An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin

image The literary world has been talking about a work of fiction that managed a brief masquerade as nonfiction. The book is An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin, by Rohan Kriwaczek. As the title suggests, it tells the history of that popular genre of music, funerary violin music. The Guardian reports:
By the early 19th century, the book says, virtually every town had its own funerary violinist, but the tradition was almost wiped out in the Great Funerary Purges of the 1830s and 40s. The author, Rohan Kriwaczek, describes himself on a site on as being the president of the guild that represents a dwindling band of musicians dedicated to this largely forgotten art-form. But all references to the guild lead back to Kriwaczek, and several experts on the history of the violin say they have never heard of him or the tradition.
The book will be published next month by Duckworth Publishers in Britain, and Overlook Press in America. The publisher claims that it believed the book to be a work of genuine nonfiction. Or rather, it didn't care too much whether it was fiction or nonfiction because it thought the book was interesting. The hoax was "exposed" by a book-buyer in Iowa City who saw the book described in Overlook's catalog, thought it looked fishy, and brought it to the attention of David Schoenbaum, an expert in the history of the violin and also a reviewer for the New York Times. The Times then revealed the hoax.

Personally I'm thinking the publisher probably had a hand in the exposure of the hoax. What better publicity could a book get than to be "exposed" by the Times right before its debut?


Posted on Mon Oct 09, 2006


NPR interviewed the publisher a couple of days ago. He indicated that he didn't really care if it was fiction or not, because it was interesting. And he indicated that he was pretty skeptical from the beginning, as well. The author seems to consider it not so much a hoax as a work of performance art. He wants to invent a new genre of music (funerary violin), and felt it needed a rich, detailed history invented for it as well.
Posted by Terry Austin  in  Surf City USA  on  Mon Oct 09, 2006  at  02:03 AM
Add photos and file it under humour alongside the spoof travel books.
Posted by Sarah  on  Mon Oct 09, 2006  at  06:03 AM
The publisher had was not in cahoots with the bookstore employee from Iowa. He received one of our catalogs and started making inquiries on his own.


The Overlook Press
Posted by Jim  on  Mon Oct 09, 2006  at  08:47 AM
"NPR interviewed the publisher a couple of days ago. He indicated that he didn't really care if it was fiction or not, because it was interesting."

Meaning, I suppose, he thought it would sell if promoted as non-fiction. When something is non-fiction, or even "based on true events" the standards are lowered. Amityville Horror is a case in point--if it were treated as fiction, which it was, there's no way it would've had the success it enjoyed.
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  in  St. Louis, MO  on  Mon Oct 09, 2006  at  10:59 AM
I have no opinion on the book (not having read it or seen it), but there is such a thing as funerary violin music.

A former student of mine was a funerary violinist, back when she lived in Mexico. She told me that any time a child dies there, it is traditional to have certain music played on a violin at the funeral. She apparently had quite a bit of work playing her violin at children's funerals.

I don't know if this tradition is prevalent all over Mexico, or just in certain parts (this student was from Monterrey, if I remember correctly), but funerary violins are no joke there, any more than funerary organ music would be in the U.S.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Mon Oct 09, 2006  at  11:31 AM
Big Gary, I would think that funeral customs vary throughout the world. Some cultures wear black at funerals, some white, that depends upon which makes it harder for the ghost to recognize the mourners and haunt them. It would seem the Mr. Kriwaczek didn't do enough homework if he thought he was inventing a new genre of music.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Mon Oct 09, 2006  at  08:04 PM
"... Mr. Kriwaczek didn't do enough homework if he thought he was inventing a new genre of music."

Yes, Christopher, that was my point exactly.

But the people I know who wear black, or white, when they are in mourning aren't afraid of ghosts; they are just expressing their bereavement, in the same way that a lady wearing a corsage to a dance is expressing being in a festive mood.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Tue Oct 10, 2006  at  05:27 PM
Big Gary, several years ago, back when I was still on active duty, I took an anthropology course. It wasn't a specialized course, more "Anthropology for non-anthropologists" and this was one of the points the course made. That's why Asians tend to wear white for funerals and Europeans wear black. I forget about Africans but I believe they also wore something that would make them hard to recognize by the recently departed, painted faces perhaps. And it is a reason why a widow will wear a veil. As the belief in ghosts faded, the custom continued as a traditional sign of grief. Appeasing the ghost was also an explanation for placing flowers on a grave, by making the grave nice you expected that the ghost would stay there and not roam around.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Tue Oct 10, 2006  at  05:51 PM
This was revealed by the English Daily mail and the author has admitted it was all a big hoax.
Posted by J  on  Sun Oct 15, 2006  at  12:19 AM
Jim Harris at Prairie Lights Books recently sent me an advance copy of AN INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF THE ART OF FUNERARY VIOLIN and I must take issue with his colleague Paul Ingram
Posted by Sophie Vogt  on  Sat Oct 28, 2006  at  01:54 AM
can anyone tell me what the fantastic artwork on the front of the book is called? Also where I might find further examples.


Posted by Paul  on  Thu Nov 22, 2007  at  12:55 PM
Not only have I heard about funerary violins but also funerary cellos . They had one at my grandfather's funeral back in '63. He was a cello player with the los angeles symphony and so it was kind of a specialty thing.
Posted by Mr. Bass Anchor  on  Sun May 18, 2008  at  05:12 PM
Someone gave me this book for Christmas and now I don't know whether to read it or chuck it.

The responses remind me of the comment that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent Him.
Posted by jeffrey wall  on  Mon Jan 05, 2009  at  12:25 PM
I just bought a copy of this wonderful book at Moe's in Berkeley a few days ago. Anyone who's spent any time with old books could figure out that the typography of some of the alleged documents is obviously a modern attempt to recreate an old document (see particularly p. 66 of the Duckworth edition). That being said, I think it's a splendid work of imagination - the illustrations remind me of W.G. Sebald's use of images and the whole thing belongs in the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
Posted by Stacey Sullivan  on  Sat May 02, 2009  at  02:34 PM
I love anything that may or may not be a hoax.
Posted by Violin Guy  on  Wed Aug 18, 2010  at  08:56 PM
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