Scribe, $29.95, 2007
This curious volume delineates (in considerable detail, despite its self-deprecating title) the lost art of Funerary Violin, a recondite tradition with its long-forgotten heroes and martyrs, and rather more than its share of eccentrics.
The Funerary Violinist, according to Kriwaczek, performed sombre improvised solos at gravesides of the well-to-do over a span of some two centuries. Beginning in Elizabethan England, the practice spread to France and Germany before being crushed by the Vatican in the Great Funerary Purges of the late 1830s.
Afterwards, its Guild eked out a furtive existence in London until Kriwaczek chanced upon it, spent thirty years recovering its records and idiosyncratic repertoire, and brought it to public notice with this semi-scholarly monograph. His work is replete with reproductions of contemporary portraits and concludes with some forty pages of music laboriously transcribed from such fragments of the tradition as survive in mouldering chests in the Guild’s headquarters.
Anyone who has read thus far without baulking at my poor imitation of his florid language may enjoy the Incomplete History. The only caveat is that it is either a wonderfully elaborate flight of fancy or a very clever but rather silly hoax, depending on the reader’s predisposition. Funerary violinists, Guild, persecution, portraits and music are all the creation of one brilliant, versatile musician, Rohan Kriwaczek.
This review was first published in the Townsville Bulletin in 2007 and added to this blog in 2022. Here we can add that Mr Kriwaczek has created a website which further documents the Guild and its repertoire, and offers for sale his recordings of some of those (ahem!) unique compositions.
The ingenious gentleman is also responsible (we use the word reluctantly) for several more projects exhibiting the same lunatic energy, so his website may entertain visitors longer than anticipated.