Saturday, December 03, 2005

Beethoven's Hair and the Girl in Hyacinth Blue

On the same day as news surfaced about Garcia's items up for sale there was a bit about a long lost first edition Beethoven piano piece recently found and up for auction for over 1.7 million. That hit the noggin like a cosmic wake-up meteor muffin because i'd been reading Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin every night for the last 2 weeks.

The book is a true account of what is known about a lock of hair snipped from the head of the master on the day after his death by a young idolizing musician and friend Ferdinand Hiller. The hair was placed in a specially constructed locket and handed down 2 generations in the Hiller family until World War II when it passed on as payment of a young Danish doctor who had been giving medical attention to Jewish refugees. The book unravels the mystery concerning who left the hair and what became of them (caught by Nazis or escaped to Sweden?) It was recently bought from the doctor's adopted daughter (with the aid of Sotheby's)for a stupendous sum by 2 Arizona Beethoven collectors who have had the DNA analyzed. They are keeping hair and locket in a publicly accessible Beethoven museum in San Jose. Dna testing indicates that
the composer may have suffered from lead poisoning (his hair had 100 times the amount of lead found in a normal person today) and not syphilis as some suspected.

This story, in turn, reminded me of a fictional book called "The Girl In Hyacinth Blue" by Susan Vreeland. Like the "Girl With a Pearl Earring" the book also deals with the paintings of Vermeer. Although "Girl" caught more attention - a recent movie version features Scarlett Johansson as the girl and the scenes are fittingly saturated with the atmosphere of Vermeer"s interiors- "Blue Hyacinth", although spotty, has some compelling writing. It tells the story of a lost Vermeer painting that has been recently found. The book follows the painting's journey BACKWARDS - switcheroo! - in time through chapters set in different eras . Someone writing about the book compared it to opening a chinese box, The final chapter, which is the personal narrative (as i recall?) of a daughter of Vermeer and describes the inception of the painting could milk water from a least from yours truly.

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