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Musical Mysteries

From Mozart to John Lennon

Albert Borowitz

Publication Year: 2010

An engrossing look at the interplay between crime and music

Crime has formed the basis of countless plots in music theater and opera. Several famous composers were murder victims or believed to be murdered, and one of the greatest Renaissance composers slaughtered his wife and her lover. In Musical Mysteries, renowned true crime historian Albert Borowitz turns his attention to the long and complex history of music and crime. The book is divided into two parts. The first addresses three aspects of musical crime: the clashes between envious and competitive musicians, the recurrent question of whether genius and criminality can coexist in the same soul, and the jarring contrast between the creative artist and the violent melodrama of everyday life. Borowitz explores eight infamous crimes and crime legends, including the suspected killing of Robert Cambert by his rival, opera composer Jean-Baptiste Lully; the lurid slaying by sixteenth-century madrigal composer Carlo Gesualdo of his unfaithful wife; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s supposed murder at the hands of Antonio Salieri; and the stalking and murder of John Lennon by Mark Chapman. The second part examines crimes in music, looking at such diverse examples as the “Song of Lamech”, the second biblical killer; the preoccupation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with corporate law and fraud; and the violent character of Jud Fry in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

This interdisciplinary study of musical crimes and criminals offers readers Borowitz’s characteristic close, learned analysis and insightful, engaging prose. Musical Mysteries will appeal to true crime aficionados as well as students of social and music history.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Series: True Crime History Series

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

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. ...

Part One The Musician as Murderer or Victim

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1 Lully and the Death of Cambert

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pp. 3-15

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. ...

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2 Salieri and the “Murder” of Mozart

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pp. 16-37

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 ...

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3 Finale Marked Presto: The Killing of Leclair

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pp. 38-49

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 ...

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4 Carlo Gesualdo: Murder and Madrigals

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pp. 50-64

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, ...

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5 Alessandro Stradella: Revenge for Love

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pp. 65-72

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 ...

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6 The Tragic Night of Anton Webern

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pp. 73-86

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 ...

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7 The Deadly Vacation of Marc Blitzstein

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pp. 87-97

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. ...

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8 The Stalking of John Lennon

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pp. 98-104

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, ...

Part Two Crime in Music

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

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pp. 107-124

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 ...

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10 Gilbert and Sullivan on Corporation Law: Utopia, Limited and the Panama Canal Frauds

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pp. 125-142

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 forthcoming annual meeting. However, the title of corporate gadfly ...

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11 “Pore Jud is Daid”: Violence and Lawlessness in the Plays of Lynn Riggs

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pp. 143-168

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, ...


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pp. 169-177

E-ISBN-13: 9781612775012
E-ISBN-10: 1612775012
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606350263

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: True Crime History Series

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Subject Headings

  • Musicians -- Death.
  • Crime in music.
  • Music and crime.
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