Saturday, October 07, 2006


Here's a treat from Thursday's Daily Mail:

In the sometimes highly strung world of the classical violin, they were today trying to get to grips with the fiddling of Rohan Kriwaczek.

A busker, violinist, clarinetist, flautist and bagpipe player, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 1994, he brought murmurs of acclaim from the academic publishers, Duckworth, for his learned tome on the lost art of the funerary violin.

The lost art of the...what?

In 208 pages he told how the Guild of Funerary Violinists – motto Nullus Funus Sine Fidula (No Funeral Without A Fiddle) - had been established in 1580, received a Royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth 1, flourished under practitioners like George Babcotte and Herr Hieronymous Gratchenfleiss, and was almost wiped out by the "great funerary purges of the 1830’s and 40s."

Such was the fervour of the art, he said, that violinists duelled with each other at funerals to see who could wring the most tears from mourners.

I'll insert a break here so everyone can have a good chuckle; then we'll go on to the really funny stuff.


Duckworth’s owner Peter Mayer, who also owns the American publishing house Overlook, reputedly paid Kriwaczek – acting president of the Guild of Funerary Violinists - more than £1,000 for the book: 'An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin' which is currently on sale in Britain for £14.99.

Except, as has now been discovered, there is, nor never was, any such thing as a funerary violin, nor a guild, nor a Royal warrant, nor a history, let alone an incomplete one.

Yesterday, as Mr Kriwaczek, 38, kept a low profile, Mr Mayer told how he had been taken in by him at a meeting last year.

"In he walks, deadly serious with his violin," he said. "I ask him a whole bunch of questions. He gave more or less credible answers to them. Some of them he said 'I can’t answer Mr Mayer, because it is a secret society and it is dying out.'

"Maybe I have been fooled. It is possible. But it reads so extraordinarily serious and passionate. If it is a hoax, I can only say, I have my cap off.

Me, too.

Why didn't we see this coming? In an age where memoir has been redefined to include wholly imaginary events presented as history, we should have known some cheeky writer would come along and play this kind of joke on a publisher.

Read the rest of the article, then be sure to visit Mr. Kriwaczek's website ("Here you will find music, words, scores, ideas and mistruths of all kinds....") for more on The Guild of Funerary Violinists. I especially enjoyed reading the detailed agenda for the upcoming Guild conference in Las Vagas (sic--spelling errors abound on the website).

I should mention that the folks at Gawker believe the publisher was in on this hoax. This article in Thursday's The New York Times (subscription required) suggests otherwise. Also, I just checked Technorati, and none of the litbloggers have commented on this story. Why not? I think it's a hoot.

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Laura Vivanco said...

I wonder if he got the idea from the way people pretend to play the violin when someone else has said something which is supposed to be tear-jerking/pity-inducing, and the listener is not impressed. Do people do that in the US? I know that American novels mention eye-rolling a fair amount, and I've never seen anyone doing it (apart from little children pulling faces, or clowns).

Brenda Coulter said...

Yes, Laura, we're great eye-rollers here. Pay attention to context, because the gesture can signify amusement (oh, you are so funny!) or extreme annoyance (I can't believe you're such a moron).

I haven't seen anyone do the violin thing in years.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think it was P.T. Barnum that said, "There's a sucker born every day!"

What a funny story!