Monday, June 14, 2010

The Guild of Funerary Violinists

Before the advent of medical science bequeathed longer life spans for us mortals, Death seemed to be a prominent theme in society reminding our fore bearers that mortality was something to be embraced because of its ever present reality. Out of this came a deep romanticism with Death and Spiritualism. Seances were held in parlor rooms, rooms that families held wakes in often with the deceased posed with members in the early days of photography to be known as Postmortem Photography.

Images of the Grim Reaper were not uncommon either and adorned many a tombstone as well as in paintings, engravings and Death of course reared his head in literature. Memento Mori, Latin for "Remember Death" became a whispered motto reminding one that Death was always lurking near. So it is no small surprise that music would join in this dance of mortality.

The violin was at its peak as a versital instrument used either indoors or outdoors and with its haunting qualities it is no wonder dirges were played upon it during processions of the departed. Hence the Guild of Funerary Violinists was founded in 1580 during the Elizabethan Protestant Reformation and lasted until WWI and ended with the death of Niklaus Friedhaber its last official practicing member. It was not uncommon for the town coffin maker to double as the Funerary Violinist. Later in the 1800's dueling violinists would play, the winner was the one who elicited the most tears from the mourners.

Of late there has been a resurgence in the interest of this craft which re-created some of the most haunting melodies. Below is a recreation of a Funerary Dirge by Divine Hand Ensamble.

This is a particularly haunting funeral violin piece with fashion designer Marko Mitanovski using the dirge for a musical backdrop for his somewhat odd creation.

In all of this there seems to be a humbling respect and regard for Death, not so much as an end to all things but as the Gate Keeper to the unknown and so, Memento Mori, remember Death.

The above is a rendition of mine I did in 2008. I thought it fit. Note: It is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission. Prints are available.

1 comment:

  1. fascinating...I never really thought about the "dirge" and it's absence from today's death rites. really interesting and beautiful music.