friedrich von Flotow’s opera, Alessandro Stradella, is

provided with the Capriccio two-CD recording 60117 of a 2004 production of Westdeutscher

Rundfunk, Cologne, Germany.

Novelists have been attracted by Stradella’s love affair with the Venetian nobleman’s protégée.

Examples include Marion Crawford, Stradella (New York: Macmillan, 1909); and Philippe

Beaussant, Stradella (Paris: Gallimard, 1990). In Beaussant’s novel the tradition that Stradella

was spared assassination because of the beauty of his oratorio is found to be rooted in the myth

of Orpheus, whose music charmed wild beasts. Beaussant comments, “A myth makes sense only

if it is always true and if an Italian of the seventeenth century can repeat what already has been

done. All I know is that the story of Stradella’s music stirring the souls of the assassins to the

point of disarming them has come down through the centuries. Everyone has believed it to be

true, admirable and exemplary. Me too” (222).


The Tragic Night of Anton Webern

For many years an abundance of inconsistent theories were offered to account for the

fatal shooting of composer Anton Webern on the evening of September 15, 1945, in

Mittersill, an Alpine town southwest of Salzburg in the U.S.-occupied zone of Austria.

It was a deadly response to a curfew violation, some said, when Webern stepped into

the night air to enjoy an American cigar. Other explanations received by musicologist

Hans Moldenhauer, who studied the riddle of Webern’s sudden death, were more

sinister. a well-known Swiss composer opined that the killing had been “intentional”

and the result of a “criminal act,” and the widow of a Viennese composer wrote to

Moldenhauer of “rumors that [Webern’s] Nazison-in-law Benno Mattel had shot him.”

In the last decade of his life, Anton Webern as a man and musician had been

a victim of cultural totalitarianism and the Nazification of Europe. After leading a

Mendelssohn program for Ravag (Radio Austria) in honor of the composer’s birthday,

he saw his career as a conductor come to an end. In the wake of the Anschluss,

Webern’s music was included in a Nazi propaganda exhibit of “Degenerate Art” in

Vienna’s Künstlerhaus. This offcial proscription made it impossible to have his works

performed in his homeland or elsewhere in Nazi dominions. The income from his

teaching also dwindled away.

Webern’s biographers, including Hans Moldenhauer and Kathryn Bailey, have cited

evidence that, despite the political oppression from which his career suffered, Webern

was, during the first years of World War II, strangely attracted to Nazism. Kathryn

Bailey writes that “in the early 1940s

Webern shows great enthusiasm for

Hitler and Nazi domination as the German world’s ordained and proper destiny.” At

least for a time Webern expressed admiration for Hitler as the force behind German

resurgence. In a letter of March 4, 1940, to his friend Josef Hueber he wrote that a

reading of Mein Kampf had brought him “much enlightenment.” Bailey notes that,

among Webern’s children, only his daughter Maria Halbich managed “to resist the pull

towards National Socialism.” Perhaps in the interest of protecting his family, Webern

maintained silence on the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitism, a stance that upset Jewish

friends and colleagues, notably Arnold Schoenberg and pianist Eduard Steuermann.

The last years of World War II brought tragedy and hardship to Webern and his

family. In the spring of 1944 Webern, at age sixty, was inducted into service in the

air raid protection police, living in a barrack away from his home in Mödling, a town

outside Vienna. In March 1945 he learned of the death of his soldier son Peter, whose

troop train was hit by low-flying Allied bombers. On March 31 Webern and his wife,

Wilhelmine, their daughter Amalie, and her two children left Vienna on foot to join

their other two daughters, Christine and Maria, and their families in Mittersill. The

hope of the Weberns was to escape the bombings and privations of the Austrian


For a while the entire Webern family lived together with Maria’s in-laws, but

Christine and her husband, Benno Mattel, moved to the rented ground floor of a house

located “am Markt 101” on the outskirts of Mittersill. It was here that Anton and

Wilhelmine were invited for dinner on the last evening of his life. After the meal was

over, Webern was shot to death outside the front door.

In August 1959 Moldenhauer, accompanied by his wife, Rosaleen, made a

pilgrimage to the site. In his 1961 book The Death of Webern: A Drama in Documents,

Moldenhauer recalled that the marks left by the bullets that killed Webern were still

visible: “I walked along the pathway up to the door. There, in the stucco wall next to

the log frame, three bullet holes can still be seen. They are about waist high above

the ground, two on the left, and one on the right side of the door. Three small holes

puncturing the stone bespeak the violence which had struck here.” The Moldenhauers

spoke to the few Mittersill residents who remembered the shooting. They told the

Moldenhauers that on the evening in question, American occupation soldiers were

searching for Bruno Mattel, Webern’s son-in-law, “who had made himself politically

suspect.” (Mattel was in fact a former storm trooper; he had married Christine Webern

in his brown uniform.) While the Americans talked to Mattel in the kitchen, Webern

left the house to smoke; since it was 10:00 he “apparently was mistaken for his son-in-

law” and was shot at the moment he walked out of the house.

Moldenhauer’s passion to discover the true circumstances of Webern’s death

impelled him to carry on painstaking inquiries of U.S. governmental and rnilitary

offces and in November 1959 brought him a promising reply from the U.S. Army

Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Records in that offce showed that units of the

42nd (Rainbow) Division were located at Mittersill on the date of the shooting; the

center’s commanding offcer furnished Moldenhauer the names and latest addresses

of offcers assigned to those units. This information, supplemented by a response of

the Adjutant General’s offce, enabled Moldenhauer to write letters to two dozen men

inquiring about their possible knowledge of facts concerning the shooting. One of the

letters led Moldenhauer to a valuable source, Martin U. Heiman, who was attached

to the 242nd Infantry Regiment of the Rainbow Division, which served in Mittersill

in September 1945, and who acted as interpreter of German-speaking witnesses and

investigator in the whole regimental area.

Heiman forwarded Moldenhauer a copy of his affdavit of December 28, 1959,

recording his knowledge of circumstances of Webern’s death. According to Heiman, on

Saturday evening, September 15, 1945, he was called away from a dance to follow a

man he knew well, a headquarters company cook, to “a nearby civilian home in order

to help arrest a black marketeer, Benno Mattel, and to act as interpreter in a shooting

which took place in this connection.” The victim “lying dead from newly inflicted

bullet wounds” on the ground floor opposite the kitchen was Anton von Webern.

During the investigation Heiman acted as interpreter. The ensuing trial resulted in

the imposition of a one-year jail sentence on Mattel for black market activities. The

first sergeant and the cook who were involved in the arrest had contacted Mattel

after learning that he “was a real or prospective black marketeer.” With permission

from superiors, the two soldiers took army food and supplies to Mattel’s home on

the evening of September 15 and negotiated sale prices. When Mattel agreed to the

purchase, they drew their pistols and placed him under arrest. Heiman observed that

the cook may not have been an ideal choice for a sting operation: “It should be noted

at this time that the cook involved was even normally a very nervous person, easily

aroused and excitable, even though—according to my knowledge—not a bad character

and sometimes helpful.”

The cook’s high-strung nature may have played a key role in what transpired: “The

cook—already in a very excited state—stepped out of the hallway and the house into

the darkness and promptly bumped into a figure by whom he felt himself attacked.

He fired 3 shots ‘in self-defense’ and kept on going to the restaurant to get the

undersigned [Heiman]…. [Webern] only stepped outside the house shortly before,

coming from the room across the hallway, to smoke an American cigar, given to him

earlier by his son-in-law, B. Mattel.” Additional details were provided in a statement

of Wilhelmine Webern, a copy of which Heiman attached to his report. She confirmed

that, at 9:45 P.M. exactly, her husband walked outside because “he wanted to smoke the

cigar which he had received the same evening from our son-in-law.” Webern “wanted

to smoke it… outside the [bedroom] in order not to bother the children.” Frau Webern

discounted the cook’s claim of self-defense: “My husband was reconvalescent and

weighed only about 50 kilos (110 lbs.); he is about 160 cms (5’4″) high. According to

my belief it would be against his nature to attack anybody, especially a soldier.”

In further correspondence Heiman was able to inform Moldenhauer that the last

name of the cook who shot Webern was Bell. His report was accurate, because army

records identified the cook as Raymond N. Bell. It turned out that Bell was deceased,

but his wife, Helen, wrote graciously to Moldenhauer. Her husband had been a

restaurant chef after the war and had died of alcoholism. She knew little about the

accident except that it troubled her husband: “When he came home from the war he

told me he killed a man in the line of duty. I knew he worried greatly over it. Everytime

he became intoxicated, he would say, ‘I wish I hadn’t killed that man.’ I truly think it

helped to bring on his sickness. He was a very kind man who loved everyone. These are

the results of war. So many suffer.”

The persevering quest of Hans Moldenhauer did not put at rest the minds of

commentators who have favored more sensational explanations of Webern’s death.

According to Kathryn Bailey, “most accounts have agreed that in stepping outside …

Webern was breaking a curfew.” The composer’s 1966 biographer, Friedrich Wildgans,

wrote that an 8:00 general curfew had recently been imposed but that, in view of the

arrangements for the sting, Mattel had not been informed. This explanation justifiably

does not satisfy Kathryn Bailey, who counters that “Wildgans fails to explain how it

was that none of the (ten?) people living in the Halbich household [where Webern

was living] knew about the curfew either.” She regards as more plausible a speculation

that “a special curfew had been placed on the house where the Mattels lived for this

occasion only, and that the others living in the house had been told of the curfew but

the Mattels naturally had not been, and that it had not occurred to anyone that the

Mattels might have visitors that night.”

The alternative supposition of a single-house curfew appears fanciful, particularly

since such an order would have relied on the discretion of the Mattels’ landlady, Elise

Fritzenwanger, who, in the eyes of the American occupation authorities, would likely

have been regarded as an enemy civilian. Rendering the special curfew thesis even

more dubious is a further observation by Bailey. According to a written report by

Mittersill’s mayor, “the reason no one was allowed to leave the house was that it was

being searched; no curfew is mentioned.”

Other explanations of the Webern shooting are advanced by devotees of conspiracy

theory. Conductor Hans Rosbaud suggested that Webern was clearly silhouetted in

front of a lighted window and was therefore known to his killer. Disregarding the fact

that Mattel was arrested, Louis Krasner retold a story that Webern had intentionally

exposed himself to gunfire in order to allow his son-in-law to escape.

The random nature of the Mittersill shooting, which put a tragic end to the life

and creativity of one of twentieth-century music’s greatest geniuses, has inspired

playwrights and opera composers to revisit the event. One of those to do so was

poet-playwright James Schevill, who included “The Death of Anton Webern” in his

Collected Short Plays. Schevill’s “counterpoint for voices” on Webern’s death, intended

to be presented as a radio play, a concert reading, or a television piece with film or

projections, was first performed by the Radio Players of San Francisco State University

in 1967. Drawing on the factual revelations made by Moldenhauer, Schevill includes

among his characters Webern, his wife, one of his daughters, his black-marketeer son-

inlaw, and the American cook who took the composer’s life. The unifying plot element

in the short drama is the ominous cigar. Webern’s family recalls the composer’s

fondness for cigars. His daughter recalls that her “father composed through smoking

cigars,” and his widow muses affectionately,


Music and cigars He smoked me out

Constantly from his study. I never really

Understood his music, so short, whispering angles,

Jumping rhythms, but I never heard it often.

Benno Mattel attributes the origin of the sting operation to his purchase of the cigar

that he gave to Webern:

At the door stood an American cook,

A simple man, drawling a southern accent,

Who desired the pleasures of money.

We drank as friends, even if it was I who joked.

We celebrated war’s end, the birth of leisure,

And he sold me the cigar to burn away my world.

And the ghost of Webern recalls how the pleasures of that cigar were effaced by


I stood in the doorway, savoring the smoke,

the shape, the touch,

A sensuous man hoping for a return

of the sensuous time,

Staring at the stars, the mountains

huge over the quiet village…

I heard voices, turned back in alarm

A frantic figure broke the darkness of the hall…

I grappled with him..

The author attempts to imitate in Webern’s mode of speech the jagged rhythms and

enigmatic silences of the composer’s style. Webern’s wife, Wilhelmine, reported in her

statement to investigators that his last words were “It’s over.” In Schevill’s imaginative

rendering, however, Webern prefers as his finale the subtler markings in his scores,

and he places the beauty and inventiveness of his music above life’s vicissitudes:

“It’s over.”

The language of stupidity,

of artificial life,

not of music.

Like a whisper

Scarcely audible

Dying away

The directions of my music,

Desires of intense, natural change,

the constant changes of inconstancy,

the horror and beauty of opposed forces

resolved by the ear,

shifting structures

of mystery

transcending death and time,

crab-like movements,

silent pauses

British writer and film director Peter Greenaway has produced three versions of

a surrealist work on murders of composers, including Anton Webern. Entitled at

first Rosa and later given the additional name The Death of a Composer, Greenaway’s

enterprise successively took the form of a 1993 novel conceived as an elaborately

annotated opera libretto without music; an opera, which premiered in 1994, with

a libretto drawn from Greenaway’s novel and music by Dutch composer Louis

Andriessen; and a 1999 film adaptation for television. At the beginning of his novel,

Greenaway describes the birth of his idea:

I have been interested for a long time in a melodramatic conspiracy against

composers, and have talked and written about it in so many complicated

ways, that I am no longer completely certain how to tell it any more. So

anticipating credulity, I am going to write of it as though it was an opera,

for perhaps opera is capable of indulging in concepts and illusions too

preposterous to be tolerated in any form.

There are ten assassinations in the conspiracy. All of them are composers.

At this stage you must believe that five of the composers are already dead.

With dry ceremony their five coffns have been brought on to the stage.

We are to consider the death of a sixth composer and to fill a sixth coffn.

The composer’s name is Rosa—Juan Manuel de Rosa, almost the same as the

General, Juan Manuel de Rosas, who slaughtered two million South American

Indians in Brazil in 1857.

Composer Rosa, like most in the sequence of ten victims conceived by Greenaway, is

fictional; described as a writer of scores for Hollywood Westerns who was fonder of his

black horse Ebola than of his fiancée Esmeralda, he was found dead in an abandoned

slaughterhouse in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, in 1956. But the first and last in Greenaway’s

series of murdered composers were tragically real, Anton Webern and John Lennon.

A passage in the novel Rosa invokes the mysteries associated in history and myth

with the sudden deaths of composers: “The death of a composer needs investigating.

Was Mozart poisoned? Was Tchaikovsky murdered? Was Webern assassinated? Was

Orpheus really slaughtered? Was Rosa murdered in mysterious circumstances in Fray

Bentos? He was shot by mysterious assailants whilst riding his horse. Who were the

murderers?” Broom-sweepers who clean the blood of the abattoir ask, “Who would

ever want to kill a composer?” and the novel’s text replies only with more questions:

“Is it indeed a fact that Rosa was killed because he was a composer? It might have been

because Rosa was a fornicator and an abuser of women. Or an abuser ofhorses? Or was

it because he abused his talent writing trash for the movies? Who says it was trash?”

Toward the novel’s end, Greenaway introduces the Investigatrix to identify the

principal pieces of evidence in Rosa’s murder. In an apparent send-up of assassination

conspiracy theories, the Investigatrix promises that

we can show you that the death was not


And no random assassination.

There are clues that unite this death of a famous

composer to a conspiracy.


Winnowing her findings, the Investigatrix finds ten clues present at the death of each

ofthe ten composers linked together in a series ofmurders—”a hat, a pair of spectacles,

a smoking cigar, a gun, three bullets, vegetation, night, a grieving widow, American

passports and a composer.” Most of these circumstances are so frequently present at

the scenes of composers’ deaths, regardless of their cause, that they do not go far to

sustain the Investigatrix’s claim to have discovered an overarching criminal design.

But buried in this joke at the would-be sleuth’s expense, ajuxtaposition of certain clues

points suggestively to Anton Webern’s death. Is he not the only historical composer

in Greenaway’s series who, while smoking a cigar, was shot in the night with three

bullets by a killer of American nationality and who left behind a grieving widow?

In “Filming Opera,” an “open discussion” held in August 2000 with the European

Graduate School on the filming of Rosa, Greenaway revealed that since the 1970s

he had been “deeply fascinated” by the death of Anton Webern, saying, “There are

lots of theories about his death because nobody could actually believe that it was

so peculiarly accidental.” Greenaway’s acquaintance with the facts of the case seems

sketchy. He remarks that “three shots suddenly rang out and the man lay dying

in the snow. He was dead twenty-four hours afterward.” But Greenaway’s wildest

contribution to the catalog of myths about Webern’s shooting is his reference to

a theory that the composer, born into a Roman Catholic family ennobled in the

sixteenth century, “recently had converted from Judaism to Christianity and this was

a reprisal by some very keen Zionists.” Greenaway also referred to suggestions that

“departing Nazis had a particular antagonism to anybody who subverted the German

tradition of music” and that Webern was “embroiled in some dubious associations

with his son-in-law.” The filmmaker added mysteriously that “there were also some

extenuating [sic] circumstances surrounding his autopsy.” This accumulation of

“fiction” and “apocrypha” led to the director’s decision to “make something fictional”

of Webern’s death. In the discussion of the televising of Rosa, Greenaway (perhaps

with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek) purported to have discovered a link

between Webern’s death and the 1980 murder of John Lennon. He “noticed that there

were a remarkable number of clues present at the death of John Lennon, exactly the

same clues present so much earlier at the death of Anton Webern.”

Christopher Bernard, a writer of poetry, fiction, plays, and journalism and the

founder of an online literary and arts magazine, Caveat Lector, is the composer and

librettist of an opera, “Nachtstück: An Opera on the Death of Anton Webern,” which

was given a reading at the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco on August 14, 1992.

The opera’s action begins with the entry of Webern, the only named character, into

his son-in-law’s garden after the family dinner of September 15, 1945. A military

loudspeaker announces a curfew beginning at exactly 9:30 P.M., and a fresh poster

near the garden gate warns that violators may be shot. “Our new occupiers!” Webern

muses. “But better than the others.” He lights his cigar, three gunshots sound, and he

reels as if struck. The light on Webern fades.

VVhen the mountains brighten, the play takes a retrospective turn. Webern

reappears overcome with guilt, regretting his belief in Hitler and his betrayal of his

friendship with Arnold Schoenberg. Images of trains carrying Jews to death camps

haunt him, and he laments his failure to save his son Peter’s life by leaving before the

war. A fantasy of his own death in a curfew violation appeases a sense of justice:

There is a gate that leads outside here.

If I leave by it,

I’ll meet a patrol

of the Americans

and be shot, no questions asked.

The Germans were no kinder!

It would be “poetic justice”:

maybe my folly deserves no better.

Such a death will be forgotten quickly,

a minor incident of the occupation—

regrettable, to be sure, but to be expected:

at any rate, the victim should not have been

taking his constitutional after curfew..

It would be a fair punishment.

Kindle Cloud Reader


These reflections introduce what Bernard terms an “opera within an opera,” based

on the historical Webern’s unpublished 1913 play in six scenes, “Tod” (Death), inspired

by the death of a nephew. Webern observes a Man and Woman in grief over their lost

child and draws a parallel to his own suffering over the death of Peter:

My nephew

died that summer

just before

the other war—

I wrote my dream out,

then forgot it,

It comes again.

The earlier family tragedy is resolved when the Woman is confronted by the dead

child’s guardian angel and the Man recognizes that “our life on earth is the image of

eternity.” The Man sees the hand of God in the beauty of the mountains:

A mountain flower shows that beauty,

uncanny in its perfection,

the tenderness,

the holiness

of the nameless One.

The light on the forestage goes up, showing Webern once more at the garden gate.

He expresses hope that he will “build a life of good” in his music and will have “just

enough time to erase that memory that hounds” him. But the three gunshots are heard

again and Webern intones the last three words that he spoke in life: “It is over.”

In May 1998 a ludicrous hoax linking Anton Webern’s music to the Nazi SS

circulated on the Internet. An article originally attributed to an author bearing the

transnational name “Heinrich Kincaid” and supposedly copyrighted by the Associated

Press headlined its revelations: “Composer Webern Was Double Agent for Nazis.” A

sampling of disclosures makes his attempt at heavy-handed satire apparent:

BERLIN, GERMANY (Ap)—Recent admissions by an ex-Nazi offcial living in

Argentina have confirmed what some musicologists have suspected for

years: that early twentieth century German composer Anton Webern and

his colleagues devised the so-called “serial” technique of music to encrypt

messages to Nazi spies living in the United States and Britain.

In what can surely be considered the most brazen instance of Art Imitating

Espionage to date, avant garde composers of the Hitler years working in

conjunction with designers of the Nazi Enigma code were bamboozling

unsuspecting audiences with their atonal thunderings while at the same

time passing critical scientific data back and forth between nations….

It is now known that Webern was using music to shuttle Werner

Heisenberg’s discoveries in atomic energy to German spy Klaus Fuchs

working on the Manhattan atom bomb project in New Mexico. Due to the

secret nature of the project, which was still underway after the invasion of

Berlin, Army offcials at the time were unable to describe the true reason for

Webern’s murder.

Hans Scherbius, a Nazi party offcial who worked with Minister of

Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, admitted at age eighty-seven that the Nazis

secretly were behind the twelve-tone technique of composition, which was

officially reviled to give it the outlaw status it needed to remain outside of the

larger public purview.

“These pieces were nothing more than cipher for encoding messages,” he

chuckled during an interview on his balcony in Buenos Aires. “It was only

because it was ‘naughty’ and diffcult that elite audiences accepted it, even

championed it.”


Arnold Schonberg [sic], the older musician who first devised the serial

technique at the request of the Weimar government of Germany, composed

in America to deliver bomb data stolen by Fuchs back to the Nazis, who

worked feverishly to design their own atomic weapons.

As an example, Scherbius showed Associated Press reporters the score

of Webern’s Opus 30 “Variations for Orchestra” overlaid with a cardboard

template. The notes formed a mathematical grid that deciphered into

German a comparison between the neutron release cross-sections ofuranium

isotopes 235 and 238.

Schonberg responded with a collection of songs for soprano and

woodwinds that encrypted the chemical makeup of the polonium-beryllium

initiator at the core of the Trinity explosion.

Exposure of the Webern hoax was soon to follow. Under a dateline ofJune 29, 1998,

“Urban Legends and Folklore,” an online series on published a “short list of

factual errors and logical inconsistencies” in Kincaid’s article, “more than suffcient to

debunk the central claims.” Included in the errors were the following howlers:




Klaus Fuchs spied for Russia, not Germany.

Why would “Arnold Schoenberg, a Jew who fled Nazi oppression in

Germany in 1933, spy for the Third Reich”?

The author of’s rebuttal could “find no evidence that a ‘Hans

Scherbius,’ the supposed ‘Nazi party omcial’ who was the source of these

shocking revelations, actually existed.”

temporary enthusiasms over the Nazi conquest of Europe. However, this is a relatively

obscure chapter in the composer’s life that would not resonate in the minds of many

blog readers. It is also apparent that Webern is by no means the sole butt of Kincaid’s

espionage joke; he also included Arnold Schoenberg, an eminent Jewish refugee from

Nazi persecution, among the agents in his fictitious spy network. Therefore, Nazi

sympathies can be put aside as the satirist’s principal target. More likely, the Internet

jest is at the expense of twelve-tone music, which, Kincaid suggests, could not have

been invented to please the ear and must therefore have been meant to transmit covert


Bibliographical Notes

The principal source concerning the death of Anton Webern remains Hans Moldenhauer, The

Death Of Anton Webern: A Drama in Documents (New York: Philosophical Library, 1961). The

facts revealed in this work are reaffirmed in Hans Moldenhauer, in collaboration with Rosaleen

Moldenhauer, Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work (New York: Knopf, 1979). I also

consulted Friedrich Wildgans, Anton Webern (New York: October House, 1967); Malcolm Hayes,

Anton von Webern (London: Phaidon, 1995); and Kathryn Bailey, The Life of Webern (Cambridge,

England: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), 164—91.

James Schevill’s play The Death of Anton Webern is included in his Collected Short Plays (Athens:

Swallow Press/Ohio Univ. Press, 1986), 235—44. The novel that begins the Rosa project is Peter

Greenaway, Rosa (Paris: Editions Dis Voir, 1993), 48, 84, 106—14. Peter Greenaway’s discussion

with the European Graduate School in August 2000, “Filming Opera,” is found at http://

www, (accessed Oct. 6, 2007). Author

Christopher Bernard kindly provided me a copy of the unpublished libretto of “Nachtstück: An

Opera on the Death of Anton Webern,” 7, 13, 22, 29, 39, 44.

For text and commentary relating to the Webern Internet hoax, see

Urban Legends and Folklore, “Webern’s Dodecaphonic Conspiracy,” June 29, 1998, http://

(accessed Oct. 6, 2007); “More on

the Webern—Nazi Hoax,” Urban Legends and Folklore, July 3, 1998,

(accessed Oct. 7 , 2007).

On July 3, 1998, American composer Chris Hertzog supplemented this list with

the observation that Arnold Schoenberg’s famous article explaining his invention of

twelve-tone serial composition appeared in the 1920s, long before the Nazis came to

Although the Webern Internet hoax was readily detected, the surviving riddle is

why its originator found amusement in suggesting a tie between the composer and

the Nazi cause. It is possible that the deviser of the scheme was aware of Webern’s


The Deadly Vacation of Marc Blitzstein

Whenever Marc Blitzstein undertook stage works on themes of crime and

punishment, trouble lay ahead. His first attempt was a two-act ballet, Cain (1930), in

which the world’s first murderer is slain by Lamech, one of his descendants. Lamech is

cursed by Jehovah and receives the mark of Cain as onlookers bury their faces in fear.

Jehovah raises His voice again and curses the entire people; as they lift their heads,

all their brows are seen to bear the mark of Cain. In the introduction to the scenario,

Blitzstein moralizes, “Thus murder, begun in our world by Cain, is perpetuated

through the ages: we are all the sons of Cain.” To his great disappointment, the score

was rejected by Leopold Stokowski and remained unperformed until 2008, when it

was included in the American Composers Alliance’s “Festival of American Music.”

Blitzstein’s second musical setting of a crime subject was The Condemned (1932),

a short choral opera inspired by two of his labor heroes, Sacco and Vanzetti, who are

embodied in the title character, sung in four-part male voices; the remaining roles are

taken by the Wife, the Friend, and the Priest, each performed in multiple voices. The

three comforters attempt to bring solace on the day of execution, but the Condemned’s

own inner strength enables him to face his death with equanimity: “I need no heaven.

The earth shall one day be enough. All men are my brothers.” Although The Condemned

was never produced, it led by indirection to Blitzstein’s conception of a larger work,

a full-scale opera presenting the trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Blitzstein’s

biographer, Eric A. Gordon, relates that during the composer’s visit to Rome in 1959,

Italian music critic Fedele D’Amico, having remembered The Condemned, gave him an

anarchist pamphlet describing Sacco and Vanzetti as “two victims of American-Dollar

Justice.” The tract moved Blitzstein to study the history of the case, and he concluded

that it had the makings of an opera. It was while he was still considering alternative

means of treatment that the Ford Foundation announced its grant of $950,000 to

four opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, for the production of new

American works. Blitzstein obtained a Ford Foundation grant of $ 15 , 000, payable over

two years, for his proposed opera, Sacco and Vanzetti, optioned for production by the


Cries of outrage were heard from conservative journalists when the historical

theme of the commissioned work became known. One of the strongest invectives

was hurled by George Sokolsky, who made apparent reference to Blitzstein’s 1958

testimony in an executive session of the House Committee on Un-American Activities

that he had been a member of the Communist Party between 1938 and 1949. The

columnist could not understand how the Metropolitan Opera had agreed to stage an

opera “about a pair of anarchists … written by one who at a telling period in the

history of his country was a Communist which means that he had submitted to

the discipline of the Kremlin—a government which since 1917 was an enemy of his


Fully predictable, these expressions of right-wing anger were a minor irritant;

Blitzstein’s problems with Sacco and Vanzetti were artistic rather than political.

Perhaps it was simply too late in his career for him to shoulder a major operatic

assignment on his own. The undertaking of a vast musical drama was particularly

daunting because Blitzstein insisted on writing his own libretto, a task that he had

recently performed with diffculty. In a 1951 letter to his close friend Mina Curtiss,

written while working on his Broadway opera Reuben Reuben, he lamented, “Why

the hell can’t I have a collaborator at this point?” The opera took Blitzstein six

years to complete and closed during a Boston tryout in 1955. Now, the subject that

Blitzstein was to dramatize and score was the most formidable he had ever chosen;

the complexity of the Sacco and Vanzetti life histories and of the related trials would

require extensive study and pruning of source material by Blitzstein before he could

make substantial headway in penning words or music.

It is small wonder that the two-year grant period expired without delivery of

Blitzstein’s work product to the Metropolitan, and in November 1960 the Ford

Foundation declined his request for an additional payment of $7,500. In many ways,

Blitzstein began to exhibit symptoms of writer’s block Even casual inquiries about

his progress enraged him, as he diverted his attention from the opera project by

filling his calendar with vacations, travel, minor compositions, and an engagement to

teach play-writing (hardly his strong suit) at Bennington College during the 1962—63

academic year.

In November 1963 he traveled to Martinique, where he planned to spend the winter

in a villa near the town of Frégate-Franqois on the island’s Atlantic coast. He left his

drafts of Sacco and Vanzetti behind, telling a friend, composer David Diamond, that he

intended to work instead on his score for a one-act opera based on Bernard Malamud’s

story “Idiots First.” He did not live to complete either of these works; the public learned

in a shocking Associated Press news report of January 24, 1964, that Blitzstein was

“killed in an auto accident Wednesday night [January 22] on the West Indian island of

Martinique” where he had been “working on several new operas, including one based

on the Sacco-Vanzetti case.”

This version of Blitzstein’s death lasted only one day. On January 2 5, the New York

Times published a police announcement of “the arrest of three sailors on charges of

having fatally beaten the American composer Marc Blitzstein.” The police said that

“two Portuguese sailors and one from Martinique, whose names were not released, got

into a dispute with the composer Tuesday night and beat him.” The details, according

to the New York Times, were “sketchy.” The police had “taken the composer to a

hospital, where he died, after treatment, 24 hours later.” The three suspects had been

“drunk at the time of the attack on the composer.”

An attorney for the Blitzstein family had told the New York Times about information

given a family member by twenty-eight-year-old William Milam, U.S. vice consul in

Martinique, that the police were investigating “something suspicious about the death.”

The Philadelphia Bulletin also quoted Milam as saying that “the facts show it was a

robbery.” The U.S. consular report of February 3, 1964, linked the attack on Blitzstein

to his composition of Sacco and Vanzetti, stating that “the victim was visiting those

dives [where he encountered the sailors] to find color for the opera he was writing


From the hints dropped in these sources, Blitzstein’s friends in America formed

their own speculations about the circumstances of the Martinique assault. Composer

Virgil Thomson opined that the “dispute” between the composer and his assailants

was a quarrel about politics. The alternative theory that Blitzstein had visited the

wrong part of town in search of local color could have rung true to some who were

familiar with the intended plot of Sacco and Vanzetti: one of the characters was to be a

Portuguese murder convict, Celestino Madeiros.

The brief accounts of the attackers’ sentencing added little information to the

public’s understanding of the crime. On April 1, 1965, the New York Times reported:

“Two Portuguese sailors and a Martinique youth were convicted today of assault

and theft in connection with the death of the American composer Marc Blitzstein.

The Portugese sentences of 14 months [Alfred Mendez Rodriguez, age thirty-four]

and three years [Armando Fernandez, age twenty-six] respectively.” The “Martinique

youth,” Daniel Yves Charles Nicolas, only seventeen, after a trial held in secret because

of his minority status, received a fourteen-month suspended sentence and three

years’ probation. The reason that none of the sailors was charged with homicide was

evidently the absence of an intent to kill.

More precise details of the verdict rendered by three judges and nine jurors are

contained in a judgment entered March 31, 1965, by the trial court (Cour d’Assises)

of Martinique. The text identifies Armando Fernandez as the principal criminal, who,

in violation of provisions of the French Penal Code (deriving from the Napoleonic

Penal Code of 1810), “intentionally” beat and wounded Blitzstein in circumstances

where the blows and injuries were “inflicted without the intent to cause death but

nevertheless resulted in it.” The other two defendants were convicted of having “in

the same circumstances of time and place” stolen from Blitzstein “the sum of ninety

francs, a half dollar, a pair of pants, car keys and a wristwatch,” under circumstances

justifying the application of penal laws to the teenage defendant. According to

the verdict, the crimes committed by the three sailors involved elements of both

aggravation and mitigation. Blitzstein’s unintended death increased the maximum

penalty for Fernandez’s attack to imprisonment for a term of ten to twenty years;

the robbery entailed an enhanced maximum prison sentence of five to ten years

because the crime was perpetrated at night by two or more persons. All the penalties

actually imposed, however, were far below these authorized ranges, since the court

and the jury found that the defendants were entitled to the benefit of “extenuating

circumstances.” As was typical in French verdicts of the era, the nature of extenuating

circumstances that were weighed in favor of Blitzstein’s attackers is left unstated. The

juvenile defendant escaped his legal ordeal with only a suspended prison sentence and

a term of probation to admonish lightly his role in Blitzstein’s death; his mother was

ordered to pay a civil fine to reimburse the cost of his condemnation. The Guadeloupe-

Martinique newspaper, France-Antilles, in an article of April 2, 1965, justified the

generous treatment of the minor by evidence that his participation in the crimes was

Lillian Hellman, whose play The Little Foxes received an operatic setting in

Blitzstein’s Regina (1949), was dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation and

trial; she decided to explore the case anew. In his 1989 biography Mark the Music:

The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein, Eric Gordon summarizes the fruitless result of

Hellman’s mission to Martinique aboard Hollywood producer Sam luxurious

yacht: “She told [the consul] how she felt that Marc had not been properly cared

for. William Milam and James DeCou [the U.S. Public Information Offcer] understood

her grief but patiently laid out the facts of the case. It was a confirmation of

her worst fears. She invited the consul to lunch on the yacht, and that was the

investigation.” In the biography, Gordon undertakes a detailed reconstruction of the

assault on the composer. The sources of his account apparently included interviews or

communications with Milam and DeCou, with whom Hellman had spoken, but there is

no indication that he had access to any judicial findings.

Gordon relates that on the night of January 21 , 1964, after dining with George and

Lollie Peckham, new friends he had made in Martinique, Blitzstein did not return to his

villa nearby. Instead, he drove across the island into Fort-de-France. The biographer

states that the purpose of Blitzstein’s nocturnal visit was “to check out the scene

down at the waterfront bars where the sailors and merchant seamen liked to drink.

Shortly before midnight, he fell in with three such types, two Portuguese and a native

Martiniquan, and together they toured several of the low-class dives around the Place

de Stalingrad.”

Disaster followed. “As they drank, Blitzstein fished for bills from his wallet,

revealing the tidy sum he was carrying. After two or three hours, en route to the

next bar, Blitzstein and one of his three companions slipped into a nearby alleyway,

the lure of sex in the air. The other two followed. Then suddenly, all three set upon

him. They beat him severely, robbed him of his valuables, and left him there in the

alley stripped of every piece of clothing but his shirt and socks. Hearing his cries and

moans, policemen found him between three and four in the morning and took him

to Clarac Hospital.” At the hospital Blitzstein at first told the staff that he had been

injured in a car accident but later confided to Vice Consul Milam that he had been

“robbed and beaten by three Venezuelans, which is what he believed his companions

were.” According to Gordon’s account, Blitzstein also “admitted to some sexual

advances with the men,” but asked that this statement be kept confidential. Acting at

Blitzstein’s request, the consulate telegraphed his sister that he was hospitalized in an

auto accident; she was further advised that her presence was needed. In the evening

of January 22, Blitzstein died of his injuries. Gordon reflects, “VVhat to three sailors

seemed like a merry, drunken episode of beating up a queer and humiliating him by

leaving him naked and stealing his money turned fatal under less than ideal hospital

conditions to a man with a weak liver and in need of a hernia operation.”

Martinique police found about $400 of Blitzstein’s money in a cabin on the vessel

of the three arrested sailors. Gordon notes that, in his conversation with American

offcials, “Police Chief Georges Fluchaire

. spoke in confidential tones of his

knowledge of Blitzstein as… a man of strange morals.”

The view of Eric Gordon that Blitzstein’s death resulted from a misadventure in

the search for “rough trade” sex accords with entries in the memoirs of his friend,

American composer Ned Rorem. Marc Blitzstein, Rorem noted, “forever championed

the working class but avoided rubbing elbows with them unless they were rough

trade … he was murdered by rough trade on the isle of Martinique by three seafarers

of the very type he had spent a lifetime defending.” However, not everyone in the

creative arts community is persuaded that the circumstances of Blitzsteir# death

are established beyond doubt. Film director and actor Tim Robbins, in his book on

the filming of Cradle Will Rock, leaves open the issue of the assailants’ motivation:

“Whether his murder was a result of gay bashing, a robbery gone awry, or a

combination of both is impossible to know for sure.”

When William Milam spoke to me in a telephone interview in February 2008,

his memories of Blitzstein’s death were remarkably bright. Over the course of his

distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Milam rose from his position as

junior consular offcer in Martinique to ambassadorships in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In 2003 he became a Woodrow Wilson Center Senior Policy Scholar in Washington,

D.C. Milam recalls that when Blitzstein arrived in Martinique, he registered at the

consulate. Milam was aware that the newcomer was a composer, but only in the wake

of the later tragedy did he come to understand Blitzstein’s eminence in the American

music world. Since Blitzstein was wintering in Frégate-Frangois, Milam met him only

occasionally after his registration. The two men crossed paths from time to time at the

U.S. Information Services Library.

By an odd coincidence, their last encounter was early in the evening on the

fateful date of January 21, 1964. After leaving the consulate at the end of the day’s

work, Milam found that he could not immediately drive home because his parked

car was blocked in by other cars. To while away time until the obstruction cleared,

he headed for a bar in a nearby hotel. Blitzstein, seated at a barroom table with two

male companions (neither of them, Milam reflected later, could have been among

the attackers), waved to Milam, inviting him to join them. Milam did so, and as the

conversation proceeded in French, the vice consul had a comforting thought: he had

never prided himself on his command of French, but Blitzstein clearly was laboring

under greater diffculties with the language.

In the following midday, Milam received a call from a staff member of Clarac

Hospital, who asked him to visit an American citizen who was under their care

following a car accident. When Milam arrived at the hospital, he found Blitzstein

lying on a gurney in a hallway. Milam had previously been given to understand that

the injured man had either been involved in a collision or had been hit by a car

while walking. At some point, however, Blitzstein gestured to him to come close and

whispered that he had been attacked. Milam does not recall Blitzstein confessing to

having made sexual advances. It was only later that the vice consul received a more

detailed account of the attack from his friend, police chief Fluchaire, and it may be that

Blitzstein made his admission to him. The police chieftold Milam that the sailors were

after Blitzstein’s money, plain and simple; he had been ‘throwing his money around in

the bars.” The sailors pulled him outside in pursuit of his cash; the victim had chosen a

“rough area” for his bar-hopping.

During his hospital visit, Milam pondered over Blitzstein’s urgent need for medical

attention, and his mind shot back to his barroom conversation of the day before when

Blitzstein had shown his woeful limitations in French. The vice consul firmly believed

that the patient must have an English-speaking physician taking part in his care; he

arranged for a doctor of mixed American and French parentage to be present at the

examination. The medical intervention was, however, unable to save Blitzstein’s life.

Milam learned the cause of death from a Martinique investigative magistrate,

whom he knew socially. The magistrate attributed the death to éclatement de foie

(bursting of the liver). From this pronouncement, Milam deduced that the three sailors

not only beat Blitzstein savagely but probably kicked him as he lay on the ground.

Answering a question that nags at my mind, Milam is inclined to agree with the

hypothesis, expounded in Eric Gordon’s biography, that the sailors stripped Blitzstein

to stigmatize him as a homosexual. Another puzzle of the case still eludes him: it is

not clear how the police were able to identify and arrest the assailants. Milam doubts

that Blitzstein could have been of much help to the investigation. (It should be noted,

though, that in the hospital the mortally injured man had been close to correct in

referring to the Portuguese as “Venezuelans”; they had taken Venezuelan citizenship.)

Milam speculates that police work may have been aided by the fact that there were

usually few vessels in harbor.

VVhen the sailors’ cases came up for trial, Milam’s friend, the investigative

magistrate, called him to request his testimony. But Milam’s superior, Consul Arva

Floyd, did not want him to testify, since he, like information offcer James DeCou,

wanted as little publicity as possible for an act of violence in the Caribbean paradise.

The Blitzstein family was represented by a Martiniquan lawyer during courtroom


Fifteen years after the assault on Blitzstein, the facts of his death, never

disclosed with precision by Martinique authorities, left only hazy imprints on the

islanders’ memories. In 1979 the New Yorker included in its series “Our Far-Flung

Correspondents” Truman Capote’s account of his visit to an aristocratic Martinique

woman living in Fort-de-France. Capote’s short piece “Music for Chameleons,” later

the title story of a like-named collection, is haunted by references to the killing

of Blitzstein. Observing that her guest seems to be a traveler, the elderly hostess

inquires why he has not visited Martinique before. Unknowingly, she has turned their

conversation toward Blitzstein, a subject that will be uncomfortable for them both:


“Martinique? Well, I felt a certain reluctance. A good friend was murdered

Madame’s lovely eyes are a fraction less friendly than before. She makes a

slow pronouncement: “Murder is a rare occurrence here. We are not a violent

people. Serious, but not violent.”

“Madame” steers their talk in safer directions, but she cannot avoid returning to the


“And so you had a friend who was murdered here?”


“An American?”

“Yes. He was a very gifted man. A musician. A composer.”

“Oh, I remember—the man who wrote operas! Jewish. He had a mustache.”

“His name was Marc Blitzstein.”

Before the story ends, Capote’s hostess compulsively probes her further recollections

of the American composer. He was a dinner guest when her husband was alive, played

the piano and sang German songs. She asks Capote to remind her of the circumstances

of the killing but balks when he calls it “an appalling tragedy.” It was “a tragic

accident,” she insists and adds, “But our police caught those sailors. They were tried

and sentenced and sent to prison in Guiana…. Those wretches ought to have been

guillotined.” The author of In Cold Blood could not have been expected to agree, but he

replied that he “wouldn’t mind seeing them at work in the fields in Haiti, picking bugs

off coffee plants.”

For several anxious months in 1964, it was thought that the work-inprogress

for Sacco and Vanzetti was lost. When Leonard Bernstein announced at a memorial

concert for Blitzstein on April 19 that the opera manuscript had apparently

disappeared, the audience, according to Eric Gordon, “reacted in audible shock.”

On May 12, however, Theodore Strongin reported in the New York Times that the

manuscript of the partly completed work “had been found in some cartons in the

trunk of Mr. Blitzstein’s automobile, after it was put up for sale after his death.” A

news release of the Metropolitan Opera added details: “The manager of the used car lot

had noted some cartons in the trunk. When he read a statement from Mr. Bernstein

in the newspapers referring to the missing manuscript he checked the cartons and

found the partly completed opera.” Leonard Bernstein was quoted as saying that “the

first and second acts seemed to be substantially finished and that the third act had

been sketched.” He also commented that “the vast amount of material would have to

be carefully studied before its final content could be determined.” A cautionary note,

however, was sounded by the Metropolitan: the only part of the work the company had

seen was an aria for Sacco, “With a Woman to Be.”

Eventually Bernstein declined to attempt completion of Sacco and Vanzetti; he also

abandoned his attempt to finish Idiots First, on which Blitzstein had been working in


American composer Leonard J. Lehrman, an admirer of Blitzstein’s work, came to

the rescue. He completed Idiots First in 1973 ; the opera was produced with a two-piano

accompaniment by the Bel Canto Opera in New York and won the 1978 Off-Broadway

Opera award as the “most important event ofthe season.” In 1992 the work received its

orchestral premiere by the Center for Contemporary Opera at New York University.

Lehrman’s task of fashioning Sacco and Vanzetti into a performable opera was much

more demanding. He told a symposium on December I, 1995, of the fragmentary state

in which he found Blitzstein’s manuscript. “Blitzstein told the Met [October 9, 19611

that as per the contract that he had, he had completed 75% of the libretto and 40% of

the music. That was an exaggeration. You can see the music over there, and in sheer

bulk there probably is about 40% of the music. But it contains multiple drafts of many,

many scenes. I would say that he had completed 40% of parts of the music and 75% of

the libretto.” Blitzstein completed only one scene, Act One, Scene 3 , in which Sacco and

Vanzetti are arrested; he had not undertaken any sketches of orchestration.

On August 17—19, 2001, Sacco and Vanzetti received its first complete

performances, with piano, at the White Barn in Westport, Connecticut. The ill fortune

that afflicted the opera since its conception continued to make its presence known.

Although many reviewers praised the work, Joel Honig, in an article for Opera News,

scathingly attacked Lehrman’s score as unfaithful to Blitzstein even though Honig had

not attended a performance. The intemperate critic did not even spare Blitzstein from

attack, charging that he had intentionally destroyed his last major work by suicidally

inducing the sailors’ attack on the Martinique waterfront: “Early in 1964, while

vacationing in Martinique, Blitzstein was robbed and savagely beaten to death by three

sailors in an alley outside a waterfront dive. In retrospect, it seems almost suicidal that

the normally circumspect composer should have taken such a risk. He could not have

been overly preoccupied with Sacco and Vanzetti, or concerned that such a heavy-duty

pickup could go fatally awry.” It remains to be seen whether full-scale performances

of Sacco and Vanzetti may someday cause the opera to triumph over Blitzstein’s violent

death and to take its place among his memorable theater works, including The Cradle

Will Rock, Regina, and the translation of the book and lyrics for the longest-running

production of The Threepenny Opera.

Bibliographical Notes

The principal biographical and bibliographical sources on Marc Blitzstein are Eric A. Gordon,

Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989); and Leonard

  1. Lehrman, Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005). I have also cited

reports of the Associated Press and the New York Times regarding the death of Blitzstein and the

discovery of the Sacco and Vanzetti manuscript materials.

The following works of Marc Blitzstein are referred to in this chapter: Cain (a ballet, 1930),

The Condemned (1932), The Cradle Will Rock (1936), Regina (1946—49), Reuben Reuben (1949—

55), Juno (1957—59), Sacco and Vanzetti (1959—64, completed by Leonard J. Lehrman), Idiots First

(1962—67 , completed by Leonard J. Lehrman).

A copy of the judgment against Blitzstein’s assailants was provided to me with a letter in the

names of the prosecutor and the presiding judge of the Court of Appeals of Fort-de-France.

Ned Rorem comments on Blitzstein’s death in his memoir Knowing When to Stop (New

York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 104, 313. Tim Robbins’s speculations on alternative theories

concerning Blitzstein’s death are quoted from his book, Cradle Will Rock: The Movie and the

Moment (New York: Newmarket Press, 2000), 61.

Truman Capote’s Martinique travel piece, “Music for Chameleons,” appears in Music for

Chameleons (New York: Random House, 1980), 3—12.

Symposia held in 1995 and 2001 on Leonard Lehrman’s completion of Blitzstein’s Sacco and

Vanzetti are found respectively at Opera Journal 29, 1 (1996): 26—46; and

(accessed Oct. 5, 2007). Joel Honig’s

harsh criticism of the work (which he had not seen performed) was published as “Dead Man

Writing,” Opera News 66, 5 (2001):88.

John Caldwell Ellis’s play, Blitzstein Strikes Back, with songs by Blitzstein, has been given

readings by the Neighborhood Playhouse and the American Renaissance Theater Company

in New York City. The three sailors who attacked Blitzstein recurrently appear as wordless

intruders into the play’s action.


The Stalking of John Lennon

In his rapidly cycling moods, Mark David Chapman, born in 1955 , experienced feelings

of worthlessness and grandiosity. To Jack Jones, who interviewed him for more than

200 hours at Attica prison, he said in explanation of his murder of John Lennon: “I was

an acute nobody. I had to usurp someone else’s importance, someone else’s success.

I was ‘Mr. Nobody’ until I killed the biggest Somebody on earth.” Before the murder,

however, he liked to tell his wife, Gloria, that “ever since he was a kid he knew he was

meant for greatness, that he was destined to be someone big.” He was encouraged in

this belief by his mother, who often fled to her young son’s bedroom to escape marital


On a morning after his sleep was disturbed by sounds of a quarrel in his parents’

bedroom, Mark was visited by an apparition of the “Little People,” who seemed to

inhabit the walls of his bedroom and acclaimed him as their king. He could not

remember when they had first come to him, but they were to return at emotional

junctures of his life. The Little People witnessed a childhood and a coming-of-age

that passed through many phases typical of the 1960s generation. After suffering

indignities at the hands of schoolyard bullies, Mark began to experiment with

psychedelic drugs, a curiosity the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album had first piqued.

In 1970 he ran away from his suburban Atlanta home in the hope of finding a sense

of belonging among the drug “freaks” of Miami. His job as a carnival security guard

and his hippie acquaintanceship proved equally disappointing, and within months the

prodigal returned to his dependent mother and unaffectionate father.

By 1971 Mark Chapman had remade himself once more, giving up drugs for born-

again Christianity. Michael McFarland, a new friend who invited him to play guitar

in a Christian rock band, recommended that he read The Catcher in the Rye. When

Mark finished the novel, he was swept by a new conversion—to the personality of the

book’s hero, Holden Caulfield, and his campaign against phoniness. A childhood friend

observed that Chapman had undergone a “true personality split,” resolving to be “the

best Christian in the world” and expressing what Jack Jones calls “an intense loathing

for the musical heroes of his childhood: John Lennon and the Beatles.” Lennon was

replaced by Todd Rundgren as Mark’s favorite rocker.

For several years Mark Chapman’s discovery of religious faith led him to fruitful

service on behalf of the YMCA As a camp counselor, and subsequently assistant

program director, he was popular with his young charges, who called him by his

preferred nickname, Captain Nemo, borrowed from the protagonist of Jules Verne’s

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Nemo, the Latin word for “nothing,” was an

apt emblem of Mark’s struggle with low self-esteem, and the children’s admiration

gave him the feeling that “those were the greatest days of [his] life. [He] was Nemo and

everyone in camp loved [him].”

Early in 1975 Chapman was selected by the YMCA’s international camp counselor

program for summer work in Beirut, but Lebanon’s civil war terminated his stay there

in less than a month. Instead, Mark was offered employment at a YMCA-operated

resettlement camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where he helped Vietnamese “boat

people” refugees. The high point of the recognition that he received for his service was

a handshake from President Gerald Ford.

It was at this point that Mark Chapman’s life began an irreversible slide. Joining

his fiancée, Jessica Blankenship, at Covenant College, a fundamentalist Presbyterian

school in Tennessee, he fell into a depression and could not keep up with his classwork.

After his return to Georgia, he sought the comfort of familiar work at the YMCA camp

only to be faced with personal conflicts that challenged his memories of prestigious

service in the past. He later told Jack Jones, “My YMCA identity fell apart, when I was

stripped of that is when the clouds really started getting dark and I started slipping

into an abyss that ended in murder, of someone I didn’t even know.” As a stopgap,

Chapman took a job as a security guard, but, according to his fiancée’s mother, “his

personality began to change. He became quickly angry—just a trigger!” In January

1977, despairing of his prospects, Chapman fled to Hawaii, where, Jack Jones reports,

he planned to take his life after a “last fling in paradise.” After Mark later confessed

his intentions to Jessica Blankenship in a telephone call from Honolulu and asked for

assurance of her continuing love, she urged him to return home. He complied, but

when the couple’s Georgia reunion failed to restore their engagement, he returned

to Honolulu, committed to his suicidal purpose. For him, however, death proved no

easier than life, for the hose that he attached to the exhaust pipe of his automobile

simply melted away.

Mark responded quickly to treatment at Castle Memorial Hospital for depression

and in 1978 was on the move once again, this time on a tour around the world. On June

2, 1979, he married his travel agent, a Japanese American woman named Gloria Abe.

Despite his new responsibilities, he remained unable to find stable employment. After

jobs at Castle Memorial Hospital came to an end, he drifted into all-night security jobs

that left him more free time than was good for him.

During his long hours at the Honolulu Public Library, his preoccupations with both

John Lennon and the fictional Holden Caulfield deepened. On a library shelf he came

upon Anthony Fawcett’s John Lennon: One Day at a Time; the book persuaded him that

Lennon, contrary to what he had said and sung, “was a successful man who had the

world on a chain.” He recalled to Jack Jones his sense of outrage that Lennon had “told

us to imagine no possessions, and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and

farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and

bought the records and built a big part of our lives around his music.” During the same

period Chapman reread The Catcher in the Rye for the first time since he was a teenager

and found that Holden Caulfield, who dreamt of becoming a savior of children, gave

him “a pseudo-identity.” The blurring of Mark’s personality with the two alter egos on

whom he had become fixated left telltale signs that went unnoticed. Determined that

he would win recognition as the Holden Caulfield of his generation, he inscribed a copy

of The Catcher in the Rye to his wife, “To Gloria from Holden Caulfield,” and his own

copy, “From Holden Caulfield to Holden Caulfield.”

Despite his disenchantment over John Lennon’s affluent and showy lifestyle, he

remained enmeshed in the superstar’s personality. On October 23, 1980, when he

checked out for the last time from his job as a maintenance man in a downtown

Honolulu apartment building, he signed the register as “John Lennon”; he had also

pasted Lennon’s name over his uniform tag. He translated his mixed feelings of

attraction and repulsion into a plan to murder the Beatle hero.

With a brand-new .38 caliber revolver stowed in his checked baggage, Chapman

flew home from Honolulu to New York City on October 29 , bent on his deadly mission.

To a girl he picked up while touring the city, he bragged, “Something is going to happen

soon. You’re going to hear about me.” His anticipated celebrity, however, was blocked

by the city’s strict control over the sale of ammunition; he found that he could not

acquire .38 caliber bullets without being licensed and bonded. In all innocence, an

old Georgia friend, now a sheriff’s deputy, solved his problem. Mark flew to Atlanta

on the pretext of a sentimental journey and persuaded the deputy to supply him five

cartridges with “real stopping power” in case he should be attacked on New York City’s

“frightening” streets; the bullets were hollow-pointed, designed to explode on impact.

Although all the components of murder were now in his hands, Mark stepped back

from the brink of action. On November 12 he arrived in Honolulu, one day after having

phoned Gloria from New York to confess that her love had saved him from carrying

out his plan to kill Lennon. In the course of a month, however, his homicidal resolve

strengthened again. He returned to New York on Saturday, December 6. Two days

passed in fruitless watching at the entrance of the celebrity-favored Dakota apartment

building at 72nd Street and Central Park West, where Lennon resided. But on Monday

morning, December 8, Mark Chapman awoke early to try again. Before he left his hotel,

he set out a display of mementos intended to catch the eyes of the police when they

would search his room after the murder. Jack Jones describes the arrangement that he


Before leaving the hotel, Chapman had neatly arranged and left behind a

curious assortment of personal items on top ofthe hotel dresser. In an orderly

semicircle, he had laid out his passport, an eight-track tape of the music of

Todd Rundgren, and his little Bible, open to The Gospel According to John

(Lennon). He also left a letter from a former YMCA supervisor at Fort Chaffee,

Arkansas, where, five years earlier, he had worked with refugees from the

Vietnam War. Beside the letter were two photographs of himself surrounded

by laughing Vietnamese children. At the center of the arrangement of

personal effects, he had placed the small Wizard of Oz poster of Dorothy and

the Cowardly Lion.

He took his station among the Lennon fans who watched outside the Dakota for

sightings of their idol. His actions near the doorway reflected the odd mélange of his

feelings toward the world-famous musician and activist. At first Chapman’s love for

Lennon seemed to take the upper hand. In the early afternoon he caught sight of

Lennon’s five-year-old son, Sean, escorted by his nanny. Jack Jones re-creates the scene:

As he was introduced to John Lennon’s son, Chapman stepped forward and

uncurled the sweaty fingers of his right hand from around the chunk of

steel. Sliding his hand carefully from the deep pocket of his coat, he knelt on

one knee before Sean Lennon. He wrapped his fingers around the child’s tiny

“I came all the way across the ocean from Hawaii and I’m honored to meet

you,” he said. The child stared at him blankly and sneezed.

Chapman smiled.

“You’d better take care of that runny nose,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to

get sick and miss Christmas.”

In the evening Mark’s long wait was rewarded: he saw John Lennon and Yoko

Ono leaving the Dakota entrance. AS Chapman stood thunderstruck, Paul Goresh,

a freelance photographer, reminded Mark of his announced intention to obtain the

superstar’s autograph on the latest Lennon-Ono album, Double Fantasy, which he had

purchased the day before. Without speaking a word, Mark held out the album; Lennon

laughed in acknowledgment of his fan’s attachment and signed, “John Lennon.

December, 1980.” Thrilled to have acquired the collector’s item, Mark offered Goresh

$ 50 for a picture of his magic encounter with Lennon.

According to Jones’s account, Mark did not wait for a report from the

photographer’s studio. A little before 11 o’clock that night, Lennon and Yoko Ono

returned to the Dakota from a recording studio. When Lennon emerged from the

limousine, Chapman, assuming a combat stance, rapidly fired four bullets into his

target’s back; the fifth shot went astray. Arrested as Lennon lay dying, Chapman told

police offcers, “I am the Catcher in the Rye.” They bagged as evidence a copy of

the Salinger novel that Mark had bought that morning; as he had previously done

on his Hawaii copy, he had written an inscription “To Holden Caulfield from Holden

Caulfield,” but this time added below “This is my statement.”

After forgoing his original plan to use his trial to publicize The Catcher in the Rye,

Chapman pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to serve a term

from twenty years to life in Attica prison. Before the disposition of his case, he was

examined by a series of forensic psychiatrists. Dr. Naomi Goldstein, appointed by the

court to pass on Chapman’s competency to stand trial, reported that the defendant

“had an insatiable need for attention and recognition [and) grandiose visions of

himself.” He had avowed to her his mixed feelings about Lennon; he did not hate him,

but thought he was a phony, just as he was portrayed in Anthony Fawcett’s book. He

added revealingly, “I admire him in a way. I wished someone would write a book about

Dr. Daniel Schwartz, on the basis of his examination of the defendant, had been

prepared to opine at trial that Chapman was schizophrenic and also suffered from

a “narcissistic personality disorder” causing him to crave attention and fame. Dr.

Schwartz believed that the defendant was in the grips of a confusion with his victim’s

identity; he noted that Chapman, like Lennon, had married a woman of Japanese

origin who was a few years older; had entered the rock star’s name on a name tag and

work log; and had given up his employment after learning that Lennon had become a

househusband. Another defense expert, Dr. Richard Bloom, agreed that Chapman was

schizophrenic and the victim of delusions of grandeur. According to Bloom’s findings,

as summarized by Jack Jones, Mark Chaprnan “was unable ever to unify the various

elements of his personality into a cohesive and recognizable self.”

At the sentencing hearing, District Attorney Allen Sullivan did not introduce any

psychiatric testimony. In his speech he described Mark Chapman as a remorseless

killer who “remains only interested in himself, his own well-being, what affects

him, what’s important to him at the particular moment.” The defendant’s “primary

motive,” Sullivan argued, was “personal aggrandizement, to draw attention to himself,

to massage his own ego.”

Chapman’s only contribution to the proceedings was to read aloud a passage from

The Catcher in the Rye.

Bibliographical Notes

The main factual sources for my discussion of the murder of John Lennon are Jack Jones, Let

Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who KilledJohn Lennon (New

York: Villard, 1992), 250, 190, 124, 132, 137, 177, 195, 19, 31, 78, 75, 79-82; andFentonBres1er,

Who Killed John Lennon? (New York: St. Martin’s, 1980), 125, 278.

In previous work, I have observed the likelihood that Mark Chapman, like the ancient Greek

arsonist, Herostratos, committed his crime in pursuit Of fame. See Albert Borowitz, Terrorism

for Self-Glorification: The Herostratos Syndrome (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 2005). Lutz

Hübner makes a similar point in his play The Orifice of the Heart: The Ballad of Herostratos

Chapman (1998).


Crime in Music


Lamech, the Second Biblical Killer:


A Song with Variations

Genesis records that Lamech, a fifth-generation descendant of Cain, took two wives,

named Adah and Zillah. The terse reference to the world’s first bigamy carried no

moral assessment of the innovation in human relations; patriarchs before the Flood

took up Lamech’s practice, and King Solomon was reputed to have engaged in multiple

marriage on a grand scale. Still, there were eventually dissenting voices in postbiblical

literature of the ancient Jews. Strong reproof of primeval bigamy is made in the

rabbinic commentary on Genesis in the Midrash Rabbah (perhaps compiled in the sixth

century CE.): “The men of the generation of the Flood used to act thus: each took two

wives, one for procreation and the other for sexual gratification. The former would

stay like a widow throughout her life, while the latter was given to drink a potion of

roots, so that she should not bear, and then she sat before him like a harlot…. The

proof of this is that Lamech took two wives.”

The account in Genesis (4: 17—22), however, belies the charge that Lamech married

twice to separate procreation from sexual pleasure, for each of his wives bore him

children: Adah had two sons with confusingly similar names, Jabal and Jubal; and

Zillah was the mother of a son, Tubalcain, and a daughter, Naamah. Each of Lamech’s

children was remarkable for creativity in cattle raising, arts, or sciences. Genesis

relates that Jabal was “the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds”;

that Jubal was the forerunner of “all who play the lyre and pipe”; and that Tubal-

cain “forged all implements of copper and iron.” Naamah’s accomplishments are not

detailed in Genesis, but according to Louis Ginzberg, ancient Jewish tradition derived

her name, “the lovely,” from “the sweet sounds which she drew from the cymbals

when she called the worshippers to pay homage to idols.” Temples became a family

enterprise, for “Jabal was the first among men to erect temples to idols, and Jubal

invented the music sung and played therein.”

In dark contrast to his children’s honored achievements is the remembrance of

Lamech as a pathfinder in crime. On the basis of his brief appearance in Genesis, he

can be seen as the prototypical embodiment of inherited criminality (passing down

from his ancestor Cain) and was also the first to vaunt the murderous use of the

metal weapons perfected by his son Tubal-cain. To crown his infamy, Lamech is also

recognized as the earliest multiple killer and the father of feuds.

Once Genesis has completed its introduction of Lamech, his wives, and children,

the prose narrative breaks off abruptly and a poem takes up the thread. Known

alternatively as “the Song of the Sword” or “the Song of Lamech,” this jubilant outburst

has been called the “first true example of biblical Hebrew style.” And Lamech said to

his wives,

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

O wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech.

I have slain a man for wounding me,

And a lad for bruising me.

If Cain is avenged sevenfold,

Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.

  1. A. Speiser, editor of the Anchor Genesis, notes that the poem “is generally viewed as

the cry of a vengeful tribesman who has triumphed over his enemy” and speculates

that, “if the song is tribal in origin, its ultimate source has to be sought outside historic

Mesopotamia, possibly even to the south of Palestine.” The JPS [Jewish Publication

Society) Torah Commentary suggests that “the Song of Lamech probably originally

belonged to a larger poetic composition about the exploits of this hero.” Nahum M.

Sarna, general editor of the Commentary, is attracted by the possibility that Lamecl#

words constitute his “taunts, threats, and boastings, which are ofthe kind customarily

uttered in ancient times by those about to engage in combat,” as in the story of David

and Goliath.

However independent its origin may have been, the Song of the Sword, as inserted

in Genesis, provides an essential link in the story of Cain and his descendants. The

poem looks back to the punishment of Cain’s crime and anticipates further escalating

violence that lay ahead for the family line until it was ultimately swept away in the

Flood with which God exacted retribution for “man’s wickedness on earth.”

Although Lamech’s communication to his wives appears to reflect a key event in

humanity’s widening evil, Adah and Zillah must have been left bewildered by their

husband’s remarks unless he favored them with additional details that the Bible omits.

Was Lamech boasting of his prowess in war? Calling into question Nahum Sama’s

comparison of the Song of the Sword to the confrontation of David and Goliath, the

text of Lamech’s poem makes no reference to battle. There is, in fact, some adherence

in interpretive literature to the theory that Lamech was confessing private acts of

homicide. The “wounding” and “bruising” to which Lamech responded with lethal

force may have been injuries suffered on a prior occasion, or Lamech may have

acted in self-defense to ward off a current attack by an individual assailant. Sama’s

commentary appears to favor the former of these two possibilities: “Alternatively,

Lamech may be describing some incident that has already taken place in which he

actually shed blood to avenge a previously inflicted wound.”

The Song of the Sword also leaves unresolved the number of Lamech’s victims. If,

as many interpreters assert, Lamech claimed the lives of two victims, a “man” who

had wounded him and a “lad” who had bruised him, he surpassed his ancestor Cain

in villainy by becorning the biblical world’s first serial killer. Sarna, however, observes

that the poem is constructed on the basis of parallelism, that it features couplets

in which the second line may either restate the first in different words or express

an independent but related thought. For example, “wives of Lamech” in line 2 are

synonymous with “Adah and Zillah” in line I; yet, “Lamech” in line 6 is a person

distinct from “Cain” in line 5, but the names are related through kinship. Sarna

suggests that if “man” and “child” are synonymous, the two expressions may refer to a

single foe, and that Lamech may be crowing: “This man, my antagonist, is a mere child

in combat!”

The final couplet of the poem establishes an enigmatic comparison between the

crimes of Lamech and of his ancestor Cain. As suggested by “the Song of the Sword,”

the alternative title given by tradition to Lamech’s poem, the murderer’s joy in his

killings is enhanced by a sense of technological superiority, by his use of the metallic

weapons invented by his son Tubal-cain. This supposition is confirmed by rabbinic

commentary in the Midrash Rabbah: “This man [Tubal-cainl perfected Cain’s sin:

Cain slew, yet lacked the weapons for slaying, whereas he was “the forger of every

cutting instrument.” Having surpassed Cain in weaponry and, very likely, in number

of victims, Lamech asserted in his poem’s finale that his life was entitled to even

more heavily disproportionate protection against retaliation than was Cain’s. When

the exiled Cain expressed fear that anyone who met him in his wanderings might

kill him, the Lord promised that “if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be

taken on him.” Lamech boasts to his wives, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, / Then

Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Lamech sets an inflated value on his own life and appears

to forecast that a future attack on him will provoke a feud that will spiral out of

control. The immoderation of violent impulse is accompanied by religious blindness.

It was not a human being but God who imposed a promise of manifold revenge as a

shield to Cain; this protection was granted after the world’s first murderer expressed

his loneliness in having forfeited God’s care. Lamech, unlike Cain, arrogated to himself

and his line the authority to forgive his own crimes and ordained an even more

disproportionate vengeance for any reprisals. A Christian sermon published online in

2002 characterized Lamech’s sin as a usurpation of God’s grace.

By the arrival of the Hellenistic Age, Jewish writers began to reflect variant

postbiblical Lamech narratives. Historian Flavius Josephus, born in Jerusalem in 37

C.E., appraised grimly the violence and wildness of Cain’s descendants: “even while

Adam was alive, it came to pass that the posterity of Cain became exceedingly wicked,

every one successively dying one after another more wicked than the former. They

were intolerable in war, and vehement in robberies; and if anyone were slow to

murder people, yet was he bold in his profligate behaviour, in acting unjustly and

doing injuries for gain.” Still, Josephus appears to exempt Lamech from this sweeping

condemnation and to reject the confession of crime conveyed by the literal words of

the Song of the Sword. What Lamech disclosed to his wives, Josephus recounts, was

his foreknowledge that he was to be punished for Cain’s murder of his brother Abel;

the accuracy of this prediction was facilitated by Lamech’s great skill “in matters of

divine revelation.” However, The Biblical Antiquities of Philo, a first-century C.E. work

of an unknown Jewish author referred to as Pseudo-Philo, also exculpates Lamech of

murder but only to tar his name with some unspeakable offenses against morality.

Pseudo-Philo’s version of the Song of the Sword proclaims: “Hear my voice, ye wives of

Lamech, give heed to my precept: for I have corrupted men for myself, and have taken

sucklings from the breasts, that I might show my sons how to work evil.”

Many nonbiblical sources from ancient times through the Middle Ages concur in

another interpretation of what Lamech confessed to his wives, namely that he had

caused the death of two relatives in a tragic hunting accident. Robert Graves and

Raphael Patai summarize the Lamech narratives that fall into this pattern:

Lamech was a mighty hunter and, like all others of Cain’s stock, married

two wives. Though grown old and blind, he continued to hunt, guided by

his son Tubal Cain. Whenever Tubal Cain sighted a beast, he would direct

Lamech’s aim. One day he told Lamech: “I spy a head peeping above yonder

ridge.” Lamech drew his bow; Tubal Cain pointed an arrow which transfixed

the head. But, on going to retrieve the quarry, he cried: “Father, you have

shot a man with a horn growing from his brow!” Lamech answered: “Alas, he

must be my ancestor Cain!”, and struck his hands together in grief, thereby

inadvertently killing Tubal Cain also.

The horn sighted by Tubal-cain was, of course, the “mark of Cain” God imbedded in the

first murderer’s forehead. In an essay entitled “Jewish Folklore: East and West,” Louis

Ginzberg cites a variant means of Cain’s death: when Lamech’s son and hunting guide

“discerned something horned in the distance, he turned Lamech’s arm upon it, and

the creature fell dead.” Ginzberg emphasizes two “genuinely folkloristic elements” in

the story: “The horned Cain as well as the giant Lamech—who but a giant could crush

a man to taken from the popular belief of Jews and Christians that the

Cainites were monsters and giants.”

One of the medieval Genesis commentaries exploring this version of the Lamech

story was the work of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) ( 1040—1105 C.E.). Here it is stated

(in accord with the account in the Midrash Tanchuma) that Lamech’s wives separated

from him when they heard of his responsibility for the deaths of Cain and Tubal-cain-

Lamech tried to appease them by arguing that he had acted inadvertently and without

premeditation in shooting Cain and in mortally wounding his son and hunting guide,

Tubal-cain- The spurned husband also made a self-serving interpretation of the divine

promise that Cain, if murdered, would be “avenged sevenfold.” Lamech explained to

his spouses that the number seven referred to the number of generations for which

Cain’s punishment for killing Abel was to be postponed. Lamech inferred from this

divine leniency that his own case would be treated even more favorably: “If in the case

of Cain who killed with premeditation the punishment was suspended for him until

the seventh generation [when he died in the hunting calamity], in the case of myself

who slew inadvertently, does it not necessarily follow that it should be suspended for

me until many seven generations?”

Rashi, however, did not insist on the veracity of the hunting story because he

observed, in all fairness, that it was at odds with a cosmic explanation provided in the

Midrash Rabbah.

According to the Midrash Rabbah, Lamech’s wives forswore their marital duties not

because of any misdeed on his part but because the world was coming to an end.

“Tomorrow a flood will come,” they told him in chorus. “Are we to bear children for

a curse?” God’s wrath against His Creation is not my fault, Lamech answers. He turns

the boast of the Song of the Sword into a rhetorical question: “Have I slain a man for

my wounding—that wounds should come on his account! And a young man child for

my bruising—that bruises should come upon me!” In simpler terms, Lamech is asking

why, though innocent of violence, he should be “wounded” or “bruised” by denial

of sexual relations. To allay his wives’ fears of the Deluge, Lamech proposes that his

guiltlessness should induce the Lord to withhold the destruction of the world: “Cain

slew, yet judgment was suspended for him for seven generations; for me, who did not

slay, surely judgment will wait seventy-seven generations.” The egocentricity of this

contention is breathtaking: Lamech suggests that because of his asserted innocence,

God will suspend for seventy-seven generations His decreed annihilation of the sinful

human race. The fallaciousness of Lamech’s argument is noted in a rabbinic citation

included in the Midrash: “This is a reasoning of darkness: for if so, whence is the

Holy One, blessed be He, to exact His bond of debt [i.e., to enforce his judgment levied

against all humanity]?”

Even if the Midrash is justified in rejecting Lamech as a self-appointed redeemer of

humanity, this version ofhis tale brings him close to the experience ofthe modern age.

Those who have lived under the shadow of nuclear catastrophe and terrorist attack

can feel affinity with the man who tried to pacify his wives’ fears about the imminence

of a Deluge.

Lamech and Two prophets

The Song of Lamech received extremely divergent revisions in the eighteenth and

nineteenth centuries by prophets of two revealed offshoots of Christianity. In

Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s Heavenly Secrets (1749), Lamech’s song does

not describe actual events but is to be understood as an allegorical representation of

religious doctrine. By contrast, Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, in The Book of

Moses, not only accepts murder by Lamech as literal fact but darkens the crime by

relating it to a prior Satanic oath.

The Swedenborg Foundation describes Swedenborg’s Heavenly Secrets as a

“systematized explanation of the spiritual import contained within the imagery, fable

and history of the Old Testament.” In his introduction to the work, Swedenborg tells

of the divine origin of the revelations he received regarding the “spiritual and heavenly

things” underlying the literal words of the scriptures: “Of the Lord’s divine mercy

it has been granted me now for some years to be constantly and uninterruptedly

in company with spirits and angels, hearing them speak and in turn speaking with

them…. I have been instructed in regard to the different kinds of spirits; the state

of souls after death; hell, or the lamentable state of the unfaithful; heaven, or the

blessed state of the faithful; and especially in regard to the doctrine of faith which is

acknowledged in the universal heaven.” In Swedenborg’s teachings, a crucial process

that prepares the way for acceptance of true faith is the emptying of an outworn

faith from the afflicted soul. This course of spiritual transformation is accomplished

by what Swedenborg refers to as “vastation.” Swedenborg teaches that a church “in

process of time departs from the true faith and finally ends in no faith. When there is

none it is said to be ‘vastated.’ The reason why the new light or ‘morning’ does not

shine forth until the church is vastated, is that the things of faith and of charity have

been commingled with things profane; and so long as they remain in this state it is

impossible for anything of light or charity to be insinuated.” The Song of Lamech, in

Swedenborg’s reading, is not a tale of double murder, as a literal reading would suggest,

but a parable ofthe arrival at a state of faithlessness or vastation: “That by ‘Lamech’ is

signified vastation, or that there was no faith, is evident from the… verses… in which

it is said that he ‘slew a man to his wounding, and a little one to his hurt’; for there by a

‘man’ is meant faith, and by a ‘little one’ or ‘little child,’ charity.” In this interpretation,

typical of Swedenborg’s symbolic reading of the biblical text, the loss of two lives

comes to mean the annihilation of adulterated faith and charity to make ready for the

light to shine forth from a “New Church.”

Joseph Smith, first prophet of the Mormon Church, recorded in The Book of Moses

revelations made to him in 1830. In the words of God, spoken “unto Moses at a

time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain,” both Cain and

his descendant Lamech are denounced as creatures of Satan. Cain “loved Satan more

than God” and took a secret oath to do the archfiend’s bidding. In return, Satan

promised that very day to deliver Abel into his hands. Swearing his obedience, Cain

took the occult appellation of Master Mahan: “Truly I am Master Mahan,” Cain said.

“I am the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain.” Glorying in

his wickedness, he murdered Abel and defended his crime before God with the words

“Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks.” Lamech followed the example of

his ancestor in both diabolism and murder. He entered into “a covenant with Satan,

after the manner of Cain, wherein he became Master Mahan, master of that great

secret which was administered unto Cain by Satan.” Lamech’s great-grandfather, Irad,

learned ofthe infernal oaths of Cain and Lamech and began to reveal their secret to the

“sons of Adam.” In anger over the disclosure, Lamech killed Irad, “not like unto Cain

[who murdered) his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the

oath’s sake.”

Joseph Smith’s revelation attributes this new family violence to a “secret

combination” that was operative “from the days of Cain.” The Lord “cursed Lamech,

and his house, and all them that had covenanted with Satan.” Cain and malefactors

in his line had not kept God’s commandments, and their works were “abominations

[that] began to spread among all the sons of man.” The Book of Moses substitutes for

the Song of the Sword Lamech’s confessions to his wives of his pledge to Satan and the

murder of Irad. Shocked by what they heard, they “rebelled against him, and declared

these things abroad, and had not compassion.” AS a result, “Lamech was despised,

and cast out, and came not among the sons of men, lest he should die.” It was in the

misdeeds of Cain and Lamech that the “works of darkness began to prevail among the

sons of men,” bringing God’s “sore curse” on the Earth.

Poetry and Drama of Lamech through the Centuries

An old song vexes my ear,

But that of Lamech is mine.

—Lord Tennyson, Maud

When the Lamech theme has been pursued in poetry or drama, a striking feature of

all the works is what they omit. Like the Genesis passage that originated Lamecl#

story, as well as the commentaries and legends it inspired, the subsequent poems and

plays of Lamech do not elaborate the circumstances or motivation of the vengeful acts

suggested by a literal reading of the Song of the Sword. Perhaps the very minimalism

of the biblical portrait has inhibited imaginative retouching. Murray H. Lichtenstein,

in an essay on biblical poetry, has accurately characterized Lamech’s song as a

“tantalizingly terse vignette” that “succeeds admirably in drawing with precision

and economy the emotional contours of an outspoken personality who would have

otherwise been relegated to a silent slot in the genealogy that precedes the passage.”

Perhaps the notion of Lamech as an “outspoken personality” is the key to his

impenetrability. When his heart is examined, what lies there for certain—except

braggadocio? William Ian Miller, in his study of retaliation, Eye for an Eye, notes that

we must trust the veracity of Lamech’s exploits “to his own boast to his wives, who for

all we know might have been rolling their eyes.” Due to lack of insight into Lamech as

killer, the poets and dramatists have adopted other strategies. Medieval authors have

often chosen the legendary theme of Lamech’s killing of Cain. More recent works have

focused on such motifs as rivalry between Lamech’s children and the end of the curse

that afflicted Cain and his descendants.

The long scriptural poems in Old English that were for centuries attributed to

Caedmon (fl. 670) are now regarded to be of unknown authorship. A poem based

on Genesis revises the biblical original of the Song of the Sword to identify Cain as

Lamech’s victim: “Then to his two beloved wives, Adah and Zillah, Lamech rehearsed a

tale of shame: ‘I have struck down a kinsman unto death! I have defiled my hands with

the blood of Cain! I smote down Enoch’s father, slayer of Abel, and poured his blood

upon the ground. Full well I know that for that mortal deed shall come God’s seven-

fold vengeance. With fearful torment shall my deed of death and murder be requited,

when I go hence.”‘ The poet does not specify whether Cain was the victim of a hunting

accident, as in the noncanonical tradition of antiquity, or whether he was struck down

willfully. Murder, however, seems to be on the poet’s mind, for his Lamech believes

that the killing will subject him to “God’s seven-fold vengeance” that was assured by

the protective mark of Cain.

Edmund Reiss has noted that a few of the medieval cycle plays dealing with Noah’s

ark and the Deluge insert a scene showing Lamech killing Cain. Reiss pays particular

attention to the “version of the Noah story contained in the Middle English Ludus

Coventriae [The Coventry Play—now generally called the N-Town Cycle.” In a brief

interlude of The Coventry play (edited by K. S. Black), blind old Lamech, led to the hunt

by a youthful guide, recalls his past prowess in archery and asks the boy to guide his

hand so that he can show the skill that he retains. He shoots Cain, mistaking him for

a beast, and beats the guide to death with his bow. Fearing divine wrath, he flees the

scene of the double killing.

For death of Cain I shall have sevenfold

More pain than he had that Abel did slay.

These two men’s deaths full sore bought shall be.

Upon all my blood God will avenge this deed.

Wherefore, sore weeping, hence will I flee

And look where I may best my head soon hide.

As these lines echo, Noah and his family enter the ark. Noah mourns the “dreadful

flood” that will punish the sins of man’s “wild mood,” sinful living, and lechery.

St. Jerome linked Lamech’s bigamy with his two homicides as analogous instances

of excesses unrestrained by morality. In a letter to Salvina, a court lady, he wrote in

400 C.E.: “The accursed and blood-stained Lamech, descended from the stock of Cain,

was the first to make out of one rib two wives; and the seedling of digamy [a legal

second marriage] then planted was altogether destroyed by the doom of the deluge.”

Uninfluenced by the Church father, however, Geoffrey Chaucer repeatedly satirized

Larnech’s two marriages while overlooking the double murder imputed to him by

Genesis. The Wife of Bath, in the prologue to her tale in The Canterbury Tales, is an

expert on marriage, having been led to the altar five times since she was twelve. She

defends her inclination to wedlock with scriptural references to polygamy, including

the fashion-setting example of Lamech: “In sooth, I will not keep me chaste wholly;

when my husband is departed from the world, anon some other Christian man shall

wed me. For then, the apostle says, I am free, a God’s name, to wed where I list. He says

that it is no sin to be wedded; better it is to be wedded than to burn. What reck I though

folk speak shame of cursed Lamech and his bigamy? Well I wot Abraham was an holy

man and eke Jacob, so far forth as I know, and each of them had more wives than

two, and eke many another holy man.” The example of Lamech is also well-known to

a learned falcon in “The Squire’s Tale”; the talking bird refers to a feathered suitor who

had a “bearing so like a gentle lover, so ravished with bliss, as it seemed, that never

Jason, nor Paris of Troy … nor any man else since Lamech was, who first of all began

to love two.”

The most amusing reference to Lamech in Chaucer’s work is found in the

unfinished poem “Anelida and Arcite.” There the poet proclaims Lamech, rather than

his shepherd son Jabal, to be the inventor of tents. Instead of serving as mobile homes

for the tenders of flocks, the poem suggests that tents were originally devised to

conceal Lamech’s trysts: “Lamech was the first patriarch who loved two women, and

lived in bigamy, and unless men lie, he first invented tents.”

In Lamech, ou Les Descendants de Cain, a French verse drama by Charles Brifaut

(poet, dramatist, opera librettist, and member of the French Academy), the curse of

Cain continues to play itself out in the destinies of Lamech and sons Tubal-cain and

Jabal. Although capable of losing his temper, the Lamech imagined by Brifaut makes

no allusion to the violent events mirrored by the Song of the Sword. Having reached

old age, Lamech may have forgotten the bloody confrontations he bragged about in his

youth, or perhaps they never happened.

Early in the first act of the play, Lamech’s wife, Noéma, who combines his two

biblical spouses, reveals a grievous loss early in her marriage. An unknown elderly

kidnapper stole her infant son, Tubal-cain, from her arms, overcoming her defensive

struggles with the oracular words: “Stop! Marked by the deadly seal, this child belongs

to me. Tremble lest he remain with you.” This enigmatic warning establishes a theme

of secret interplay between two mysterious figures: the kidnapper, who will ultimately

reveal himself to be the wandering Cain, and the stolen child, who, unaware of his

name and birth, will grow up to be a warrior and sword forger who is called Coreb. The

meaning of the oracle pronounced at the time of the abduction will be revealed only

when its disclosure cannot avert disaster.

Mirroring the primal discord between Cain and Abel, a potentially deadly quarrel

arises between Jabal and his unrecognized brother. Both of the young men are in

love with Lamech’s niece, Saphira. Jabal grew up with Saphira and regarded her as

a sister before she became his beloved. Although the match received the blessing

of Jabal’s parents, Coreb (Tubal-cain) objects furiously. Having defeated the attack of

Abel’s kinsmen on Lamech’s domain, Coreb claims Saphira’s hand as his reward and

threatens to murder Lamech and Jabal when they persist in making arrangements for

the shepherd’s wedding.

Cain appears as an old man emerging from a forest; he is dressed in a tiger’s skin,

and long hair disguises a part of his features. He has initial success in dissuading

Coreb from taking precipitous revenge; Coreb is frightened because he thinks he sees

in the old man “the living anger of the Almighty.” Jabal reacts to the newcomer more

in curiosity than fear, asking him to reveal his face, and identifies the community as

the “inheritance of Cain.” The stranger is touched by the sympathy of Jabal and Saphira

for the world’s first murderer, but the pursuit of a jealous God is unrelenting: the water

and dates that the young people offer him “rebel.”

Despite Cain’s intervention, the dangerous rivalry of Lamech’s sons mounts in

intensity, and Coreb pursues his murder plans. Cain warns the young soldier of the

unforgiving fate of murderers and, pressing him in his arms, expresses the wish:

“If only some friendly voice, by a cry of terror, had, / When I was about to strike,






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restrained my fury.” By degrees, the old man reveals to Coreb (Tubal-cain) the secret of

his birth in the accursed line of murderers and the reason for his kidnapping.

I approach, I observe, and my alarmed eye

Sees crime expressed in the forehead of the infant;

His features prophesied his dark destiny,

I snatch him from the arms of his astonished mother.

Astounded by the gradual revelation of his family ties, Coreb (once again restored to

his identity as Tubal-cain), recedes from his murder plans, but only for the moment.

Noéma finds the corpse of her husband, Lamech, lying in the woods, the victim of

Tubal-cain. The biblical swordsman has died by his son’s sword. Cain, in his final

speech, foresees that ever-increasing crime will lead humanity to extinction in the


From now on we will see, surpassing each other in crime,

One sacrificed by the other, both executioners and victims,

Mortals rushing into this disastrous field

Until the day, fatal day when on these wretched humans

God unleashing the floods of his slow vengeance,

All will die engulfed under an immense storm.

But, bearing the future of a new universe,

The ark where Noah is enclosed rests on the seas.

Rudyard Kipling, a Freemason since he joined an Indian Lodge in 1885, devoted

some of his fiction and poems to Masonic themes. He was aware that all three of

Lamech’s sons have been celebrated as discoverers of the sciences in the “Legend of

the Craft,” with which the traditional history of Masonry begins. Kipling’s poem “Jubal

and Tubal Cain” sings of the sibling rivalry between two of Lamech’s sons, Jubal the

musician and Tubal-cain. The poem recalls the feud in which Lamech is sometimes

said to have taken the lives of two foemen with weapons invented by Tubalcain. That

deadly conflict, Kipling suggests, was no more bitter than the clash between fraternal


Jubal sang of the golden years,

When wars and wounds shall cease—

But Tubal fashioned the hand-flung spears

And show&d his neighbours peace.

New—new as the Nine-point-TWO [the largest gun carried by a heavy cruiser],

Older than Lamech’s slain [victimsJ—

Roaring and loud is the feud avowed

Twix’ Jubal and Tubal Cain!

Even though the two creative brothers have apparently not inherited their ancestors’

murderous instincts, they appear to share the fierce competitiveness of Cain and


The murder charges against Lamech are expunged in George Eliot’s narrative

poem “The Legend of Jubal,” published in 1870. In Cain’s “young city,” established by

him in exile, “none had heard of Death save him, the founder.” In Eliot’s telling, it

becomes Lamech’s tragic lot to introduce death to the community after generations of

innocence; by pure accident he takes the life of one of his children.

… hurling stones in mere athletic joy,

Strong Lamech struck and killed his fairest boy,

And tried to wake him with the tenderest cries,

And fetched and held before the glazéd eyes

The things they best had loved to look upon;

But never glance or smile or sigh he won.

As the “generations” looked on in amazement, ancient Cain explained the

unprecedented calamity that they had witnessed.


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“He will not wake;

This is the endless sleep, and we must make

A bed deep down for him beneath the sod;

For know, my sons, there is a mighty God

Angry with all man’s race, but most with me.

I fled from out His land in vain! ‘tis He

Who came and slew the lad… ”

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In this passage Cain makes a thoroughgoing defense of Lamech’s guiltlessness. The

world’s first murderer, living on among several generations of his progeny, has never

before disclosed human mortality, the murder of Abel, or the causative link between

violence and death. The impermanence of life is due to “Jehovah’s will, and He is

strong; / I thought the way I travelled was too long / For Him to follow me; my thought

was vain!”

In “The Song of Lamech,” Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough devised a comforting

backstory for Lamech’s biblical outcry—a narrative of forgiveness and reconciliation

among Cain, his parents, and his murdered brother, Abel. The family peace lifts the

curse of Cain and gives promise that Lamech’s violent acts will not initiate a new chain

of reprisal.

The first lines of Clough’s poem echo the beginning of the Genesis poem: “Hearken

to me, ye mothers of my tent; / Ye wives of Lamech, hearken to my speech.”

Immediately thereafter, however, it becomes plain that Lamech will not address his

spouses alone. “Adah,” he asks, “let Jubal [conflated here with his brother Jabal] hither

lead his goats”; Tubal Cain is to “hush the forge,” his sister Naamah is to ply her wheel

nearby, and Jubal is to touch his instrument’s string before his father begins to speak.

What Lamech has to say concerns the entire family: “Hear ye my voice, beloved of my

tent, / Dear ones of Lamech, listen to my speech.”

Lamech’s tale begins by recalling how Adam and Eve attempted to persuade Cain

not to go into exile after the murder of Abel. The contrite Eve acknowledged that if she

had cursed Cain she had sinned, and Adam joined their forgiveness to that he deemed

proffered by the dead Abel: “He that is gone forgiveth, we forgive: / Rob not thy mother

of two sons at once; / My child, abide with us and comfort us.” Cain brooded on his

parents’ entreaty through the night, but when the sun rose he announced that he must

go into exile just as his parents were banished from Eden.

Cain’s “years were multiplied,” and his heirs reached several generations. In old age

he lived alone, and once, at nightfall, he met Adam in the field. His father asked him a

probing question: “My son, hath God not spoken to thee?” Cain replied that his dreams

were “double, good and evil,” bringing “terror to [his] soul by night, and agony by day.”

Abel’s daytime apparition stood as “A dead black shade, and speaks not neither looks, /

Nor makes me any answer when I cry… In “visions of a deeper sleep,” however,

Abel, as whom we knew, yours once and mine,

Comes with a free forgiveness in his face,

Seeming to speak, solicitous for words,

And wearing ere he go the old, first look

Of unsuspecting, unforeboding love.

Cain told Adam that the pardoning vision appeared three nights before, and his father

responded that on the very same night he saw Abel in his sleep. Abel asked him to

visit Cain in his land of exile and to tell his brother that Abel wished to see him. Abel’s

phantom further enjoined Adam to “lay thou thy hand, / My father, on his head that

he may come; / Am I not weary, Father, for this hour?” Adam responded with a magical

touch upon the head of Cain, who “bowed down, and slept, and died.” A deep sleep

fell on Adam, and “in his slumber’s deepest he beheld, / Standing before the gate of

Paradise / With Abel, hand in hand, our father Cain.”

Having finished his story of ancestral reconciliation, Lamech returns to the words

ofthe Song of the Sword. Lamech’s two killings are confessed, but, as in the King James

Version, have not been committed in retaliation for prior injuries; it is Lamech’s own

homicides that have caused him “wounding” and “hurt.” Moreover, unlike the Song of

the Sword, in either the traditional Hebrew text or the King James translation, Clough’s

poem does not end on Lamech’s warning of disproportionate revenge against any foes

who may seek to punish him. Instead, Lamech assures his family that the safety and

rest granted at last to Cain will ensure the future security of Lamech and his line.


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Hear ye my voice, Adah and Zillah, hear,

Ye wives of Lamech, listen to my speech.

Though to his wounding did he slay a man,

Yea, and a young man to his hurt he slew,

Fear not ye wives nor sons of Lamech fear:

If unto Cain was safety given and rest,

Shall Lamech surely and his people die?

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research was Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book Of Genesis (Garden City,

N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964), 108.

Sources of classical literature valuable in this study are Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities

(Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2006), 11; Philo Judaeus, “Questions and Answers

on Genesis, I,” in Works, trans. C. D. Yonge (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 807; [Pseudo-

philo,l The Biblical Antiquities Of Phil”, trans. M. R. James (London: Society for Promoting

Christian Knowledge, 1917), 78—79.

Two prophets of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century offshoots of Christianity modify the

Lame-ch tradition: Emanuel Swedenborg, Heavenly Secrets (Arcana Caelestia), vol. 1 (New York:

Swedenborg Foundation, 1967), 248—50; and Joseph Smith, “The Book of Moses,” in The Pearl of

It is in these words of peace that Arthur Clough takes leave of the Lamech tradition.

Great Price (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1928), 1, 12—14.

Lamech’s story appears in centuries of poetry and drama: (Caedmon,] “Genesis Book XVIII,”

http;Z_Lpge_unter:cgm (accessed Sept. 17, 2006; site discontinued); Ludus Coventriae: or, The

Bibliographical Notes

Plaie Called Corpus Christi, Cotton Ms. Vespasian D. VIII, ed. S. Block (London: Oxford Univ.

Press, 1974), xv, 39—43; Edmund Reiss, “The Story of Lamech and Its Place in Medieval Drama,”

For the Genesis text and commentary, I relied principally on JPS [Jewish Publication

Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 2 (1972): 3 5; Geoffrey Chaucer, The

Society] Torah Commentary: Genesis, the Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation,

Complete Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. John S. P. Tatlock and Percy Mac-Kaye (New York:

commentary by Nahum M. Sama (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 36—39, 38

Macmillan, 1955), 157—58, 238—50, 356—61; Charles Brifaut, Lamech, ou Les Descendants de Cain

(“first true example of Hebrew biblical style”). Other sources for text, commentary, targums,

(1820), in Oeuvres deM. Charles Brifaut, vol. 4 (Paris: Diard, 1858), 295-385, 302, 347, 349, 384;

and apocrypha include: Midrash Rabbah, vol. 1, ed. and trans. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon

Rudyard Kipling, “Jubal and Tubal Cain,” in Rudyard Kipling’s Verse (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,

(London: Soncino Press, 1951), 194—95; The Anchor Bible: Genesis, intro., trans., and notes E. A.

1940), 555; George Eliot, “The Legend of Jubal,” in The Spanish Gypsy, The Legend of Jubal, and

Speiser (Garden City, NY. : Doubleday, 1964), 3 7; Chumash with Targum, Onkelos, Haphtaroth and

Other Poems, Old and New (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1915), 383—425, 386, 388—89; Arthur

Rashi’s Commentary Bereshith (Genesis), trans. A. M. Silbermann, with M. Rosenbaum (Jerusalem:

Hugh Clough, “The Song of Lamech,” in The Poems of Arthur Hugh Clough (Oxford, England:

Silbermann Family, 1984—85); 19—21; Metsudah Midrash Tanchuma: Bereishis I (Genesis), ed.

Oxford Univ. Press, 1968), 50—53.

Yaakov Y. H. Pupko, trans. and ann. Avrohom Davis (Lakewood, N.J.: Israel Book Shop, 2005);

The cited Christian sermon on Lamech’s usurpation of God’s Grace is “Lamech: The Biblical

58—61 ; Targum Onkelos to Genesis, trans. Moses Aberbach and Bernard Grossfeld (New York: Ktav

second murderer and the usurpation of Grace,”

Publishing House, 1982); 44—46; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, trans. with intro. and notes Michael

(accessed Oct. 30, 2002; site discontinued).

Maher (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992); 34—35; The Book of Jubilees: or, The Little

I have also quoted from William Ian Miller, Eye for an Eye (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press,

Genesis, trans. Robert Henry Charles (Berwick Maine: Ibis Press, 2005), 56.

2006), 24 (Lamech’s wives “might have been rolling their eyes”).

Lamech’s song draws “contours of an outspoken personality,” wrote Murray H. Lichtenstein, in

“Biblical Poetry,” in Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, ed. Barry W. Holtz (New

York: Touchstone, 1984), 119-20.

In examining Hebrew myths I turned to Louis Ginzberg’s The Legends of the Jews, vol. 1

(Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1998), 117—18; and his “Jewish Folklore: East and West,”

in On Jewish Law and Lore (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1962), 61 —62, wherein he states: “English,

French, Italian, and Spanish artists vied with one another to depict the widely spread legend of

the blind Lamech going to hunt under the guidance of his son Tubal Cain.” Also valuable in my


Gilbert and Sullivan on Corporation Law: Utopia,

Limited and the Panama Canal Frauds

Whenever the name “Gilbert” was mentioned to the president of an American

corporation in the late twentieth century, he would likely have thought of the

brothers Lewis and John and wondered what shareholder proposals they might be

preparing for the forthcorning annual meeting. However, the title of corporate gadfly

extraordinaire could, with equal justice, be awarded to quite another Gilbert, W. S.

Gilbert of the operatic partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan. In the relatively little-

known opera Utopia, Limited, which appeared at the Savoy Theatre in 1893, Gilbert

delivered a sharply satirical assault on business corporations (which the English call

“companies”), and particularly on the basic corporate concept of limited liability. The

opera sketches the development of a utopian society that organizes itself, its ruler, and

all its citizens as limited liability companies under the English Companies Act of 1862.

The theme of Utopia, Limited has puzzled its critics and received strange

evaluations. W. A. Darlington, in his The World of Gilbert and Sullivan, makes the

suggestion (which he cautiously terms “a guess”) that “Gilbert, not being in any sense

a businessman, had never had any clear notion what a limited-liability company was”

until shortly before he wrote Utopia. In light of his celebrated partnership disputes

with Sullivan, Gilbert may be denied a businessman’s standing only under the most

subjective conception of that calling, but surely Darlington would not have us forget

that the author of Utopia was a lawyer.

It is apparent from Hesketh Pearson’s biography that Gilbert’s career at the bar was

spectacularly unsuccessful. It lasted four years and produced about twenty clients and

a total income of El 00. His diffculties seem to be fairly represented by his first brief,

the defense of a female pickpocket, who, on being sentenced to a prison term, “threw a

boot at his head and continued to criticize his personal character until removed from

the court.” The memories of this case are undoubtedly responsible for Gilbert’s little

gem, the short story “My Maiden Brief” (1890). In that story, the fledgling barrister,

Horace Penditton, prepares for the trial of his first client, who filched a purse on

an omnibus, by trying out a fanciful line of defense on Felix Polter, a barrister who

occupies neighboring chambers in the Inner Temple. When Penditton appears in

court, he is shocked to find that his opponent is none other than Polter, who calrnly

proceeds to anticipate all his defenses in opening the prosecution’s case to the jury.

When Penditton at the end of the story contrasts Poker’s future with his own, we may

be hearing a cri de coeur of Gilbert himself: “He is now a flourishing Old Bailey counsel,

while I am as briefless as ever.”

Although Gilbert’s years as a lawyer were few, he had a very active and lifelong

career as a client. In addition to his disputes with Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte over

the expense of new carpets at the Savoy Theatre and a defamation suit against a

newspaper, he filled his private hours with threats of litigation over grievances real

and trivial. If his correspondence with an adversary took an unsatisfactory turn, he

was likely to suggest that future letters be addressed to his solicitor. However, it is

to his credit that he rounded out his functions as lawyer and client with able and

compassionate service as a justice of the peace.

It is odd that neither Gilbert’s contemporaries nor his biographers seem to have

taken him seriously as a critic of business law and morality. Doubt seems always

to arise as to whether Gilbert had strong roots in the real world. Of course, we

have always enjoyed the game of matching Gilbert characters with eminent and

lesser Victorians, but there has been no agreement that Gilbert was engaged by the

social issues that enveloped the individual figures he found suitable for caricature.

His biographer, Hesketh Pearson, ventures a psychological explanation for Gilbert’s

preoccupation with fairyland and fantasy, believing that Gilbert’s childhood, spent

with incompatible and often feuding parents, left him “an internal discomfort,

a desire to see things as they are not, born of his early contact with an

unpleasant actuality.” Gilbert, however, had a perfectly pragmatic justification for his

specialization in fairies. In his fairy tale “The Wicked World” (1890), he explained

his choice of theme. He did not write of fashionable life because he knew nothing of

fashion; nor did he write a medieval romance because this would require too much

research (which Gilbert detested and preferred to call “cramming”). Gilbert noted the

possible objection by an acute reader that if the author knew nothing of fashionable

life, he must know still less about fairies. He offered a reply that is unanswerable:

“Exactly. I know nothing at all about fairies—but then neither do you.”

Perhaps the fantastic settings of Gilbert’s plots have obscured his interest in legal

issues. In some instances the reluctance of drama critics and audiences to listen to his

more serious voice impeded his forays into criticism of prevailing legal principles. This

was clearly his fate when he attempted to deal in his works with controversies in the

field of criminal law. In Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, as first performed in 1882, the

young shepherd Strephon, on admission to Parliament, delivered a speech attributing

crime to circumstances of birth and upbringing:

Take a wretched thief

Through the City sneaking,

Pocket handkerchief

Ever, ever seeking:

What is he but I

Robbed of all my chances—

Picking pockets by

Force of circumstances?

I might be as bad—

As unlucky, rather—

If I’d only had

Fagin for a father!

Leslie Baily notes that the critic ofthe Times of London attacked Gilbert’s expression of

anger, “a passion altogether out of place in a fairy opera.” The offending song was later

cut from Iolanthe.

Gilbert’s final dramatic work, the one-act play The Hooligan, produced in 1911,

the last year of his life, was a completely serious treatment of capital punishment.

Inspired by his fascination with the celebrated Crippen murder trial of 1910, Gilbert’s

play presented the last moments of a condemned murderer in his prison cell. The

criminal is reprieved from hanging only to die of heart failure occasioned by the agony

of waiting for death. Some of the spectators who expected laughs from Gilbert were

perplexed and hissed.

Gilbert’s literary reflection of his interest in criminal law is pretty much limited

to the two examples given above (unless we are also to refer to his portrait of that

great penologist, the Mikado of Japan). However, throughout the pages of his opera

librettos are many signs of his perennial absorption in the behavior of corporations

and businessmen. It is likely that his contemporaries cared as little for his views

on business as they did for his assessments of criminal law. If we are to follow

their pattern by assuming that Gilbert’s comments on business morality have no

application to our own time, we will probably be drawing on some false feeling of


Gilbert’s first satire on corporations appeared appropriately in the very first opera

he wrote with Sullivan, Thespis (1871). In this opera, Thespis, the manager of a

theatrical troupe performing for the Olympian gods, sings the earliest Gilbert and

Sullivan patter song, which lampoons the chairman of a railroad’s board of directors

who undermined his own authority and ruined his company by being too affable to

company employees. I suppose that even the most democratic of executives would feel

that the chairman went to extremes in his personnel policy:

Each Christmas Day he gave each stoker

A silver shovel and a golden poker,

He’d button-hole flowers for the ticket sorters,

And rich Bath-buns for the outside porters.

He’d mount the clerks on his first-class hunters,

And he built little villas for the road-side shunters

The employees, surprised by the chairman’s favors, assumed that his behavior was

due to an odd quirk of humor rather than generosity and attempted to respond in

kind by diverting any train on which he happened to be riding. The employees’ vein of

practical joking appeared to please the chairman more than the railroad’s customers or


This pleased his whim and seemed to strike it,

But the general public did not like it,

The receipts fell, after a few repeatings,

And he got it hot at the annual meetings

Undeterred by shareholder pressure, the chairman continued to indulge the

employees in their merry pranks, with the result of business failure for himself and

the investors: “The shareholders are all in the work’us [work-house], / And he sells

pipe-lights in the Regent Circus.”

This first corporation song of Gilbert’s is obviously less concerned with business

practice than with an important tenet of Gilbert’s conservative personality, namely,

that excessive egalitarianism is fatal to established order. However, the song of Thespis

also reveals two points that are crucial to an understanding of Gilbert’s lasting

interest in corporations. The lyrics show first his tendency to connect observations

on corporate administration with theatrical management, a field in which he was

to spend his life and where he was to encounter a great deal of diffculty in

reconciling the conflicting interests of manager, investor, and employee. A second

characteristic theme that the early song shows in germination is Gilbert’s emphasis

on the responsibility of corporate management to the public, including those whose

investments they have called on and those with whom they do business.

Eleven years later, in Gilbert’s great libretto for Iolanthe, business practice had

become the stuff of nightmare, though of a comic turn. The lord chancellor, in his

celebrated nightmare aria, recalls a dream in which a distinctly small fellow with

a Protean inclination to change identities harangues a group of sailors on a new

financing he is pushing. The promoter, who appears successively as an attorney and an

eleven-year-old boy, describes the purpose of the financing in terms that are recalled

by the delirious chancellor:

It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices all goods from cough mixtures to


(Which tickled the sailors), by treating retailers as though they were all


You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman (first take off his boots

with a boot-tree),

And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot, and they’ll blossom and

bud like a fruit-tree

The shares are a penny, and ever so many are taken by Rothschild and Baring,

And just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing.

Only the timely waking of the chancellor has saved him from a disastrous

investment. However, in spite of our regulatory advances, the sales techniques of the

undersized promoter are not unlike those of present-day “penny stock” merchants, in

whose sales pitch the projected use ofproceeds may be less important than the general

impression that the venture is new and that, in any event, there is likely to be some

opportunity for movement in the stock when the initial price is low.

In the figure of the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers (1889), Gilbert introduced

a man who more than compensated for his doubtful military talents with a real

appreciation of the opportunities afforded by modern business. The duke and his

worthy spouse found considerable profit in selling their aristocratic endorsements of

worthless products and securities. As the duke puts it,

Those pressing prevailers,

The ready-made tailors,

Quote me as their great double-barrel—

I allow them to do so,

Though Robinson Crusoe

Would jib at their wearing apparel—

I sit, by selection,

Upon the direction

Of several Companies bubble—

AS soon as they’re floated,

I’m freely bank-noted—

I’m pretty well paid for my trouble.

Kindle Cloud Reader


The duke did well endorsing products he did not use and business ventures to which

he lent only his name. Both sources of endorsement income that were available to

the duke remain open to the notables of our day, although subjected to increasing

scrutiny by the public. In 1971 the Federal Trade Commission had occasion to

question whether veterans of the Indianapolis 500 had suffcient expertise in toy cars

to justify their endorsements for the Mattel Company. Government inquiries have also

considered whether certain franchise systems that invoke the names of heroes of the

sports world are actually engaging the time and energies of the great men.

But the Duke of Plaza-Toro is not only aware of the profit to be drawn from

business endorsements; he is also the first Gilbert character to evince knowledge ofthe

advantages of incorporation under the Companies Act of 1862. That statute, on which

Gilbert was to lavish his satirical attentions, is often regarded as the source of modern

English corporation law and has been referred to as the “magna carta of cooperative

enterprise.” Actually, the act was not an innovative piece of legislation but merely the

recodification of a number of earlier nineteenth-century statutory developments. The

history of modern company law, to use the British terminology, began in 1825 with

the repeal of the Bubble Act, which had been passed in 1720 in reaction to a series

of fraudulent securities offerings of which the so-called “South Sea Bubble” was the

most famous. Until its repeal in 1825, the Bubble Act generally prohibited the use

of corporations unless their formation was specially authorized by act of Parliament

or royal charter. By a series of separate acts beginning with 1825, the availability of

corporate business forms was gradually expanded, although the privilege of limited

liability that is the hallmark of the modern corporation was introduced only by the

Joint Stock Companies Act of 1856. The principal function of the Companies Act of

1862 was to consolidate the 1856 act with five statutes subsequently passed and to

elaborate the provisions dealing with liquidation (“winding up”) of corporations.

In The Gondoliers the Duke of Plaza-Toro, although very much a nobleman,

is “unhappily in straitened circumstances at present” and sees advantages in

incorporation. Feeling that his social influence is much more extensive than his

personal resources, he has permitted a syndicate to organize a corporation to exploit

him. The company is to be called the Duke of Plaza-Toro, Limited. An influential

directorate has been secured by the syndicate, and the duke himself is to join the board

after the original shares have been allotted.

Somehow, Gilbert always seemed to associate the prospect of formation of a

corporation with the ultimate possibility of liquidation without the full satisfaction

of its creditors. The duke’s daughter, who has been pronounced Queen of Barataria,

expresses concern that she “may be called upon at any time to witness her honoured

sire in process of liquidation.” The duchess is compelled to acknowledge that

possibility but turns aside her daughter’s worry with a typical Gilbertian pun: “If

your father should stop, it will, of course be necessary to wind him up.” Happily, The

Gondoliers comes to a conclusion before the duke’s company has an opportunity to fall

on evil days. In fact, we learn in Act 2 that, although the duke personally is ninety-

five quarters in arrear, he has just been floated at a premium and registered under the

Limited Liability Act. We must, however, remain in doubt as to whether the success

of the offering would have changed the first reaction of the duke’s daughter that there

was something “degrading” in the concept of “a Grandee of Spain turned into a public


In Utopia, Limited, written four years later, the comic prospect was to broaden

into the panorama of an entire society transforming itself into a public corporation

under the Companies Act of 1862. The opera tells of a tropical island country,

Utopia, that has had great difficulty choosing an appropriate form of government.

After unsuccessful experiments in democracy, it has hit on a dangerous variant of

the notion of constitutional monarchy. The king of Utopia is trailed around by a

bomb-laden official, named the Public Exploder, who is authorized to blow the king

up on “his very first lapse from political or social propriety.” The governmental form

thus evolved is described by a courtier as “a Despotism tempered by Dynamite.” (In

the twentieth century, we had cause to wonder, in view of the eruption of violence

into American political processes, whether our country was not becoming a Republic

tempered by Revolvers.)

An opportunity for a further reform of Utopian society is provided by the return

of its Princess Zara from England, where she has taken a high academic degree. She

brings home with her a delegation consisting of representatives of the main bulwarks

of British society whose mission is to remake Utopia in the image of Great Britain.

The delegation, named the Flowers of Progress, consists of a British lord chamberlain,

offcers of the army and navy (including our old friend Captain Corcoran from the

good ship Pinafore), a queen’s counsel and member of Parliament who represents both

law and national government, and a spokesman for the new county council system

that had just been introduced in England. A leading member of the delegation is Mr.

Goldbury, a company promoter. He produces the central idea for the restructuring of

Utopia: instead of remaining a monarchy, it should register as a corporation under the

Companies Act of 1862. In support of his proposal, he launches into a song in praise

of the corporate form, a song that, among its other virtues, contains one of the finest

working definitions of corporate capital, at least from the point of view of creditors.

Capital, according to Mr. Goldbury, is “a public declaration to what extent they mean to

pay their debts.” Since Mr. Goldbury’s song is a great comic tribute to the corporation

and also an important key to Gilbert’s corporate satire, it deserves to be set down at


Some seven men form an Association

(If possible, all Peers and Baronets),

They start off with a public declaration

To what extent they mean to pay their debts.

That’s called their Capital: if they are wary

They will not quote it at a sum immense.

The figure’s immaterial—it may vary

From eighteen million down to eighteenpence.

Posizione 2444

I should put it rather low;

The good sense of doing so

Will be evident at once to any debtor.

When it’s left to you to say

What amount you mean to pay,

Why, the lower you can put it at, the better.

They then proceed to trade with all who’ll trust ‘em,

Quite irrespective of their capital

(It’s shady, but it’s sanctified by custom);

Bank, Railway, Loan, or Panama Canal.

You can’t embark on trading too tremendous—

It’s strictly fair, and based on common sense—

If you succeed, your profits are stupendous—

And if you fail, pop goes your eighteenpence.

Make the money-spinner spin!

For you only stand to win,

And you’ll never with dishonesty be twitted,

For nobody can know,

To a million or so,

To what extent your capital’s committed!

If you come to grief, and creditors are craving

(For nothing that is planned by mortal head

Is certain in this Vale of Sorrow—saving

That one’s Liability is Limited),—

Do you suppose that signifies perdition?

If so you’re but a monetary dunce—

You merely file a Winding-Up Petition,

And start another Company at once!

Though a Rothschild you may be

In your own capacity,

As a Company you’ve come to utter sorrow—

But the Liquidators say,

“Never mind—you needn’t pay,”

So you start another Company to-morrow!

The gospel of the corporation, as recited by Goldbury, at first sight strikes the king

of Utopia as dishonest, but he concludes that if it’s good enough for virtuous England,

it’s good enough for his own backward island. The royal court, given the green light by

its monarch’s approval, takes up Goldbury’s project with enthusiasm and, in fact, Act 1

of Utopia, Limited concludes with what may be the only choral tribute to a corporation

statute in all the pages of opera:

All hail, astonishing Fact!

All hail, Invention new—

The Joint Stock Company’s Act—

The Act of Sixty-Two!

The second act shows the far-reaching effects ofincorporation on Utopia’s economy

and political life. Mr. Goldbury, flushed with his success at turning the monarchy

into a corporation, carries the reorganization to its logical conclusion. Discarding

the theory of the 1862 Act that there is magic in the number seven (the number

of individual incorporators required under the act for formation of a corporation),

Goldbury has constituted every man, woman, and child in Utopia a limited liability

company with liability restricted to the amount of his declared capital. Princess Zara

asserts that “there is not a christened baby in Utopia who has not already issued

his little Prospectus.” The princess’s favorite Flower of Progress delegate, Captain

Fitzbattleaxe, marvels at the power of a civilization to transmute, by the magic word of

incorporation, “a Limited Income into an Income Limited.”

Universal incorporation, as Gilbert portrays it, proves more attractive to the

promoters than to the corporations’ creditors. Scaphio, a judge of Utopia’s supreme

court, has been moonlighting as an apparel supplier. He contracts to supply the

entire nation with a complete set of English clothes (so that they may be Anglicized

externally as well as within). When he sends his bills, the customers plead liability

limited to a declared capital of eighteen pence and apply to have the debt discharged

by corporate liquidation under the winding-up provisions of the Companies Act of

  1. In Gilbert’s “corporate state” the king has no jurisdiction over grievances such as

Scaphio’s but must request him to lay his complaint before the next board meeting of

Utopia, Limited.

The device of incorporation also profoundly affects the relations of the king with

courtiers (including the disappointed Scaphio) who plot his death. Since the king is no

longer a human being but a company, they can no longer blow him up; at best they

can only seek to “wind him up” by corporate liquidation proceedings, a small source of

emotional satisfaction for the king’s violent foes.

Toward the end of the opera, the Flowers of Progress, through their Anglicizing

programs, including universal incorporation, have achieved such a stable society that

they alienate those who thrive on disorder. The opponents of “progress” then decide

to overthrow the works of the reformers by introducing the one overlooked force in

English government that will ensure permanent chaos—political parties. With the

introduction of party government, the regime of Monarchy, Limited is transformed in

a wink into a Limited Monarchy.

Even this brief overview of Utopia should provide convincing proof that Darlington

is wrong in supposing Gilbert to be ignorant of the nature of corporations. It is of

interest, however, to consider why Gilbert found corporations to be a worthy object of


There is no doubt that the “magic” of incorporation particularly appealed to

Gilbert’s penchant for fantasy. Just as he could never get over the belief that a magic

love potion transforming a stern clergyman into an impetuous lover was the most

humorous of plot devices, so he found worthy of laughter the legal device that

permitted the transformation of individual businessmen into a corporate entity. (How

he would have roared with laughter had he learned with us that Howard Hughes, by

a legal assignment to the Rosemont Corporation reciting a $ 10 consideration, could

literally transform his life and all biographical rights into a corporate asset!)

But if we pause to focus on Gilbert’s view of the corporate idea as a false denial of

the uncertainties of human life, we will have come to an understanding of a deeper

layer of his criticism of the corporation. Gilbert’s most personal view of life, at least

as he grew older, appears to have been strongly pessimistic. An ensemble in Utopia

summarizes the human condition in as dark a color as the final chorus from Verdi’s


Ill you’ve thriven—

Ne’er in clover;

Lastly, when

Three-score and ten

(And not till then)

The joke is over!

To Gilbert, the corporation and the doctrine of limited liability are symbols of artificial

endeavors to insulate the individual from the ever-present possibility of disaster in his

affairs. As Mr. Goldbury comments in his song of corporations, “For nothing that is

planned by mortal head / Is certain in this Vale of Sorrow—saving / That one’s Liability

is Limited.”

More narrowly, the corporate idea to Gilbert was faulty in that it shielded the

incompetent and the irresponsible man from the consequences of his own failure.

It is for this reason that Gilbert leapt with special delight on the provisions for

discharge of corporate obligations through the liquidation, or winding-up, provisions

of the Companies Act of 1862. We can be reasonably sure that he was thinking in this

connection not only of the business world at large but also of his own world of the

theater. In his short play “Actors, Authors, and Audiences” (1890), he deals with failure

of a theater manager in much the same manner as he attacks corporate liquidation

in Utopia: “[Theatre management) is a very easy profession to master. If you make a

success, you pocket the profits; if you fail, you close your theatre abruptly, and a benefit

performance is organized on your behalf. Then you begin again.” Compare the words

of Mr. Goldbury in Utopia on the delights of corporate winding-up:

As a Company you’ve come to utter sorrow—

But the Liquidators say,

“Never mind—you needn’t pay,”

So you start another Company to-morrow!

Perhaps Gilbert’s identification of corporate problems with theater management had

been strengthened by the fact that Utopia was written shortly after his famous

quarrels with his partners, Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte, over the administration of the

Savoy Theatre. The equivalence between corporation and theater survived in the last

Gilbert and Sullivan opera, The Grand Duke (1896), in which Gilbert unsuccessfully

mimicked Utopia by describing a conspiracy by a group of actors to overthrow a

dukedom and remodel it along the lines of a theatrical company.

The most interesting element of Gilbert’s criticism of the corporation, however,

lies in his suggestion that the privileges of incorporation, public corporate financing,

and limited liability are undeserved unless accompanied by compliance with high

standards of responsibility by corporate management. The corporate form for the

promoter Goldbury is a device for raising funds from the public for doubtful schemes

and with minimal risk of accountability. To the populace of Utopia it becomes a means

of buying goods for which it has neither the means nor the intention to pay.

The force of Gilbert’s attack on corporate morality appears to have been lost on

even perceptive observers. George Bernard Shaw, reviewing Utopia as a music critic for

Londor# Saturday Review, wrote that he “enjoyed the score of Utopia more than that

of any previous Savoy operas” and that “the book has Mr. Gilbert’s lighter qualities

without his faults.” However, he scantly summarized Gilbert’s “main idea” as “the

Anglicization of Utopia by a people boundlessly credulous as to the superiority of

the English race” and made no reference to the satire of principles of corporate law

and practice. Punch, unlike Shaw, was extremely critical of Utopia. Its 1893 review

of the new offering of the team that the magazine had taken to calling “Gillivan and

Sulbert” (in tribute, one would hope, to the uncanny blending of their gifts) made

no substantial comment on the book except to accuse Gilbert of plagiarizing a scene

presenting a court reception in the semicircular stage arrangement popularized by the

Christy Minstrels.

Even with the advantage of historical retrospection, twentieth-century critics

often failed to see that the corporate law satire was firmly rooted in the business

scandals in Gilbert’s times. Thus W. A. Darlington writes of Utopia: “It would be

interesting to know just why Gilbert fell foul of the Joint Stock Company Act of 1862

at this particular period in his life, more than a quarter of a century after the act had

become law.” Clues to the answer to Darlington’s question are provided for all to see in

Mr. Goldbury’s song, in which he sings ofthe management ofthe spanking-new, thinly

incorporated firm:

They then proceed to trade with all who’ll trust ‘em,

Quite irrespective oftheir capital

(It’s shady, but it’s sanctified by custom)•,

Bank, Railway, Loan, or Panama Canal.

These lines reveal that Gilbert was not merely attacking the concept Of limited liability

as an abstraction, but that he was well aware Of frauds that had been perpetrated on

the public by unprincipled men using the advantages Of corporate form.

The reference to banks in Mr. Goldbury’s song might have awakened memories Of

a number Of bank failures in England in the latter part Of the nineteenth century, but

it is likely that Gilbert intended to allude to the Glasgow Bank fraud case Of 1878.

The closing Of the City Of Glasgow Bank in October 1878 led to criminal proceedings

resulting in the conviction Of five directors and the bank manager on charges relating

to the falsification Of balance sheets. It was asserted that the directors had produced

false balance sheets and declared large dividends in order to cover up the insolvency

Of the bank. The bank’s downfall had been contributed to by improvident Ioans,

including those extended lavishly to the defendant directors and their firms.

The City Of Glasgow Bank had lost no time in incorporating under the Joint Stock

Company Act Of 1862 in the very year Of its adoption, and Gilbert may be forgiven for

doubting whether the insiders had in their stewardship justified the protection given

to them by the new legislation. Arthur Griffth” account ofthe behavior Of one Of the

directors prior to the bank’s closing could hardly have been bettered by Gilbert’s own

pen: “One shareholder in September, a month before the failure, called at the offce Of

Mr. Stewart, saying he had heard unpleasant rumours about the bank. Mr. Stewart, a

director, who … was largely in debt to the bank, answered that there were always

rumours current about everybody. Then Mr. Stewart went out and did not return,

being clearly anxious to cut short an inconvenient interview.”

The most recent business scandal referred to in the quoted lines Of Mr. Goldbury’s

song was the welter Of criminal charges growing out Of the failure Of the Panama

Canal construction program undertaken by the French-controlled Panama Company.

In February 1893, eight months prior to the opening Of Utopia, the aged Ferdinand de

Lesseps, hero Of the building Of the Suez Canal, and his son and two other men were

found guilty Of fraud in an 1888 bond issue to raise funds for the canal project, Of

attempted fraud in another aborted bond issue, and Of misappropriation Of company

funds. The fraud charges—expressed in the elegant language Of French statute as the

use Of fraudulent means to raise hopes for the realization Of a chimerical event—rested

on misrepresentations made by the defendants with respect to the cost and likely

completion date ofthe canal and levels Of expected revenues. Although the conviction

was upset on appeal (on the basis Of the statute Of limitations) before Utopia opened,

the facts Of the case lingered.

In March Of the same year, five French legislators, the former public works minister

and his private secretary, and the younger de Lesseps faced a bribery trial in which it

was alleged that the public offcials had been bribed by the Panama Company in an

effort to secure favorable legislation and governmental action in connection with the

company’s financing plans. The legislators were acquitted, but the other defendants

were found guilty.

The accusations Of misconduct, which were the subject Of these trials, only singled

out from a bizarre pattern Of financial behavior those acts with which the criminal

law Of the time could most easily come to grips. Very little Of the procedure used

in the Panama Canal financings bears any resemblance to what might be considered

permissible under the regulatory system Of our own Securities and Exchange

Commission. In addition to their attempts on the integrity Of the French government,

the administrators Of the Canal Company made widespread use Of company funds

to pay newspapers for publishing favorable stories on the progress Of the canal. Far

from considering such payments to reflect doubtful business morality, the Canal

Company reported such payments in its financial statements under the wonderfully

euphemistic account heading publicité. Apparently the newspapermen were even less

shy about the payments than the company and considered the amount Of the payoffs

to afford a measure Of the value Of their editorial pages. Maron J. Simon reports in his

study ofthe canal scandals that one editor sued the auditor for the liquidated company

for understating the amounts that the Panama Company had paid his newspaper.

The events in France were not lost on Gilbert or on the English public. The Times

Of London carried detailed stories on the Panama enterprise and the litigation that

resulted. Moreover, by the spring Of 1893 much Of the passion and curiosity aroused

by the Panarna affair had focused on the figure Of a “mystery man” then residing

in England—Cornelius Herz, an international charlatan, confidence man, and friend

Of influential men in political and financial circles. Herz, who had been accused Of

complicity in the Panama scandal, was, during the whole Of 1893 and for many

years thereafter, holed up in the Tankerville Hotel in Bournemouth, England, where

he waged a successful battle against extradition to France on the basis ofhis medical

condition. The French legislators, in their eagerness to talk to Herz, resolved that if

illness would not permit him to come to them, they would question him at his bedside.

However, the interview, which was scheduled for July 1897, never came off Herz

reneged at the last minute, and this disappointing news was transmitted to the group

Of twenty-five deputies just as they were about to board the Channel steamer.

Although the Panama Canal case continued to make history for many years, by

1893 it had already been assured a measure Of immortality in the words and music

Of Utopia, Limited. It was an affair that supplied all the major elements Of Gilbert’s

satirical view Of corporate finance—the famous man whose name inspired investors’

confidence (de Lesseps); a securities offering based on unjustified claims Of bonanza;

the “free bank-noting” Of newspapers and others whose sponsorship Of the offering

was desired; and finally the liquidation Of failed corporate enterprise. Despite his jokes

at the expense Of the corporation and limited liability, and his likely disillusionment

with the business practices Of his own time, Gilbert shows such balanced judgment

in his works that we cannot assume he was proposing an outright repeal Of the

Companies Act Of 1862. Indeed, if he attacked limited liability in Utopia, we must

recall that in the earlier Pirates Of Penzance (1879) he assaulted with equal force

the notion Of unlimited individual liability, the observance Of contract unmodified

by protective considerations Of public policy. In that opera the young hero, Frederic,

is mocked by Gilbert as a “slave Of duty” because he undertakes literal and strict

performance Of his pirate apprenticeship until his twenty-first birthday as provided by

his indenture, even though the term Of performance Will last eighty-four years since

his birthday falls on February 29.

In fact, I am not sure that Gilbert’s critique Of the corporation is inapposite to

the debate that continues in modern governmental and academic circles as to the

proper scope Of corporate responsibilities. In return for the protections and privileges

Of corporate form and the opportunities Of large business corporations to amass

wealth and power, the expectations for social contribution by corporations have

greatly increased. Discussions that decades ago turned on obligations Of corporations

for charitable gifts and local cornmunity activity have broadened to include demands

relating to basic business policy, such as ecological and safety concerns, minority-

group hiring, and corporate attitudes toward war and colonialism. Nobody would

hazard a guess where Gilbert would have stood on the myriad Of public issues faced by

the modern corporation, but I think he would have been at home with the notion that

the responsibility Of a corporation may be far broader than its legal liability.

It is diffcult to come away from a study Of Utopia, Limited and Of Gilbert’s other

literary expressions Of interest in law and crime without feeling that his work has

suffered the double injustice Of having been denied “relevancy” either to the problems

Of posterity or to the important issues Of his own day. How much better we would do

were we to read his librettos in the spirit ofthe counsel given by the jester, Jack Point,

in The Yeomen Of the Guard:

Oh, winnow all my folly, and you’ll find

A grain or two Of truth among the chaff!

Bibliographical Notes

Biographical and critical sources quoted in the article are from Leslie Baily, The Gilbert and

Sullivan Book (London: Cassell, 1952), 212, 213, 400; W. A. Darlington, The World Of Gilbert and

Sullivan (New York: Crowell, 1950), 173—74; and Hesketh Pearson, Gilbert, His Life and Strife

(Newyork:Harper, 1957), 19, 83, 264-65.

The quotations from Thespis, The Pirates Of Penzance, lolanthe, The Yeomen Of the Guard, The

Gondoliers, and Utopia, Limited are drawn from Plays and Poems Of W. S. Gilbert, preface by

Deems Taylor (New York: Random House, 1932). Quotations from Gilbert’s short stories and

articles, “My Maiden Brief,” “Actors, Authors, and Audiences,” and “The Wicked World” appear

in W. S. Gilbert, Foggerty’s Fairy and Other Tales (London, 1890). Gilbert’s short play on capital

punishment, “The Hooligan,” is included in his Original Plays: Fourth Series (London: Chatto and

Windus, 1922).

For the history Of the Companies Act Of 1862, see Clive M. Schmitthoff and James H.

Thompson, eds. , Palmer’s Company Law, 21st ed. (London: Stevens, 1968), 5—9; William

Holdsworth, A History Of English Law, vol. 15 (London: Methuen, 1965), 49—59.

Shaw’s review Of Utopia is found in Eric Bentley, ed. , Shaw on Music: A Selectionfrom the Music

Criticism Of Bernard Shaw (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955), 216, 219. For Punch’s review, see

Punch 105 (Oct. 28, 1893):204. Despite its critical rejection ofthe opera, there is evidence that

Gilbert’s corporate satire became a part Of the magazine’s comic worldview. A cartoon published

three years later depicts a proposed financing Of the Ottoman Empire by the Western powers.

The Ottoman Empire is shown being reorganized as a corporation under the name “Turkey,

Limited” (Punch 111 [Nov. 28, 1896]:259).

For a report Of the Glasgow Bank trial, see William Wallace, ed. , Trial Of the City Of Glasgow

Bank Directors (Glasgow: William Hodge, 1905) in the Notable Scottish Trials series. See also

Arthur Griffths, Mysteries ofPolice and Crime, vol. 2 (London: Cassell, 1899), 390.

An account Of the Panama Canal scandal can be found in Maron J. Simon, The Panama Affair

(New York: Scribner, 1971). Many Of the facts relating to the Panama case to which I make

reference are drawn from Simon’s interesting book. For an eyewitness report Of the Panama

trials, see Albert Bataille, Causes Criminelles et Mondaines de 1893 (Paris: Dentu, 1894), 1—314.

Aspects Of law in Gilbert and Sullivan operas are discussed in Andrew Goodman, Gilbert and

Sullivan at Law (East Brunswick, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1983), citing the present

article as “most informative in this area,” 225.


“Pore Jud is Daid”: Violence and Lawlessness in the Plays ofLynn Riggs

Ben Brantley, drama critic Of the New York Times, has credited Trevor Nunn’s 1998

production Of Oklahoma! with letting us see more clearly the shadows that have always

been cast by the “bright golden haze on the meadow.” The interplay between the light

and the dark, between exuberant optimism and the threat Of violence, lies at the very

heart Of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and Of the “folk-play” from which it

was faithfully adapted, Lynn Riggs’s Green Grow the Lilacs. After the New York opening

Of Oklahoma! in 1943, Hammerstein publicly acknowledged the heavy debt that he

owed to Riggs’s original stage work: “I should like to go on record as saying that Mr.

Riggs’s play is the wellspring Of almost all that is good in Oklahoma! I kept many Of

the lines Of the original play without making any changes in them at all for the simple

reason that they could not be improved on…. Lynn Riggs and Green Grow the Lilacs

are the very soul Of Oklahoma!” Among the Riggs inventions preserved in Oklahoma!’s

book and lyrics, though often overlooked by audiences enthralled by Richard Rodgers’s

melodious score, is an uncannily prescient delineation Of a serial killer. In Green Grow

the Lilacs the homicidal farmhand who menaces the peace Of a rural community

near Tulsa in the Indian Territory during the summer Of 1900 is named Jeeter Fry;

ever mindful Of singability, Hammerstein changed the villain’s first name to Jud. Fry

seems to be the supreme embodiment ofwhat Riggs sensed as a potential for evil and

calamity that secretly imperiled Oklahoma life during his childhood. Riggs wrote Of

this feeling Of unease: “When I was a child there, the country and the people were very

dramatic. A prirnitive violence was always close to the surface, always apt to break out

at any moment. It was all about me. Under a sometimes casual exterior, there was a

fever and a thrumming. Just by accident Of nerves, I suppose, I was always conscious

Of this hidden excitement.” The sources Of this “hidden excitement,” an emotion that

persisted through Riggs’s formative years, may have included the lawless environment

Of early Oklahoma, a tragic outbreak Of racial violence in the region where Riggs grew

to manhood, and disasters in his farnily history.

A Child Of Oklahoma’s Outlaw Era

Rollie Lynn Riggs was bom on August 31, 1899, on a farm three miles southwest Of

Claremore in the Tulsa area ofthe Indian Territory. His father, William, was a rancher

at the time Of his son’s birth and later became president Of a Claremore bank. Lynn’s

mother, Rosie, was one-eighth Cherokee and accordingly entitled to an allotment Of

160 acres Of land under the Dawes Act Of 1887; after her death Of typhoid fever in

1901, baby Lynn received a portion Of her land under his father’s guardianship. In

1902 Bill Riggs married Juliette Chambers, one-fourth Cherokee, who proved cold to

his children and served as the prototype Of the harsh, cruel stepmothers who appear in

Riggs’s work When Juliette’s anger would boil over, Bill Riggs sent the children to stay

with his sister, Mary Riggs Thompson, who provided Lynn “some ofthe mothering he

lacked at home”; Aunt Mary became the loving and wise Aunt Eller Of Green Grow the


Succeeding generations remember Lynn Riggs as poet, Southwestern regional

dramatist, and writer Of scripts for such Hollywood films as The Plainsman, starring

Gary Cooper, and the Marlene Dietrich vehicle The Garden Of Allah. His early years,

however, provided him a generous sampling Of ranching and white-collar experience

that helped him develop the realist vein that came to predominate in his writing. In

1928 Riggs summarized his life to date in a deprecating postscript when he answered

a letter from Barrett H. Clark, Of drama publisher and agency Samuel French, Inc.,

requesting an autobiography•. “Would you rather know that I’ve farmed, punched

cattle, been night clerk in a small Oklahoma hotel, ridden a freight to Chicago, worked

for an express company, played extra in dozens Of movies, clerked in Macy’s, read

proof for various newspapers, reported, sung all over the middle west one summer in

chautauqua, taught English, published poems, worked on a ranch, etc.”

The great range Of Riggs’s occupations, many Of which would be familiar to young

Americans trying their hands at entry-level jobs, should not disguise the fact that

he was born into and remained under the spell Of Oklahoma’s outlaw era. In 1892,

only seven years before Riggs’s birth, the Daltons, after strengthening their gang in

Oklahoma, were shot to pieces during a vainglorious robbery Of two banks in broad

daylight at Coffeyville, Kansas. Dalton gang member Bill Doolin luckily dropped out

Of the raiding party at the last moment, claiming that his horse had gone lame and

that he had to steal a replacement. After the Coffeyville disaster, Doolin organized a

new band Of desperadoes, the Oklahombres, whom the outlaw’s nemesis, U.S. Marshal

Evett Dumas Nix called “the most vicious outlaw gang the Southwest ever was to

know.” The Oklahombres eluded a large posse in 1893 after waging a celebrated

gunfight at Ingalls, Oklahoma. According to the orthodox version Of Doolin lore,

Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas shot the outlaw leader to death in 1896 on a dusty road

near his hideout in the area Of Lawton, Oklahoma.

Tulsa police historian Ronald L Trekell notes that although the Doolin gang “never

plundered or killed in Tulsa, they passed through often.” For Tulsans, and Oklahomans

in general, the Doolins enjoy a heroic stature comparable to the preeminence Of

the James gang in Missouri. Even Marshal Nix, if we are to trust the words Of his

ghostwriter, Gordon Hines, was lavish in praise Of his Old adversary, Bill Doolin: “I

don’t believe Bill Doolin ever shot a victim in the back and I know very well he didn’t

make a practice Of robbing needy individuals Of their petty all. He and his gang went

after organized capital—the railroads, banks and express companies. If he took a horse

or forced a Ionely rancher to feed his men, it was because Of dire necessity and he

always tried to compensate the person who was called upon for help.”

Other outlaws flourishing in the last days ofthe Indian Territory included the part-

Cherokee Crawford Goldsby (“Cherokee Bill”), who reputedly killed thirteen victims

before his twentieth birthday; and a gang led by a Euchee Indian named Rufus

Buck that went on a “ten-day spree Of rape, robbery and murder” in 1895. Many Of

Oklahoma’s desperadoes continued their outrages during Lynn Riggs’s lifetime. The

killings by the Bert Casey gang ended only in 1902 when Casey and Jim Sims were shot

by special deputies in Cleo Springs. By the standards Of his generation, part-Cherokee

bank robber and murderer Henry Starr was a champion Of criminal longevity; bom in

1873, he died ofwounds suffered at a failed Arkansas bank robbery in 1921.

The white and Indian outlaws Of Oklahoma, transformed by poetic vision, reappear

in many ofthe plays Of Lynn Riggs. Sometimes they become comic or heroic figures Of

frontier myth that syr•nbolize a yearning for freedom from social constraint. At other

times, however, the career or habitual criminal is stripped Of glamour and embodies

the menace and destructive impulse that Riggs felt stirring beneath the soil Of his

native state.

The 1920 Claremore Fire and the 1928 Sapulpa Shooting

Riggs’s acute sensitivity to disaster likened the ravages Of nature to mankind’s cruelty.

In Russet Mantle, produced on Broadway in 1936, the poet Galt makes this analogy


Here we are in a land, vast and beautiful and fertile. Seeds in the earth push

  1. They blossom, they feed us. Sometimes there’s no rain—last summer

there wasn’t—and the soil that ought to bear becomes instead a blowing

and drifting terror…. The papers call it a drought. Sometimes there are

cloudbursts—you have them out here…. Sometimes a winter when sleet

and snow and wind are slashing and venomous. But what happens? The cold

stops. Rains fan. The sun shines. The rigors and terrors Of Nature come to

an end. But the rigor and terror Of man against man never cease. I’ve seen it. I

know! In textile mills, railroad yards, on docks, in the streets. Machine guns

mowing down men in Wisconsin. Men and women hounded and flogged and

tortured in San Francisco. Riot squads, strike breakers, nausea gas—bayonets!

And starvation.

Nature’s threats constantly loomed over Riggs’s Oklahoma. Tulsa lies in a tornado

alley. The city maintains a siren system to warn Of oncoming storm or flood. Although

the metropolis had long been spared, a monstrous twister descended nearby in May

1999, causing heavy damage to the Oklahoma City suburbs and the town Of Stroud on

the turnpike leading to the city. Another danger is posed to Oklahomans in the spring

by prairie fires whipped by dry March winds, a far cry from the sweet wind that “comes

right behind the rain” in the pages ofthe Rodgers and Hammerstein anthem.

The fear Of fire, whether Of natural origin or due to human agency, is a pervasive

theme Of Green Grow the Lilacs. On inquiry among the playwright’s surviving relatives,

I have encountered a recollection that Riggs, about eight years before the play’s

composition, had a Close brush with a fire Of unexplained cause at the home Of his

beloved aunt, Mary Riggs Thompson. After her second marriage, to John Brice, Aunt

Mary had given up the management Of a boardinghouse adjoining the St. James Hotel

in Claremore and moved to a farmhouse west ofthe town near the road to Collinsville.

About 1920, during the Christmas season, Lynn Riggs paid a visit to Aunt Mary; others

staying at the house were his first cousin Willie Thompson (the original Ado Annie),

his eight-year-old first cousin (once removed) Howard McNeill (whose mother, Laura,

inspired the character Of Laurey), and Howard’s three-year-old sister, Mary Jane. As

Mr. McNeill, now deceased, recalled in a 2002 telephone conversation with me, when

he was over ninety, “Uncle” Lynn left for the Claremore train station around midnight

on Christmas Eve. In the course Of the night a fire broke out. A wall ofthe farmhouse

collapsed in flames; the family’s dogs barked, alerting the household. Howard escaped

and was relieved to see his grandmother carry little Mary Jane to safety. To the day

Howard spoke with me, he could not account for the fire but noted that both Lynn and

Aunt Willie were smokers.

It is tempting to speculate whether the Claremore fire may have remained in Lynn

Riggs’s mind when he brought Green Grow the Lilacs to its climax with the attempted

torching ofthe Williams farm before the horrified eyes Of Laurey and Aunt Eller. There

is no doubt, however, that a violent family tragedy in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, dating from

1928, the year before Green Grow the Lilacs was written, haunted the dramatist during

the rest Of his life.

On Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928, Bessie Thompson was arrested in the fatal

shooting at two o’clock that morning Of her husband, Raymond, Riggs’s first cousin.

Raymond was “shot twice through the left side, one bullet going through his arm

also. He lived a few minutes after he was shot, but was unable to speak.” The

tragedy occurred at a rooming house called the Midway Rooms, where the Thornpson

couple resided; the establishment was operated by Ray’s sister, Dollie (Mrs. Arthur R.

Woods). Dollie told the police that Bessie “turned the gun on herself as she entered

[the Thompsons’] room, shooting twice through her left breast”; doctors found only

superficial flesh wounds. The arresting offcers found Bessie in a bloody night dress

standing over her husband. When a physician told her that he was dying, she bent

down to Ray for a last kiss. Her request to attend his funeral was denied, but she was

permitted to help relatives select a casket.

Raymond, age forty-two, was nine years younger than Bessie; they had no children.

He had been employed by the Frisco (St. Louis & San Francisco) Railroad until eye

trouble forced him to change jobs. At her trial the following month, Bessie testified,

in the support Of her defenses Of self-defense and temporary insanity, that she was

afraid that Ray, to whom she had been wed sixteen years before, would kill her. At a

party they attended on the evening before the shooting, Ray had danced with a young

woman, Bessie calmly told the jury with an occasional tear; he had then attempted

unsuccessfully to leave the party without his encumbering wife. After they reached

home, he cursed Bessie as a spoilsport, grabbed and bruised her, and locked her out Of

their bedroom. VVhen she broke the latch, he went for a .38 caliber revolver lying in

the tray Of a trunk, but she seized it first and fired twice. She then turned the gun on

herself. She had only a “hazy memory” Of What happened afterward.

On May 23, after a brief nocturnal deliberation, the jury acquitted Bessie

Thompson, setting her free only about a month and a half after the homicide. The

county court seemed to show great tenderness for criminal defendants that year. In

its issue Of May 24, 1928, the Sapulpa Herald set the Thompson acquittal in context:

“This case was the last one tried on the criminal term Of court which opened here May

  1. Only two convictions were returned during the term. In both cases, the charge was

Raymond Thompson’s sixteen-year-old nephew, Howard McNeiII, who had

witnessed the Claremore fire, was staying at his Aunt Dollie’s rooming house on the

fatal Easter morning. He had never seen a corpse before, and he never forgot the

horrifying image Of Raymond’s staring eyes. Unsurprisingly, McNeiII and his relatives

do not concur with the jury’s speedy verdict. According to McNei11, Ray’s sisters never

much cared for their sister-in-law Bessie, whom they regarded as “dornineering.” The

Thompsons believed that Bessie had shot her husband because he was planning to

leave her. Family loyalties became entangled in the aftermath ofthe shooting, because

Charley Warner, the husband Of Ray’s sister Lillie, was Bessie’s nephew. McNeill recalls

that arguments over the trial brought the Warners to the brink Of divorce.

From March 1953 until shortly before his death Of cancer in June 1954, Lynn Riggs

was working intensively on the adaptation Of the Sapulpa murder case in a novel

to be entitled “The Affair at Easter.” His plans for the book, Of which three Of five

projected parts were completed, signaled an intention to universalize the significance

ofhis family’s tragedy by sounding his often reiterated theme Of ever-present human

cruelties patterned on the harshness Of nature. The very first words Of the typescript,

as it has been left to us, starkly announce, “Loose in the world is a floating malice.” A

preliminary entry in his working notebook raises the possibility Of concluding each Of

the novel’s sections—”Easter Morning,” “Georgia’s My Home,” “Hide Me from Heaven,”

“Summer Solstice,” and “Truth to Tell”—with actual or impending violence. In the

epigraphs Of the novel’s sections, Riggs preannounces an analogy between human

brutality and nature’s rages by adopting successive phrases drawn from the only

surviving stanza Of an unfinished poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Strike, churl; hurl, cheerless Wind, then; heltering hail

May’s beauty massacre and wispéd wild clouds grow

Out on the giant air; tell Summer No,

Bid joy back, have at the harvest, keep Hope pale.

Structuring his novel (possibly as an “allegory” or “parable”) within this scheme Of

universal unease, Riggs at the same time followed his customary bent for identifying

his characters and settings with people and places he knew well. On March 14, 1953,

the first day Of entries in his working notebook, he addressed the need to “get the

names settled” and to “get the characters straight at once.” The principal figures in the

novel and their real-life equivalents included:

Della (Jonson) Hogan, proprietor Of Royal

Hotel, Siloam, first wife Of Wade Hogan

Marnen Glory Hogan, Della’s sister, second

wife Of Wade Hogan

Rod Jonson, husband and shooting victim

Of his wife, Beth; brother Of Della and

Marnen Glory

Beth Jonson

Wade Hogan

Caleb White, “stepfather” ofthe Jonson

siblings but perhaps bigamously married to

their mother, Emma, deceased

Margie May “Dollie” Thompson

(Mrs. Art Woods), operator Of

Midway Rooms, Sapulpa

Willie Roberta Thompson, married

to Art Woods about 1935 after the

death ofher sister Dollie; Willie

Thompson inspired Ado Annie in

Green Grow the Lilacs

Ray Thompson, shot by his wife,

Bessie, in Sapulpain 1928

Bessie Thompson

Art Woods

A man identified by Riggs only as

John B., probably John Brice, Mary

Riggs Thompson’s second husband;

like White, Brice was an itinerant


The author’s personal resemblances to certain Of the novel’s characters grew

more complex as his plotting developed. The second entry in his working notebook

suggested that Beth’s recital Of her version ofthe shooting might be made “to me—or

someone like me—-in the cell.” In the initial table ofcharacters, the role ofthe prisoner’s

confidant is Rod Jonson’s cousin, Professor Andrew Tabor. Andy’s identification with

Lynn Riggs is confirmed in the table Of the characters’ real-life correspondences where

Riggs’s name is abbreviated by the initials R.L (i.e., Rollie Lynn, the author’s first

names). The same initials also identify the playwright as the source for the professor’s

son, the college student Brad Tabor, who was to play a crucial role in the novel’s plot.


Fictional character

Riggs’s initial idea, which he compared to that Of the celebrated 1950 Japanese

film Rashomon, was to have different people telling the major story Of the “killing Of

Ray” but in doing so to “tell richly … character and a time.” To all appearances, he

was more successful in creating characters than in evoking the period Of the action:

although Riggs alternatively considered setting the novel’s principal events either in

1940, twelve years after the Sapulpa murder, or in the present, 1953, he did not create

a social ambience that is sumciently detailed to reflect convincingly the era Of World

War II or its aftermath.

In the three completed sections Of his novel, Riggs adhered to his plan Of utilizing

multiple points Of view, but the extensive use Of flashbacks sometimes weakens the

focus on varying interpretations Of the Easter shooting. As the story begins, Beth

Jonson, who has been convicted ofRod’s murder, writes to Andy Tabor complaining Of

the family’s false testimony, asking him to hear her side Of the story and asserting that

the shooting was accidental or, at worst, in self-defense. In a postscript Beth darkly

hints, “Besides—you’re more tied up in this thing than maybe you know. I wouldn’t

want to do anything about that, though. Nuff Sed.” The direction Of the implied threat

will eventually be made Plain, but the postscript immediately shows one Of the main

reasons that, even apart from the killing, the Jonson family detests Beth: she is an

inveterate snoop and eavesdropper who is often right about her in-laws’ conduct but

consistently misreads their motives. As the novel proceeds, Riggs reveals many crimes

and scandals within the Jonson family that richly merited Beth’s prying: Caleb White’s

possible guilt Of bigamy and murder; the operation Of a bootlegging and gambling

joint by Wade Hogan and his second wife, Marnen Glory; the irresponsible Marnen

Glory’s conception ofher daughter Inez with Wade while he was still married to Della;

Inez’s brutal deflowering by her parents’ poker dealer and her affair with Suggs Aker, a

married country ballad singer modeled on Gene Autry.

is given over mostly to a narrative, told mainly from Beth’s point Of view,

Of the events on Easter morning that culminate in the fatal shooting. The underlying

cause ofthe killing is the years-long marital discord between Rod and the chronically

unfaithful Beth. A bitter quarrel is sparked by Rod’s discovering in Room 2 Of the hotel

a green tie with polka dots that he had given to his Unde Walt, with whom Beth has

been having an affair; Beth spent the previous night with her lover, who had registered

at the Royal Hotel under a fictitious name. (In her reveries she refers to him only as

“Mr. Big and Beautiful.”) As the spouses’ angry words intensify, he caps the quarrel by

taunting her, “I don’t even care if you laid up with your own daddy—which I have no

doubt you did, from the age often on!” She hurls a heavy hairbrush at him; she calls his

deceased mother, Emma, not much better than a “very ordinary whore” for marrying

Caleb White while his first wife was still alive. Rod goes for a gun and is shot as Beth

struggles to wrest it away. As he flees down the rickety backstairs Of the hotel and she

stands on the platform above, the “gun she had been clutching all this time suddenly

exploded with a horrible sound right in her hand.” She passes out as her mortally

wounded husband falls into the bushes below.

At the beginning Of (“Georgia’s My Home”), which recounts the immediate

aftermath Of the killing, Della proves herself to be Beth’s deadliest antagonist. Ranting

that “hangin’s too good” for her, she presses Caleb White to give false testimony

against her sister-in-law. She reminds her stepfather that he is a fugitive from justice

because, as her mother had told her, he had slain his first spouse’s lover, Blaise Hyatt,

in North Carolina. In the long flashback that follows, it turns out that Caleb killed his

rival in self-defense, but Della has adeptly played on his fear Of prosecution and on his

irrational belief that stern justice for Beth’s crime will compensate for his own escape

from the law.

In Part Three Of “The Affair at Eastern (“Hide Me from Heaven”), Della plays another

trick to support her assertion that she had seen Beth fire the second bullet after taking

careful aim. In fact, Della had not observed the fatal shot. After Rod’s death, however,

she scraped away a patch Of the black paint that covered the surface Of a window in

her hotel room; only by means Of this covert alteration was the backstairs platform

rendered visible from Della’s room, where she had claimed to be at the time Of the


Only a little more than two pages Of projected Part Four (“Summer Solstice”) were

written, but they are sufficient to disclose the secret to which Beth alluded in her

letter to Andy Tabor that begins the book. The small fragment Of “Summer Solstice”

recalls, from Brad Tabor’s point Of view, the beginning Of his homosexual passion

for Jere Sayville, the young desk clerk Of the Royal Hotel whom Brad meets at Rod

Jonson’s funeral. Riggs’s working notebook indicates that Jere is in the clutches Of a

wealthy and possibly corrupt married couple, the Carters, but that he is trying to put

his life in order. The theme Of homosexuality, previously signaled in Riggs’s notes,

took on increasing autobiographical significance as drafts Of the novel progressed.

In a handwritten reminder on a leaf Of his personalized memorandum paper, Riggs

elaborated his personal identification with certain Of the characters. Moi (me), he

wrote, boldly underlined, at the head Of the sheet and then listed

Rod (in the branch) [a stream on Uncle Walt’s farm that figures in a happy

childhood scene recalled by Rod Jonson in a dream before he wakes to be killedl

Brad & Jere (interchangeably)

Caleb (as young, as Old)


Riggs’s recognition Of two homosexual lovers as his “interchangeable” alter egos is

remarkable given the reticence he showed about his personal life. According to Riggs’s

plans, Andy Tabor was to learn ofhis son’s sexual attachment and to respond with love

and understanding.

The concluding Part Five (“Truth to Tell”) remains largely a matter for speculation.

Riggs’s notes indicate that the section would focus on the interviews Andy Tabor

conducted with the Jonson family in an effort to determine the facts Of the Easter

killing, an investigation that would result in his having greater knowledge Of the case

than any ofthe witnesses. In the final scene he would visit Beth in prison and, despite

his doubts about the fairness Of the trial, would decide to keep silent, after agonizing

over the possibility that this course had been influenced by a desire to protect his son

and himself. This finale, apparently elaborated from an earlier version Of the prison

scene intended to be included in part One, was explained by Riggs in handwritten

notes: “Even if they [the witnesses] felt like exerting themselves for Beth, What could

they establish? It could only come to their opinion, their guess actually against the

firm Gibraltar Of Della’s statement Of What she had seen.” Andy’s last words, as Riggs

left them to us, also favor inaction: “… let him be silent. ‘God is often so,’ he assured

himself. If in his own experience, it had fallen to him to watch himself acting in such

an exalted capacity, he believed quite genuinely, at last it was not for himself only.

It was for them, all those who had been involved. Surely he owed them that much

comprehension, that much, in an abstract way, love. Even himself.”


The Tulsa Race Riot Of 1921

Lynn Riggs’s horneland has been bloodied by tribal and racial conflict in the last

two centuries. His native town is situated six miles southeast Of a twenty-five-acre

mound settled by Osage Indians in 1802 at the encouragement Of Major Jean-Pierre

Chouteau, founder Of St. Louis and Kansas City. The mound was named by the French

“fair mountain,” or “Clermont” (later misspelled “Claremore”). After the Cherokees,

displaced from the east, were given title to lands including Claremore Mound, they

attempted for years to drive the Osages away, and they succeeded only too well-

“Claremore’s Historical Summary” recalls the destruction Of the Osage community

in the so-called Claremore Mound Massacre: “In October 1817, a well-armed band Of

Cherokee and Delaware Indians attacked the Clermont village. The Osage warriors

were away on a hunting trip. The village was filled with women, children and Old men.

During the attack, many Of the Osage Indians got as far as the river, but drowned in an

attempt to escape. The others were killed and some taken as prisoners. Chief Clermont

[the Osage leader] was killed and buried on the mound.”

Antagonisms between whites and blacks Of Oklahoma have also erupted with

tragic results. Arrell Morgan Gibson, in his history ofthe State, has noted that “a Negro-

white outbreak … occurred in Guthrie during territorial days.” This early conflict

has been eclipsed by the Tulsa Race Riot Of 1921, whose horrors have only been

fully recognized in recent years. The violent confrontation Of Tulsa’s black and white

communities, one Of the deadliest racial clashes in American history, was sparked by a

minor incident. On May 30, 1921, an African American shoeshine boy, Dick Rowland,

had, probably by accident, fallen against a white female acquaintance, seventeen-year-

Old Sarah Page, who was operating an elevator in downtown Tulsa’s Drexel Building.

After Sarah claimed that she had been assaulted, Rowland was jailed, and the headline

Of the Tulsa Tribune predicted that a mob would “lynch Negro tonight.” Shooting

broke out between white and black mobs around the courthouse where Rowland was

detained in a well-guarded cell and spread through the downtown area. Early on

the following morning, a white army invaded the black Greenwood neighborhood,

whose prosperous business district was known as “the Negro Wall Street.” Supported

by strafing civil aircraft, the invaders put Greenwood to the torch and murdered and

looted as they advanced. It is estimated that up to 300 Tulsans lost their lives on both

sides Of the racial divide, and thirty-four square blocks Of Greenwood were reduced

to rubble. This shameful massacre fell out Of the consciousness Of most Oklahomans

until the 1971 publication Of a fearless exposé by reporter Ed Wheeler. In February

2001 the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riots Of 1921 delivered its

report recommending that reparations be paid to survivors and their descendants.

Four months later, Governor Frank Keating signed into law the Tulsa Race Riot

Reconciliation Act establishing a memorial and providing scholarships favoring

descendants Of 1921 Greenwood residents.

Although Lynn Riggs did not explicitly address the Tulsa race riot in his literary

works, it is a fair assurnption that he had a deep aversion to the persecution Of

minorities. Riggs’s nephew, Leo Cundiff, now deceased, believed that, because Of

his Cherokee origin, his uncle sympathized with minority groups, including African

Americans. His plays often present with disapproval the mistreatment accorded

disfavored minorities, including a German American groundlessly suspected Of

sabotage during World War II; a Portuguese woman who fears her testimony would

not be believed; Mayans despised by descendants Of conquistadores in Mexico; a

Mexican hazed in an American military school; and a Syrian peddler who an

Oklahoman widow fears might beat her daughter daily if he married her.

Two Of Riggs’s portrayals Of racist hatred directed against blacks appear to conjure

ghosts Of the Tulsa riot. The cast Of characters in Hang on to Love includes Jasper, who,

like Dick Rowland, is an African American bootblack. A gambler and small-town bully,

Charley Troglin, “didn’t seem to like the way Jasper shined his shoes” and “knocked

him clean through the window.” When Troglin saunters into the domino parlor, where

Dr. Beeman is treating Jasper’s injuries, he asks the proprietor Jude Summers what

is going on. Jude responds coolly, “Doc Beeman is fixing up a negro somebody forgot

was human.” The brutal Troglin can think Of only one possible explanation for such

colorblind sympathy•. “From the north, ain’t you?” Later in the first act, Jude calls on

a memory “deep inside himself”: “You’ve never seen a man hanged, have you? You’ve

never seen him jerking against the wall away up there, and kicking, have you? And they

let him down and put him in a basket and take him away.” Thomas Erhard has argued

that this passage “reflects Riggs’s horror at the old-time lynchings”; this was a fate that

Dick Rowland was spared only because ofthe vigilance Of Sheriff William McCullough,

one Of the few heroes among the Tulsa authorities.

Riggs revisits the theme Of African Americans’ marginalization in one ofhis major

plays, The Cherokee Night (1930). In Scene 4, set in 1906 in the woods near Claremore,

three boys Of mixed Cherokee and Anglo blood come upon the traces Of a murder

among four card-playing black men. Art, one Of the youths, speaks contemptuously Of

blacks and Of an earlier occasion when they were expelled from Claremore: “Niggers is

funny. They got a funny way. When the niggers was run out Of Claremore, Pap said a

funny thing. When a nigger would git shot, he wouldn’t know it. He’d keep on runnin’.”

In precisely such a self-congratulatory spirit, Greenwood’s invaders bragged Of their

exploits after the infamous burning Of 1921. Leo Cundiff remembered that years after

the riot an “Old boy” came into the Tulsa-area bank where Leo served as a teller and

boasted that he had machine-gunned black people along the railroad track, driving

them toward Muskogee.

In his earliest attempt at writing full-length drama, Big Lake, written in 1925 and

produced by the American Laboratory Theatre two years later with a cast including

Stella Adler as Elly, Lynn Riggs established What were to become recurrent features Of

his stage works: insistence on setting the staged events with great precision in time

and community as well as strong interest in presenting violent or lawless conduct.

The play is set at the Big Lake, near Verdigree (Verdigris) Switch, Indian Territory,

in 1906. Big Lake, located about thirteen miles southwest Of Claremore, is a natural

body Of water over which Cherokees and Osages quarreled. The Department Of the

Interior resolved the dispute by declaring the area government property and in the

1920s put the Big Lake district up for sale, after which it was privately developed

as a gated community. The Binghams, who are mentioned in the course Of the play,

were actual property owners on Big Lake. The activity Of bootleggers that is central

in the play’s plot is also well-founded. Prohibition Of intoxicants was required in the

Indian Territory and Osage Nation for a period Of twenty-one years by the Enabling

Act authorizing Oklahoma statehood and was extended to the entire state in response

to lobbying by dry groups; bootlegging had already been rampant in the nineteenth


The tragedy Of Big Lake centers on a pair Of “very young” schoolmates, Betty and

Lloyd, who have fallen in love. They both feel oppressed by their home environments

and aspire to escape to freedom. In the symbolic structure Of the work, the young

couple’s sense Of captivity and danger is embodied in the woods, and their hopes of liberation are represented by the lake. Their dreams end bitterly when they learn that

there is no refuge for them and that the lake is the shining face of death.

(“The Woods”) shows Betty and Lloyd in the woods bordering Big I ake.

Hoping to admire the dawn together, they have arrived ahead oftheir classmates, who

are to be led there by their teacher, Miss Meredith, for a school outing. Both of them,

as if a modern Hansel and Gretel, are afraid of the woods, which Betty calls dark and

“waitin’.” Lloyd persuades her to go out on the lake with him if they can borrow a boat

from a cabin nearby.

The scene shifts to the interior of the cabin. The bootlegger Butch Adams enters

quickly and tells his companion Elly that he is being followed by the sheriff Elly, who

assumes that it is moonshining that has got him in trouble, becomes the first of Riggs’s

characters to praise lawlessness as a creed of freedom from societal oppression: “You

ain’t done nuthin’ wrong. It’s jist a law. W’at the hell’s a law? W’at’s it good fer? Why’n’t

it agin the law everwhur else to sell whiskey? Them men whur they have their corner

saloons all polished up—a-makin’ it criminal to sell a man a drink—w’at’s right about

it?… Oh, yes! I know. Pertectin’ the Indians! They don’t want the Indians to git all lit up

like they do all the time—ever day, ever night, regular…. Hell! Indians! I ain’t saw two

Indians since I come to Indian Territory.”

Butch’s problem, though, is much more serious. He is being hunted as the killer of

Jim Dory, who had told federal offcers at Tulsa about Butch’s whiskey dealings. Butch

knew that the informer was planning to go to a party at the Binghams and stabbed

him to death after ambushing him in the big woods close to a sawmill. Dory did not die

immediately, and Butch feared that he would identify him as the assailant. He tried to

“finish the job,” but someone carried the mortally wounded Dory into a store.

When Lloyd and Betty arrive at the cabin, Butch agrees to lend them his boat. Elly’s

thoughts are in conflict. She has begun to ponder the feasibility of blaming Butcl#

crime on Lloyd but is torn by the boy’s resemblance to her demented brother who

drowned in the Big Lake the month before. After their unexpected guests leave, Elly

repents her initial thought of inculpating them for Dory’s murder, but Butch takes up

the idea in earnest. When the sheriff and his deputies arrive, Butch takes a cue from

Elly’s family tragedy, he tells the lawmen that the killer is his crazy brother who “runs

wild here in the woods.”

In Scene I of part Two (“The Lake”), the school picnic is in full swing. The

censorious schoolmarm criticizes the girls for letting their dancing partners swing

them by the waist instead of by the arms and questions Lloyd and Betty closely about

their early arrival. Betty and Lloyd row out onto the lake to escape her scolding.

In the concluding Scene 2 the sheriff, mistaking Lloyd for Butch’s fictitious wild

brother, shoots him dead from the shore, and Betty drowns herself. Butch, in a sudden

change of heart, admits his guilt, Miss Meredith is reduced to tears over the loss of her

“poor little ones,” and Elly slowly intones a determinist lament: “It’s always the way.

people will go on the lake. Young people. Cain’t keep ‘em off ‘N’ they’s alwys accidents.

Sometimes it’s the lake, sometimes it’s the woods—boats leak, guns go off, people air

keerless, they’s wild animals—sump’n happens, sump’n alwys happens. It cain’t be


The murder in Big Lake and the two tragic deaths that follow in the play’s last

scene do not appear to be based on actual incidents, but the circumstances of Butch’s

crime are true to experience in the Indian Territory toward the end of the nineteenth

century. A pertinent example is the triple 1897 murder near Rose, Oklahoma, about

fifty miles east of Tulsa. Known as the Saline Courthouse Massacre, this case has

many of the ingredients of Riggs’s plot: bootlegging activity in the area, murder from

ambush, the killing of a would-be informer, and the possibility that the first of the

three crimes was staged in a way that would cast suspicion on an innocent man.

professional criminals also appear in Riggs’s 1928 drama The Domino Parlor (which

was later revised as Hang on to Love). In 1928 a man who calls himself Jude Summers

has for three years been running the Mission Club, a domino parlor in Blackmore, a

blending of the names of two Oklahoma towns, Blackwell and Claremore. In 1916,

under the name Jack Carpenter, Jude was involved in a bank robbery in Wilmington,

Delaware, in which a cashier was killed. Jude seems to have chosen the perfect hideout,

because Blackmore’s chief of police, Braden, who winks at the whiskey that the Mission

Club illegally mixes with its soft drinks, openly admits that car stealing is more in his

law enforcement line than murder.

Jude’s past, however, returns to Blackmore in the person of Toni Devereaux, who

is the star of a wretched musical revue (“tab show”) featuring the “Dizzy Red Hots,

Mostly Girls,” performing at the Lyric Theatre. Toni inadvertently reveals

identity to Charley Troglin, a brutal gambler who has served a term in the penitentiary

for murder. When Troglin arranges to inform Chief Braden of his discovery, Toni

shoots the gambler in an alley.

In A Lantern to See By, an eruption of violence is closely related to what novelist

Henry Roth defined as the central theme of Riggs’s plays, “the conflict between the

impulses of the individual and the constricting forces about him, whether they be the

demands of other individuals or the organized demands of society.” In the play, set in

a farmhouse near Blackmore, John Harmon, a brutal drunkard, tyrannizes his six sons,

reserving the most vicious abuse for ninteen-year-old Jodie, whom he attacked with

an iron pinch bar offstage in the first scene. John drives his wife, Thursey, to an early

death from overwork as well as from the frequent childbirths that he publicly vaunts

as evidence of his potency. Young Annie Marble is hired to take over the domestic

chores. Jodie falls in love with her. He is shocked to learn, however, that his father has

misappropriated wages due him from a job away from the farm as a tearnster and that

during his absence from home Annie has become his father’s mistress. Jodie vents his

accumulated grievances against his father at a confrontation in the farm smokehouse

and kills him with the pinch bar that John has thrown at him. Annie is furious with

Jodie for cutting off the payments she feels sure that the old man, had he lived, would

have made for her sexual favors; she was counting on the cash to finance her joining

“Ruby Dawson an’ some other girls” in “a house—fer men to come to.”

Murder is prominent among the social ills of Oklahoma’s Cherokees as depicted

in The Cherokee Night. The episodes of the work move backward and forward in

time, the earliest date being 1895 (Scene 7) and the latest 1931 (Scene 3). Each

scene is dominated by the profile of Claremore Mound. The ambiguity of that event

in Oklahoma historiography, which alternatively describes it as a “battle” or, more

realistically, as “a massacre,” is reflected in Scene I (“Sixty-seven Arrowheads”), set

at the mound in 1915. Three young couples, all part Cherokee, encounter an old

man, Talbert, who is digging for arrowheads on the mound as an offering to “all

the Cherokees,” who he believes have lost their birthright since their victory on the

mound and have passed into night because, as a warrior apparition has taught him,

they have “sunk already to the white man’s way.” The young people do not all share

the old man’s fervor, and a schoolteacher, Viney Jones, remembers the Osage sorrow as

well as the Cherokees’ past glory: “The killing was godawful. And only one woman of

the Osage camp got away. Clumb down yand’ side of the Mound, swum the river and

was never heard of again.” Many of the remaining scenes show that white hostility,

and the assimilating Indians’ self-hatred, have incited new instances of violence and

hostility among the Cherokees. A prostitute, Bee Newcomb, is planted in jail to induce

mixed-blood Art Osburn’s confession to killing his wife, an older Indian woman, Clara

Leahy, with a “leathery old face, them eyes all bloodshot, her stringy hair” (Scene 2); a

group of part-Cherokee youths show little sympathy when they discover evidence of a

murder among blacks (Scene 4); and Gar Breeden, a young man disillusioned with the

Cherokee community, faces torture and death at the hands of a Bible-thumping cult

(Scene 5). In Scene 7 , set in 1895, a peaceful full-blood Cherokee, Gray-Wolf, witnesses

a posse’s murder of a half-white outlaw, Edgar Breeden (Gar Breeden’s father), who

was, says Gray-Wolf, “not enough Indian” to forgo a life of crime. Lawman Tinsley

crows to Gray-Wolf, “Tell ever’body what it means to oppose the law. You Indians must

think you own things out here. This is God’s country out here—and God’s a white man.

Don’t forget that.”

Two plays by Lynn Riggs, both thematically related to Green Grow the Lilacs,

treat crime and rebelliousness in a comic spirit. In the one-act Knives from Syria,

produced by the Santa Fe Players in 1925, a Syrian peddler is able to run off with a

farm girl, Rhodie, because the hired man, Charley, who woos her with her widowed

mother’s blessing, believes that he is pursued by killers. Actually, Charley is the victim

of a prank. Roadside from an original one-act version, Reckless—

features a high-spirited cowboy yarn spinner named Texas (played by Ralph Bellamy

in the 1930 New York run) who, when arraigned for intoxication, kicked the judge off

the bench, made a hash of the courthouse, and breaks out of jail. Unlike Curly, who

is domesticated by Laurey at the end of Green Grow the Lilacs, Texas chooses a life on

the move with the spunky teenager who has won his heart, Hannie. In a program for

the 1941 production at Baylor University, Riggs described Roadside as “a comedy about

the impossible dream man has always had: complete freedom, the right to be lawless,

uncircumspect, gusty and hearty, anarchic, fun loving, chicken stealing if necessary

(for where there is no ordinary morality, there is of course no crime).”


The Quest for “Pore Jud”

Lynn Riggs completed Green Grow the Lilacs in 1929 during a stay in France financed

by a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. The play is set near Claremore in 1900,

seven years before Oklahoma’s admission to the Union. Riggs included nineteenth-

century songs and ballads in the work, intending “solely to recapture in a kind of

nostalgic glow (but in dramatic dialogue more than in song) the great range of mood

which characterized the old folk songs and ballads I used to hear in my Oklahoma

childhood—their quaintness, their sadness, their robustness, their simplicity, their

hearty or bawdy humors, their sentimentalities, their melodrama, their touching


On November 27, 1947, Riggs answered an inquiry of Marion Starr Mumford of

Claremore about the biographical origins of his characters in Green Grow the Lilacs.

He responded: “Aunt Eller is based on my wonderful Aunt John Brice)—

and some of the things I vaguely knew about my mother—who died when I was two

—(Her name, too, was Ella. “Eller,” as people called her)…. Laurey was my cousin

Laura Thompson, who died some time ago. She was glowing and lovely—and made

a deep and tender and lasting impression on me. Curly was a cowboy who used to

work for my aunt.” The letter is silent about the real-life basis of the play’s villain,

Jeeter Fry, but Riggs’s relatives and friends have identified him as a farmhand named

Jetar (sometimes misspelled Jeeter) Davis. Only occasionally is Davis remembered as

sharing any of Jeeter Fry’s repellent traits. Biographer Phyllis Cole Braunlich writes

that “Jeeter, in fact, was known as one of the meanest boys in town.” An article in the

Rogers County Historical Society Newsletter of March/May 1999 asserts that Jeeter Fry

was in reality “a man named Jeeter Davis who pulled a knife on a family member.”

In 1998 Howard McNeill gave the Chanute (Kansas) Tribune’s managing editor Stu

Butcher a far less disturbing version of Davis’s character. “His name was Jeeter Davis

and I remember him just like it was yesterday. He was a farmhand, but one of these

guys who would get drunk on Saturday and thought he was a whiz with the women

and… he was just a dirty old boy.” By far the greatest repository of knowledge of Jetar

Davis (including the correct spelling of his first name) lay in the prodigious memory

of Lynn Riggs’s nephew, Leo Cundiff, who responded by email on April I, 2002, to my

inquiry about Davis. “All that I have heard about [Jetarl Davis was that he was sort of

the town drunk,” Cundiff wrote. “Several of the townspeople would make fun of him

and play jokes on him. I am told that he was not a threat to anyone except himself. He

used to carry mortar for a brick mason and when a carnival would come to town, he

would oblige one of their performers by wrestling with him. I am told he was pretty


Cundiff was able to supply other biographical details about Jetar Davis that may be

crucial to understanding Davis’s transformation into Riggs’s Jeeter Fry and later into

Jud Fry (“Pore Jud”) in Oklahoma! Jetar was a close contemporary of Lynn Riggs; he was

born in Claremore on August 9, 1899 (a few weeks before Riggs), and died in 1958.

Moreover, like Riggs, Jetar had Cherokee blood.

In Scene 1 of Green Grow the Lilacs, Curly McClain refers to Jeeter Fry, the

hired hand on Laurey Williams’s farm, as “that bullet-colored growly man ‘th the

bushy eyebrows,” and the introductory stage directions of Scene 3, set in the farm’s

smokehouse, describe Jeeter as having “a curious earth-colored face and hairy hands.”

Without the benefit of Leo Cundiffs biographical revelations, Roger Aikin intuitively

reaches a sound conclusion that knowledge of the real-life Jetar Davis fortifies: Jeeter

Fry is the cowboy hero Curly’s “dark side.” From this promising beginning of his

argument, however, Aikin proceeds to a dubious conclusion, that Fry can be best

understood as the son ofparents who “came from the wrong part of Europe, perhaps in

that great immigrant wave after 1880.” It is more plausible that the character of Jeeter

Fry, and his dark color, reflect the Cherokee in Lynn Riggs and the dramatist’s painful

sense of the devaluation of Cherokees in American life.

In Green Grow the Lilacs, Jeeter Fry’s low self-esteem accounts for much of his

unlovely conduct that makes his young employer, Laurey Williams, afraid of him,

although he is essential to the operation of her farm. In Scene 2 Laurey tells Aunt Eller

that she hooks her door at night and fastens her windows because she hears the sound

of feet walking around the corner ofthe house and in the front room and wakes to hear

boards creaking. Fry holes up in the smokehouse, feeding his sexual fantasies on pink

covers from the Police Gazette and pornographic postcards that he buys from a peddler.

Laurey feels constrained to accept his invitation to an evening of square dances, songs,

and games (“play-party”), but when he makes unwanted advances to her outside their

host’s house, she fires him. He accuses her of regarding herself as “so goddamned

much better” and threatens revenge.

Fry’s menaces terrify Laurey because she is obsessed with the dangers of fire and

arson. In Scene 2, when she had confided her fears of Jeeter to her aunt, she told Eller

that as a child she had seen a farmhouse ablaze as she rode in a covered wagon with her

parents on her way to Claremore. The farmer’s wife sat at the roadside and lamented,

“Now my home’s burnt up. ‘F I’d jist a-give him a piece of cold pork or sump’n. If I’d

jist a-fed him!” The young Laurey had understood the woman to blame a resentful

itinerant for setting the fire, and this traumatic memory led her to worry persistently

about the risk that Jeeter would torch the Williams farm. This concern was stirred to

panic by Jeeter’s angry words after his discharge.

The violent resolution ofthe play’s amorous triangle in Scene 5 demonstrates that,

despite the effort of Aunt Eller to calm her fears, Laurey was right to be nervous. After

her wedding to Curly, Jeeter Fry attempts to torch the haystack that the newlyweds are

forced to mount by their boisterous neighbors. The couple is saved, and Fry is killed

during a with Curly when he falls on his own knife.

Jeeter Fry’s murderous designs against Laurey and her cowboy had been far from

unprecedented. When in Scene 3 Curly McClain pays a visit to Fry in his smokehouse

lair, he learns more about the farmhand than even Laurey suspects in her recurrent

premonitions: he is a serial murderer. Riggs’s study of Jeeter’s large-scale homicidal

mania is eerily predictive of a phenomenon of which most Americans were only

dimly aware before 1966, when Charles Whitman’s sniper shots from a tower on the

campus of the University of Texas killed fifteen and wounded thirty random victims.

Curly shows considerable detective-like skill in worming a veiled confession from the

reclusive, fantasy-ridden Jeeter, who resents employers and others he believes regard

themselves as his “betters.” His tongue loosened by Curly’s singing of the hanging

ballad of Sam Hall, Jeeter (who shares the compulsion of many serial killers to avow or

describe their crimes) narrates two separate outrages that he attributes to unnamed


A farm girl’s suitor came upon her in the barn loft with another man. One

morning her father found his daughter in a horse trough, “in her nightgown,

layin’ there in the water all covered with blood, dead.” The killer probably

threw her in the trough because “he couldn’t stand havin’ blood on him.”

A married farmer was carrying on a passionate affair with a girl. When she

told him that she was pregnant, he bound her hands and feet, threw her on

top of a haystack and set fire to it. “He didn’t keer about her goin’ to have the

baby, that wasn’t it. He jist didn’t know how he was goin’ to live ‘thout havin’

her all the time while she was carryin’ it. So he killed her.”

Even these two killings do not necessarily exhaust Fry’s catalog of horror. He also

tells Curly of previous employers near Quapaw, and before that near Tulsa, who were

“bastards to work fer, both of ‘em, . .. alwys makin’ out they were better.” Curly,

alerted by Jeeter’s murder narratives, asks whether he had got even, but the hired man

abruptly breaks off his disclosures. It is too late for silence, though. Curly has already

heard enough for his cowboy heart to despise the hired hand as a “festering” loner

hiding from the sunlight: “In this country, they’s two things you c’n do if you’re a man.

Live out of doors is one. Live in a hole is the other. I’ve set by my horse in the bresh

some’eres and heared a rattlesnake many a time. Rattle, rattle, rattle!—he’d go, skeered

to death. Skeered and dangerous! Somebody comin’ close to his hole! Somebody gonna

step on him! Git his old fangs ready, full of pizen!”

In the smokehouse scene in Oklahoma! (Act One, Scene 2), Oscar Hammerstein

conflated the two murders that Jeeter Fry indirectly acknowledges in Riggs’s play. In

Hammerstein’s version, Jud Fry tells of a hired hand who, after finding his sweetheart

on the Bartlett farm in the hayloft with a rival, bought a supply of kerosene over a

period of weeks and burned down the farmhouse, killing the girl and both her parents.

When he is left alone at the scene’s end, Jud, who had earlier joined in Curly’s comic

threnody “Pore Jud is Daid,” delivers a solo of a darker hue, “Lonely Room.” This

monologue of revenge and sexual longing (generally underappreciated before Shuler

Hensley’s strong performance in the Trevor Nunn revival) begins by invoking Jud’s


The floor creaks,

The door squeaks,

There’s a fieldmouse a-nibblin’ on a broom,

And I set by myself

Like a cobweb on a shelf,

By myself in a lonely room.

Kindle Cloud Reader

In the song’s middle section, Jud’s erotic musing about the “soft arms” and “long, yeller

hair” of his dream girl follows his burst of anger against Curly: “And I’m better’n that

Smart Alec cowhand / Who thinks he is better’n me!” The chilling finale of the song

vows that Jud will translate his lustful fantasies into action: “I ain’t gonna dream ‘bout

her arms no more! / I ain’t gonna leave her alone!”

When Lynn Riggs attended a rehearsal of Oklahoma! for the first time, Oscar

Hammerstein asked whether he approved of”Lonely Room.” The playwright replied, “I

certainly do. It will scare hell out of the audience.” Hammerstein was pleased: “That is

exactly what it was designed to do.”

Hammerstein invented another plot element that lends further emphasis to Jud

Fry’s homicidal fixation on Curly. a cylindrical peephole toy, called “the Little Wonder,”

that is secretly fitted with a spring-blade knife. Only Aunt Eller’s timely intervention

prevents Jud from attacking Curly with the insidious weapon at the box social.

Jeeter Fry is not the only source of violence in Green Grow the Lilacs. Communal

disorder is institutionalized through the use of the “shivaree,” a noisy mock-serenade

or sometimes more aggressive hazing of newlyweds that leaves its modern traces in

the tin cans tied to the rear bumper of the bridal couple’s honeymoon car. It was

the shivaree that encouraged Jeeter to imitate his earlier murder of the pregnant

girl: the mob of neighbors taunting the newlyweds forced them onto the haystack

that Jeeter tried to set afire. When Jeeter is killed during his fight with Curly after

the fire is extinguished, the neighbors urge Curly to give himself up to authorities,

even though Jeeter had accidentally fallen on his own knife. Aunt Eller tells Laurey

(in Scene 6) that the male community has surrendered Curly not to uphold the law

but to preserve the disreputable custom of shivareeing, which had facilitated Fry’s

assault: “But you know the way everbody feels about shivoreein’. They got a right

to it somehow. And a thing like this a-happenin’ in the middle of a shivoree—why,

it looks bad, that’s all.” As the curtain falls on Green Grow the Lilacs, there is every

expectation that shivarees will continue and that Curly will be freed after facing trial.

Oklahoma!’s finale speeds Curly’s liberation by convening a kangaroo court to acquit

him on the spot. Some theatergoers deride this happy finale as make-believe, but the

lightninglike deliverance of Bessie Thompson by her Sapulpa jury should remind us

not to underrate the nimbleness of early-twentieth-century Oklahoma justice.

Aunt Eller’s Sermon

When Laurey, in the final scene of Green Grow the Lilacs, despairs over the jailing of

Curly, Aunt Eller preaches a sermon of survival, saying, “Oh, lots of things happens to

a womern. Sickness, bein’ pore and hungry even, bein’ left alone in yer old age, bein’

afraid to die—it all adds up. That’s the way life is—cradle to grave. And you c’n stand it.

They’s one way. You got to be hearty. You got to be.” Aunt Eller’s creed of “heartiness”

is not founded on an optimism born of innocence, for she too has experienced the

Oklahoma violence that infuses Lynn Riggs’s memories and writings. Eller is not a

spinster, as many of her comic portrayals in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical

may have led audiences to believe, but a widow whose husband, Jack Murphy, was

murdered. Jack had “bought some hogs off Lem Slocum, and they turned out to be full

of cholery—and all died.” Jack walked across the pasture to complain to his seller, and

then night fell. When Eller went searching for him, she found his body near a worm

fence, all huddled down in a there all doubled up—dead—in a patch of

yeller daisies. Len Slocum musta shot him. I didn’t know who done it. All I knowed

was—my husband was dead.” To Eller, the identity of the murderer and the rights and

wrongs of the quarrel that took her husband from her were secondary concerns that

lost themselves in life’s fragility and the immutable fact of loss. With her homely

eloquence she beautifully expresses the lesson of Lynn Riggs’s plays.

Bibliographical Notes

The plays of Lynn Riggs cited in this article are: Big Lake (New York: Samuel French, 1927), 15,

81; The Cherokee Night, in Russet Mantle and The Cherokee Night (New York: Samuel French,

1936), 139, 197, 260; Cream in the Well, in Four Plays (New York: Samuel French, 1947); Dark

Encounter, in Four Plays; Green Grow the Lilacs (New York: Samuel French, 1931), vii, 19, 69—71,

75, 91, 143, 145—46; Hang on to Love (New York: Samuel French, 1948 [a revision of The Domino

Parlor)), 21—23, 28, 131; Knives from Syria, in One-Act Plays for Stage and Study, 3rd ser. (New

York’. Samuel French, 1927); A Lantern to See By, in Sump’n Like Wings and A Lantern to See By

(New York: Samuel French, 1928); Roadside (New York: Samuel French, 1930); Russet Mantle, in

Russet Mantle and The Cherokee Night; A World Elsewhere, in Four Plays; The Year of Pilår, in Four


The successive drafts of Riggs’s unfinished novel “The Affair at Easter” in its unfinished state

and a related working notebook and other papers are deposited in the Lynn Riggs Papers (YCAL

MSS 61, box 9, folder 173 to box 10, folder 184) at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript

Library, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.

My account ofthe Sapulpa, Oklahoma, murder case, on which Riggs’s novel is partially based,

draws on the reports in the Sapulpa Herald, which were furnished to me by the courteous staff of

the Sapulpa Historical Society.

The principal biography of Lynn Riggs is Phyllis Cole Braunlich’s Haunted by Home: The Life

and Letters of Lynn Riggs (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 21—24, 64—65, 170—71.

I am also indebted to Mrs. Braunlich for insights she generously provided in our telephone

conversations. I also consulted Charles Edward Aughtry, “Lynn Riggs, Dramatist: A Critical

Biography” (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 1959), 143.

Oscar Harnmerstein’s praise Of Green Grows the Lilacs appeared in his letter to the “Drama

Mailbag” oftheNew York Times, Sept. 5, 1943.

Lynn Riggs’s sense of “hidden excitement” in Oklahoma is quoted from his “When People Say

‘Folk Drama,m The Carolina Play-Book 4 (June 1931).

U.S. Marshal Evett Dumas Nix’s comment on the Doolin gang is quoted in his Oklahombres, as

told to Gordon Hines (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1929), 56.

Ronald Trekel’s observation that the Doolins “never plundered or killed in Tulsa” is found

in Ronald L Trekel, History of the Tulsa Police Department (Topeka, Kans.: Jostens Corporation,

1989), 19.

Rufus Buck’s spree is detailed in Carl Sifakis, The Encyclopedia of American Crime (New York:

FactsonFi1e, 1982), 217-18.

The quote from the unfinished Gerard Manley Hopkins poem in Riggs’s draft of “The Affair at

Easter” is found in W. H. Gardner and N. H. Mackenzie, eds., The Poems of Gerald Manley Hopkins,

4th ed. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), 193.

The Claremore massacre is described in “Claremore’s Historical Summary,” http;u

(accessed March 29, 2002; site now


The Guthrie “racial outbreak” is noted in Arrell Morgan Gibson, Oklahoma: A History of Five

Centuries, 2nd ed. (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1981), 213.

Professor Thomas Erhard’s argument that Hang on to Love reflects Riggs’s horror of lynchings

is in Erhard’s Lynn Riggs, Southwest Playwright (Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1970), 37.

Henry Roth’s definition Of Riggs’s therne as a conflict Of individual impulses and constricting

social forces found in Henry Roth, “Lynn Riggs and the Individual” [19301, in Shifting

Landscapes: A Composite, 1925—1987, ed. Mario Materassi (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication

Society, 1987), 13.

Professor Roger C. Aikin identifies Jud Fry as Jewish in his article “Property, Race, and

Gender in “Oklahoma!”

(accessed Feb. 5, 2002; site now discontinued).

Oscar Hammerstein’s intention to frighten audiences with the song “Lonely Room” is quoted

in Max Wilk, 0K! The Story ofOklahoma! (New York: Grove Press, 1993), 83—84.

In telephone conversations I was fortunate in obtaining recollections of Riggs’s first cousin

(once removed), Howard McNeill, on a fire that may have inspired a similar near-catastrophe

at the end of those works. His daughter, Melinda Mc-Nei11, has enlightened me on details of

the Riggs-Thompson genealogy. Leo Cundiff, nephew of Lynn Riggs and long the keeper of his

uncles memory, was very instructive to me about his family and its Oklahoma roots. He was

able to tell me much about Jetar Davis, the part-Cherokee hod carrier, amateur wrestler, and

“sort of the town drunk” who was immortalized as Jud Fry in Oklahoma!


The Abduction from the Seraglio, 24, 28

Abert, Hermann, 2’

Académie de musique, Perrin and Cambert’s, 5

Actors, Authors, and Audiences (Gilbert), 13 7

Adah,wifeofLamech, 107—9 111 123

Adam and Eve, and Cain’s exile, 122

Adams, Butch (in Big Lake), | 56—57

Adler, Guido, 28—29

Adler, Stella, 155

Adultery, in Gesualdo murder, 52, 58—59

“The Affair at Easter” (Riggs), 148—53

Aikin, Roger, 161

Albana, Silvia, 53=5.4

Alberti, Ignaz, 32

Albrechtsberger, Johann Georg,

Alessandro Stradella (Flotow opera),

Alessandro Stradella 1639—1682 (Gianturco), 65=66, 72

Alfonso, Duke (of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio), 50

Amadeus (Shaffer), X, Lé,

Anacreon, 9

Anchor Genesis (Speiser),

Andria, Duke of. See Carafa. Fabrizio (Duke Of Andria)

Kindle Cloud Reader


Andriessen, Louis,

Anne of Orange, Princess, 32

Anti-Semitism, 7.4,

Apollo, ix—x

Aqua toffana, Mozart’s suspicions of poisoning by,

Ariane et Bacchus (Cambert), Z

Art, Crime and Madness (Shoham),

Asafiev, Boris, 28

The Assassination of Mozart (Weiss), 16, 33

Athena, ix—x

Aubert, Jeanne Louise, 42

Aunt Eller (in Green Grow the Lilacs), 1.60, 1.65=6.6

Bailey, Kathryn, 7.7=7.8

Baily, Leslie,

Ballet et Musique pour le Divertissement du Roy de la Grande Bretagne (Cambert),

Bardotti, Pietro (aka Pietro Malitiale), 53=55


Beaujoyeulx, Balthasar de, 9

Beaussant, Philippe, 14, 72

Beethoven, Johanna van, 27

Beethoven, Ludwig van, 24,

Bell, Raymond N. , Webern’s killler,

Bellini, Vincenzo, 27

Bernard, Christopher,

Bernstein, Leonard,

Betty (in Big Lake), J5_6z51

The Biblical Antiquities of Philo (Pseudo-Philo),

Big Lake (Riggs), 15.5=58

Bigamy, 107, 117-18

Blankenship, Jessica,

Blitzstein, Marc, zi,• convictions of killers, death in Capote’s “Music for Chameleons,”

95; death of, 90=94; works of, 94

Blitzstein Strikes Back (Ellis), 97

Blom, Eric, 28, 3.6

Bloom, Richard, 103

Boelza (or Belza), Igor,

Bonnet, Jacques, 65, 69

The Book of Moses (Smith),

Borromeo, Carlo, 5.J, 56

Borzelli, Angelo,

Bourdelot, Pierre, 55, 69

Bourgeois, Louis, 3.9.44,

Brantley, Ben,

Brantöme, Abbé (Pierre de Bourdeilles), 5B, 64

Braunlich, Phyllis Cole, 161

Breitman, Michel, 5.4

Brifaut, Charles,

Bubble Act (1720), J3_J

Buck, Rufus, 145

“The burial question,” Mozart’s, 29

Butcher, Stu,

Caedmon, JL_6

Kindle Cloud Reader


Cain: crimes and punishment of descendants and, 115; curse of descendants and,

  1. | 21 ; forgiveness and reconciliation of descendants and, | 21—23; in Lamech, ou Les

Descendants de Cain, Lamech and, 111; Lamech killing, I_u,

Cain (Blitzstein),

Cambert, Robert, x; death of, 3, 6, NJ, u; lack of death and burial records for, Lully and,

3, 9=10; Perrin and, 4=6; reception in England, 7_, 13_; talent of, 4=5,

Capote, Truman, 94—95

Carafa, Fabrizio (Duke of Andria): Consiglio’s portrayal of, investigation into murder of,

murder in sonnets, drama, and stories, murder Of, murdered body

Of, 52=-5.3, 61; possible son of,

Carafa, Federigo, 5.1

“Carlo Gesualdo Considered as a Murderer” (Gray), 61—62

Carp, Louis, 21

Carpani, Giuseppe,

carte, Richard D’Oy1y,

Casey, Bert, L.45

The Catcher in the Rye, Chapman’s obsession with, 99—100.

Caulfield, Holden (in Catcher in the Rye), 9.9=100

Chapman, Gloria Abe, 93, 1 OJ


Chapman, Mark David: background Of, 982100; desire for fame, Lennon killed by,

102; mental state of, 99=100, 103; mixed feelings about Lennon, 100, JQ2z3; obsession

with Catcher in the Rye, 99:JOO, 102—3; plan to murder Lennon, 101—2

Charles, Jacques-Pierre, 41, 45

Charles II, and Cambert,

Chaucer, Geoffrey,

The Cherokee Night (Riggs), 155,

Chigi, Flavio, 6.6=6.7

Claremore, Oklahoma, 153—55. 159—60

Claremore Mound Massacre, 15.3.159

Clark, Kenneth,

Claude, Antoine, 43

Closset, Nikolaus, Jß, 26

Clough, Arthur Hugh, 121—23

Companies Act of 1862, Gilbert satirizing, 125, 131, 133. 135—36

Composers: conspiracy against, operatic, 4; vulnerability of freelancing, 55. See also

specific individuals

The Condemned (Blitzstein),

Consiglio, Alberto, 6.0=6.1

Contarini, Alvise, 67—69

Corona Manuscript, 51—53, 59,

Corporations: British legislation governing, m; Gilbert’s interest in business law and,

in Gilbert’s plays, | 29—30, malfeasance of, J3_ßz40,• use

of endorsements by, J30z3J,• Utopia, Limited criticizing, 125,

The Coventry Play, 117

Crime and punishment: in Blitzstein’s works, $_Z,• of Cain and descendants, 109—13 , 121—23:

causes Of, 12.7; in Gilbert’s plays, increasing until Flood, 120; Lamech’s,

as musical subject, pamphlets on murders and executions,

Curtiss, Mina,

Da Ponte, Lorenzo, 25,

Dalchow, Johannes,

D’Amico, Fedele, 88

Dangreville, Pierre, 42—43

Darlington, W. A, 125, 1.3.’

Daumer, Georg Friedrich,

D’Avalos, Carlo, 51=52

D’Avalos, Donna Maria,

Davis, Jetar (or Jeeter), J62

De Quincey, Thomas, 61—62

Kindle Cloud Reader


Death: in Eliot’s “The Legend of Jubal,” 121 • Mozart brooding on,

“Death for Five Voices” (Herzog film), 64

“The Death of Anton Webern” (Schevill),

The Death of Webern: A Drama in Documents (Moldenhauer), 74

DeCou, James, 9m, 94

Diamond, David, 89

Don Philip, of Spain,

Doolin, Bill,

Dory, Jim (in Big Lake), 1_5_?

Duda, Gunther, 22—24.31—33

Durosoy, Barnabé Farmian, 39, 4.7

Einstein, Alfred, 28

Eliot, George, 120—21

Ellis, John Caldwell, 97

Elly (in Big Lake), 155=51

England, Cambert’s reception in, Z,


—18. See also

Envy. among musicians and composers, JOzJ_J; Chapman’s for Lennon, See also

Erhard, Thomas, 55

Executions, pamphlets on, 12

Eye for an Eye (Miller),

Fame, Chapman seeking, xii

Fawcett, Anthony, I-QQ, I-QI

Fernandez, Armando,

Flotow, Friedrich von, 65, 69

Floyd, Arva, 94

Fluchaire, Georges, 9.2=2.3

Ford, John,

Ford Foundation, grants for operas,

France: opera in, 4, u; rumors of Cambert’s murder limited to,

France, Anatole, 5.9=-60

Fraud, by corporations,

Freemasons, 29—33, 120

Fritzenwanger, Elise,

Fry, Jeeter (in Green Grow the Lilacs), 160—61 : Curly McCLain and, 15.1, 163—65; Laurey’s fear of,

162263; as serial murderer, 163=64

Fry, Jud (in Oklahoma!), XU, 143, 164. See also Fry, Jeeter (in Green Grow the Lilacs)

Garibaldi, Giuseppe Maria,

Garibaldi, Maria Lomellino,

Genesis: on Lamech, poems based on, JJ6. See also “Song of the Sword.” in Genesis (or

Genoa, puritanism of, 69—71

Germany, interest in Mozart’s death in,

Gesualdo (Franz Hummel opera), 5.4

Gesualdo (Schnittke opera), 64

Gesualdo, Carlo, 50=52, 56; biography of, 53; compositions by, 62=64; literary settings

of murders by, 5 7—61.64; investigation into murders by, 5 3—55; marriages of, 51, 51;

masochism of, 5.7_, 62; murders by, 54—55.5.8; novel based on murders by, 60—61 ; response

to murders by, 55,

Gesualdo, Emmanuele, 51

Gesualdo, Fabrizio, 51

Gesualdo, Girolama Borromeo, 5.1

Gesualdo, Giulio, 52, 60—61

Gesualdo, Leonora d’Este, 51

Gesualdo, Luigi,

Gesualdo, Maria d’Ava10s, 55; beauty of, 51; investigation into murder of, 53=55; marriage of,

51—52; murder in sonnets and stories, murder of, 53=55, 58; murdered body of,

53; portrayals of, 59—61

Gesualdo: or, Murder in Five Voices (Consiglio), 60—61

Gesualdo: The Man and His Music, translation Of Corona Manuscript in, 51—52

Gewiss, man hat mir Gift gegeben (“I am sure I have been poisoned,” Duda),


Gibson, Arrell Morgan, | 53—54

Gioeni, Alfonso, 51

Gieseke, Karl Ludwig, 32

Gilbert, W. S. , 1_32,• disputes with Sullivan and Carte, 131; interest in corporations and

business law, interest in criminal-law issues, as lawyer,

works by, 126-27, 141 (See also

Gilbert and Sullivan plays: The Gondoliers, 130—32: Iolanthe, 127, 129—30: The Pirates of

Penzance, 141; Thespis, 128—29; Utopia, Limited, 125, 132—36, 140—41; The Yeomen of

the Guard,

Ginzberg, Louis, J07_zß, 11 |

Giovanna, Maria, 68=69

Glasgow Bank fraud,

Glaucus et Scylla (Leclair), 39

Gluck-Piccinni rivalry, 1.4

Goldbury, Mr. (in Utopia, Limited), 133=35,

Goldsby, Crawford (“Cherokee Bill”), J45

Goldstein, Naomi, 103

The Gondoliers, 130—32

Gordon, A, •Z, 94=95

Goresh, Paul, 102

Grabu, Louis,

Gramont, Duke of, and Leclair, 39, 44=45

The Grand Duke (Gilbert and Sullivan), 137

Grattan Flood, W. H., Z, 14

Graves, Robert,

Gray, Cecil, 51,

Green Grow the Lilacs (Riggs), xii, 143=44; Aunt Eller’s sermon in, 166; characters based on real

people, L4Z,149, 160—61; fear offirein, 147. 163; Jeeter Fry character in, 160—64: relation

of earlier plays to, 159—60; shivaree in, 165—66; violence in, 165—66; writing of, 160

Greenaway, Peter,

Griffiths, Arthur,

Grun, Bernard,

Guano, Pier Francesco, 70

Guichard, Henri,

Guignon, Pierre, 32

Guldener, Dr., 25

Haibel, Sophie,

Hammerstein, Oscar, L4.Z,

Hang on to Love (Riggs), 1.55,

Harmon, Jodie (in A Lantern to See By),

Harmon, John (in A Lantern to See By),

Hawkins, John,

Heavenly Secrets (Swedenborg), 114

Heiman, Martin U.,

Hellman, Lillian, 91

Hensley, Shuler, 164

Herostratos, xii, 104

Hertzog, Chris, 86

Herz, Cornelius,

Herzog, Werner, 54

Hines, Gordon, 145

Histoire de l’Académie royale de musique (Parfaict brothers),

“History of Doia Maria d’Avalos and Don Fabricio, Duke of Andria” (Anatole France),

Hitler, Adolf, Webern’s admiration for, 73—74 ,

Hogan, Della (in “The Affair at Easter”), 149, 151=5.2

Holmes, Edward,

Homosexuality: in “The Affair at Easter,” 1.52=53; Blitzstein’s death and, 91=94

Honig, Joel, 96

Hooke, Robert,

The Hooligan (Gilbert), 127—28

Hummel, Franz,

Idiots First (Blitzstein), 8.9, 9.6

Infidelity, as motive for murder, 52, 53=5.2

Iolanthe (Gilbert and Sullivan), 1.2-?-,

Italy, operas Of, 4, 14

Jabal, rivalry with brother, 112

Jahn, Otto,

Jasper (in Hang on to Love),

Jealousy, as motive for murder, xi. See also

Jews, on Webern and Nazis, 7.4

John Lennon: One Day at a Time (Fawcett), 100,

Joint Stock Company Act Of 1862, 3 9

Jones, Jack, 2′,

Jonson, Beth (in “The Affair at Easter”), 149—51,

Jonson, Rod (in “The Affair at Easter”), 149—50, 152

Joseph II, Emperor, 24, 2B, 29

Josephus, Flavius,

JPS Torah Commentary, on “Song ofthe Sword,”

Jubal, rivalry with brother, 120

“Jubal and Tubal Cain” (Kipling),

Keating, Frank, 154

Kelly, Michael, 25

Kerner, Dieter, 22=23, 32=33

Kidney disease, Mozart’s hypothesized,

Kincaid, Heinrich,

Kipling, Rudyard, 120

Knivesfrom Syria (Riggs), 15.9=60

Krasner, Louis,

La Clemenza di Tito (Mozart),

Lamech: Cain and, 102, 117; Chaucer satirizing, 117—18: children of, 122; crimes of, 108,

killing Cain, in poetry and drama, punishment Of,

rivalry among children of, JJ9_; wives Of, JJJ, See also Song-of

the Sword.” in Genesis (or “Song of Lamech”)

Lamech, ou Les Descendants de Cain (Brifaut), 118—20

“Lamech, the Second Biblical Killer,” xii

Lamotte, Pierre,

Lange, Joseph, 1.9, 20

A Lantern to See By (Riggs), 158=59

Lawlessness, in Riggs’s plays, 15.6, 15.8=59

Le Cerf de La Viéville, 10—11 ,

Le Mercure Galant,

Leclair, Jean-Marie, 40; arrangement of scene of murder, 4.1, 4.7=44; career of,

funeral of, 44, 44; house keys of, murder of, 33=4.1; nephew’s resentment of,

stolen watch of, 41, 43=44, 47; strangers in neighborhood of, 42=43; suspects in murder of,


Leclair, Louise Roussel, 39, 41, 4.3, 47—48

“The Legend Of Jubal” (Eliot),

Lehrman, Leonard J.,

Lennon, John: Chapman’s mixed feelings about, 100, Chapman’s plan to murder,

murder of, xi—xii

Leopold, Emperor (Austria), JZ, 25

Les Peines et Plaisirs de l’Amour (Cambert), Z

LeTémoin de Poussiére (The Witness of Dust, Breitman), 54

The Letter of Clément Marot (Sénecé), Q,

Lichtenstein, Murray H. ,

The Little Foxes (Hellman), 91

Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies (Brantöme),

Liz, Frangois du, 39

Lloyd (in Big Lake),

Lomellino, Domenico,

Lomellino, Giovanni Battista (“Bacciolo” or “Baccio”), ZJ

Lonati, Carlo Ambrosio,

London: Cambert in, Z, 10—11. u; lack of death and burial records for Cambert in, 11—13

London Gazette, not covering crimes, 12

“Lonely Room” (in Oklahoma!),

Louis XIV, 5, 9

Love’s Sacrifice (Ford), 58=59

Ludendorrf, Erich and Mathilde, 30—31.3.3

Lully, Jean-Baptiste, X; Cambert and, 3, g, LO,• death, 8—9; Perrin and, 5=5; ruthlessness toward

competitors, Sénecé on, 9—10; talent Of,

Lully ou Le musicien du Soleil (Beaussant), 14

Madrigals, Gesualdo’s, 62—63

Magic flute of Athena,

The Magic Flute, JO,

Malitiale, Pietro (aka Pietro Bardotti), 53=55

Marble, Annie (in A Lantern to See By), | 58—59

Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein (Gordon), 9.1

Marnen Glory (in “The Affair at Easter”),

Marra, Ferrante della,

The Marriage of Figaro, 24=25


Mattel, Benno: as black marketeer, Weberr# murder and, 73—76,

Mattel, Christine Webern, 7.4,

Mazarin, commissioning Ariane et Bacchus,

McClain, Curly (in Green Grow the Lilacs), 160—61 ,

McCullough, William, 155

McFarland, Michael, 99

McNeill, Howard, 14.7=48,

Mercury, 32; hypothesis of Mozart’s poisoning by, 22—23

Metropolitan Opera, and Sacco and Vanzetti,

Micene, Dominico, 53=54

Michiel, Polo, 66, 6.7=69

Midrash Rabbah, JO_?_, 113

Midrash Tanchuma, 111

Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan),

Milam, William, 89, 9.1=-9.4

Miller, William Ian,

Moldenhauer, Hans, 73=7.4, 7.6=71

Moldenhauer, Rosaleen,

Moli&re, and Lully, 5, Z

Montpensier, Mademoiselle de, and Lully,

Moscheles, Ignaz, 3.4=3.5

Motsart i Sal’eri (Boelza), 28=29

Kindle Cloud Reader


Mozart, Constanze (wife of Wolfgang), 16; husband’s death and, II, LB; on husband’s suspicions

of poisoning, 25=26; “the burial question” and, 29,

Mozart, Franz Xaver Wolfgang (son Of Wolfgang),

Mozart, Karl (son of Wolfgang), 26

Mozart, Leopold (father of Wolfgang), 20=21, 24=25

Mozart, Nannerl (sister of Wolfgang), 2.1=22

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: brooding on death, cause of death of, 16—17, 12, 22,

death, 12; finishing Requiem while dying, Freemasons blamed for murder,

29=33; illnesses of, LEI’, 21=22; kidney disease hypothesis, 19=22; Lange’s portrait of,

12, 20; Salieri and, 24=25; suspicions of poisoning of, JO, 25=26, 33=34; “the

burial question” and, 29

Mozart and Salieri (Pushkin), X, 33=34

Mozarts Tod (Dalchow, Duda, Kerner),

Mumford, Marion Starr, Lé.Q

Murders: in Green Grow the Lilacs, LéEé4,• by musicians, in Oklahoma!, L4Z; pamphlets on,

12; by strangers, See also specific individuals

“Music for Chameleons” (Capote), 94—95

Musicians: murders by, xi; rivalry among,


“My Maiden Brief” (Gilbert), 126

“Nachtstück: An Opera on the Death of Anton Webern” (Bernard),

Nationalism: in operatic rivalry, 4, 13—14; in theories of Mozart’s murder,

Nazis: hoax linking Webern’s music to, treatment Of Webern by,

Nettl, Paul,

Newspapers in late seventeenth century, not covering crimes, 12

Nicolas, Daniel Yves Charles, 90=9.1

Niemetschek, Franz, II,

Nissen, Nikolaus von, 18=19, 25=26

Nix, Evett Dumas,

Noah, and Flood, 117

Noéma, wife of Lamech, 118—20

Novello, Vincent and Mary, 35

Nunn, Trevor,

Oklahoma: conflict and violence in, 153=5.5, 166; folk songs and ballads of, 160; Indian

Territoryin, 155; justice in, 148, 166; natural dangers in, 146—47; outlaw atmosphere in,


Oklahoma! (Nunn production),

Oklahoma! (Rodgers and Hammerstein), J66; Jud Fry in, 164; Riggs’s approval of, 165

“On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” (De Quincey), 61—62

Ono, Yoko, 102

Opera: Cambert’s innovations in, 4; national styles Of, rivalries in,

Orsini-Rosenberg, Count, 25

Page, Sarah, 154

Panama Canal Company,

Panama Canal criminal fraud case,

Parfaict brothers,

Pastorale of Issy (Cambert), 4

Patai, Raphael,

Patronage, for composers, 4

Pavia, Belbello da,

Paysant, Jacques, accusing Gramont, 44—45; suspected in Leclair’s murder, 4E4.5, 4?

Pearson, Hesketh, 125=26

Peckham, George and Lollie, 91

Pelletier, Rose, 43

Perrin, Pierre, ,

Petitbois, Nigotte, 4m, 4.7

Picinni, and Gluck, 3, 14

The Pirates Of Penzance (Gilbert and Sullivan),

Kindle Cloud Reader


Poisoning: as common cause of death, 23=24, 34; Lully accusing Guichard of attempted, ßz2,•

mercury, 22—23.32; Mozart’s suspicions of, 25—26; suspicions of Mozart’s, JO, 22—23.

26—28, 33=3.4; timing of, 32

Pomone (Cambert), 5, Z,

“Pore Jud is Daid” (in Oklahoma!),

privilége, royal, 5—7

Psyche (Lully), 5

Puchbert, Michael, 25

Punch, 138, 142

Punishment. See Crimeand2unis_gnt

Pushkin, Alexander, 33=3.4

Quenet, Louis, 41

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), JJJ, JJ_Z

Receveur, Hubert, 41, 43, 45—47

Regina (Blitzstein), 91

Reiss, Edmund,

Religion: uses of Song ofthe Sword in, vengeance in,

Renaissance, crimes in, 62

Requiem (Mozart): commissioning of, 32=33; completion while dying,

Reuben Reuben (Blitzstein),

Riggs, Lynn: background of, 144—48; basing characters on family members, 141=5.1, 60;

Cherokees and, equating violence by nature and people, 142; fear of fire, 14.7;

Green Grow the Lilacs by, L6Q,• identifying with characters, J5_Q, 152; lawlessness in

stories, 158=60, 166; on Oklahoma!, 165; on potential violence in Oklahoma, 143=44, 146;

sympathy with minorities, 154—55

Rivalry: among Lamech’s children, among musicians, Z; between Cain and Abel,

Of Guignon and Leclair, Mozart’s, in opera, Of Salieri and Mozart,

25, 44=35

Roadside (Riggs),

Robbins, Tim, 92

Rodgers and Hammerstein. See Oklahoma!

Romano, Battista, 50

Rorem, Ned, 92

Rosa (Greenaway),

Rosand, Ellen, 66

Rosbaud, Hans,

Rossini, 21

Roussel, Charles, 43

Rovine di Case Napolitane del suo tempo (Ruins of Neapolitan Houses of his Time, Marra), 51

Rowland, Dick,

Royal Academy of Music, Cambert’s, Z

Royal Orchestra (Paris), 39

Royal Theatre (London),

Russet Mantle (Riggs), 145

  1. Marie delle Grazie, 56, 56

Sacco and Vanzetti (Blitzstein), 88—90. 95—96

Sacco and Vanzetti, in The Condemned, 87—88

Saint Jerome, on Lamech,

Salieri, Antonio, 23; accusations about Mozart’s death against, 3=4, 24, 31; Beethoven and, 24,

defenders of, 26=28; effects of rumors on, 26, 35; envy of, Mozart and, JO, 25,

35; Mozart complaining about, 24—25 : in Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri, 33=34; rumors of

confession to Mozart’s murder, N”, 26—28.3.7; “the burial question” and, 29

“Salieri and the ‘Murder’ of Mozart,”

Saline Courthouse Massacre,

Sarna, Nahum, 102

Scala, Laura, 54

Schevill, James, 78—80

Schickh, Johann, 2.7

Schikaneder, Emanuel,

Schindler, Anton,

Schnittke, Alfred,

Schoenberg, Arnold, 7.4, 8.3, 8.6

Schurig, Arthur, 2.8

Schwanenberg, Johann Gottfried, 25

Schwartz, Daniel,

Sénecé, Antoine Bauderon de,

Sexuality: Blitzstein’s death and, 91=94; of Jeeter Fry,

Shaffer, Peter, X, 16, 31

Shaw, George Bernard, xii,

Shivaree, in Green Grow the Lilacs,

Shoham, Shlomo Giora,

Simon, Maron J.,

Sims, Jim, 145

Slonimsky, Nicolas, 28—29.

Smith, Joseph,

Sokolsky, George,

“The Song of Lamech” (Clough),

“Song of the Sword,” in Genesis (or “Song of Lamech”), JJ6, 122—23; as boast, JQß,

111 113 : revisions and interpretations of,

Speiser, E. A. , 108

Starr, Henry, 1.4.5=45

Steuermann, Eduard, 7.4

Stradella, Alessandro: Agnese Van Uffele and, 65, 6_Zz6ß,• attempted murder of, 64, 68=69;

finances of, 6.6=67 importance in music, 66, 69; marriage brokering by, 67_; murder of,

in puritanical Genoa, 69—71 ; spared assassination due to music (according to

legend), 5.5, 7.2

Strangers, murders by,

Stravinsky, Igor, 50

Streptococcal infection, Mozart’s hypothesized, 20, 22; Zegers theory of epidemic,

Sullivan, Allen, 103

Sullivan, Arthur, 32; Gilbert’s disputes with, 125—26. 137. See also

Summers, Jude (in Hang on to Love),

Suriano, Michele, 62

Süssmayr, Franz Xaver,

Swedenborg, Emanuel,

Syphilis, mercury as treatment for, 22=23

Tabor, Andrew (in “The Affair at Easter”),

Tabor, Brad (in “The Affair at Easter”), 150, 152—53

Tasso, Torquato, 57=5.8, 62

Teatro Tordinona, Stradella working with,

Tessier, André, Z

Posizione 3626

Theaters, business issues Of, 1.29, 1.3.7-

Thespis (Gilbert and Sullivan),

Thibault, Jean,

Thiot, Commissaire, 41

Thomas, Heck, 145

Thompson, Bessie,

Thompson, Laura,

Thompson, Mary Riggs, 144, 1.60

Thompson, Raymond, 147—50

Thomson, Virgil, 89=9.0

“Three Memorable Murders” (De Quincey),

“Tod” (“Death,” Webern),

Toye, Francis,

Trekell, Ronald L, 145

Troglin, Charley (in Hang on to Love), 155, 1.58

Troiano, Massimo, musician accused of murder in 1570, 50

Tubal-cain, 120; in Lamech, ou Les Descendants de Cain, l_Jßz20,• perfection Of metal

weapons by, LOß-zJO

Tulsa Race Riot, 154=5.5

U.S. Army. black market sting on Webern’s son-in-law by, 7_6zZß; on murder of Webern, 73,

Utopia, Limited (Gilbert and Sullivan), xii, J25, 3 2—36: Panama Canal Company fraud and,

41; responsesto, 137—38, 142

Van Swieten, Gerhard, 22=23, 29,

Van Uffele, Agnese, 67=69

Vengeance: Lamech and, 110, Ill.; Song of the Sword and, 116, 1.22=2.3

Vial, Frangois Guillaume, 45=4′

Vial, Franqoise Leclair, 45

Vienna, competition among composers in, 24=25

Violence: in Green Grow the Lilacs, 165=6.6; in Oklahoma!, 163=65; in Riggs’s era and narratives,


Wade Hogan (in “The Affair at Easter”),

Walsegg, Franz von,

Watkins, Glenn, 51, 53,

Weapons, metal, invented by Tubal-cain,

Webern, Anton, attraction to Nazism, compositions by, 83—84; and family

in WWII, 73—74: hoax linking music to Nazi SS, 84—86: murderin drama, opera, and

fiction, 78—84; murder of, 7_5; questionable role of curfew violation,

Webern, Peter, 7.4,

Webern, Wilhelmine, 14, 7.1,

Weiss, David, 16,

Werth, Alexander, 28=29

Wheeler, Ed, 154

White, Caleb (in “The Affair at Easter”),

“The Wicked World” (Gilbert),

Wildgans, Friedrich,

Wilhelm, Prince (of Bavaria), 50

Williams, Laurey (in Green Grow the Lilacs),

Wing, Donald Goddard, 12

Woods, Mrs. Arthur R. (“Dollie”),

The World of Gilbert and Sullivan (Darlington), 125

The Yeomen Of the Guard (Gilbert and Sullivan),

Zillah, wife of Lamech, 107—9. XXX,

Zunia, Giovanni (of Miranda), 55