ON APRIL 1, 1827, three days after the burial of the great Ludwig van Beethoven in the cemetery at Währing (in northwestern Vienna, on the edge of the Vienna Woods), an ardent admirer of the maestro’s glorious music ventured to his gravesite to pay his respects. He was quite shocked when he heard what sounded like garbled music coming from within the grave.
He was even more shocked when he realized the music was Symphony 9 in D-minor being played backward! Puzzled, he walked a few blocks to a friend’s apartments and persuaded him to come to the graveyard. By the time the two arrived at the grave, the music had changed: it was the Symphony 8 in F-major. Like the previous piece, it was playing backward.
Curious, the men sent a messenger to a well-known, local music scholar, requesting his appearance at the grave.
By the time the older man arrived, he heard the final strains of Symphony 7 in A-major, followed by a brief moment of silence, and then the opening notes of Symphony 6 in F-major (the beloved Pastorale). They, too, were being played backward.
After some conversation, the expert stated that the symphonies were being played in the reverse order in which they had been composed, the 9th, then the 8th, the 7th, the 6th. They waited and sure enough, Symphony 5 in C-minor followed.
When the three men returned early the next day, word had spread and a small crowd had gathered around the grave. By this time, the symphonies had finished and the quartets were playing—backward.
The three men were assured by others that all the quartets had played in reverse order, all backward.
Several other musicologists of reasonable repute had joined the throng and they were as baffled as the rest.
Toward mid-day, the caretaker arrived, ready to prepare the cemetery for a scheduled burial. He was an old man, born and raised in Währing, and was confused by the gathering.
“What is happening?” he inquired.
When the situation was explained to him, he just slowly shook his head from side to side and chuckled.
“It is nothing to worry about,” he assured everyone. “Maestro is merely decomposing . . .”
FEATURED IMAGE: I have a folder full of jokes going back ten years and thought I’d share a few. This is a moldy oldie, but always good for a smile. The image at the top of this page is a photo of a human skull resting atop a decaying log. I chose it because I wanted an image that caught the reader’s attention, hinted at the joke’s ending, but gave nothing away.