The mysterious story of Joseph Haydn’s missing head

8 March 2018, 06:00

Case Notes Haydn

Ten years after the great composer had died, his body was to be transferred to a grand tomb, befitting his status as a musical genius. But when they opened the grave… the head was missing. Find out more in the very first episode of our brand-new podcast, Case Notes


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Haydn was the brightest musical star of his age. He was the darling of the musical world, from Vienna to London.

When he died in June 1809 there was a great outpouring of public grief. But at the time, Vienna was at war and there was no time to properly honour the great man. He was buried quickly in a cemetery on the outskirts of Vienna.

Ten years passed. Someone reminded Haydn’s employer, Prince Esterházy, that he’d promised to give Haydn a more fitting tomb.

Arrangements were made. A large marble tomb was ordered and in 1820 the Prince watched while gravediggers lifted the composer’s grave to the surface.

They opened the coffin.

And the Prince was met with the sight of an empty powdered wig where Haydn’s head had been. The skull was missing…

In the very first episode of our brand-new podcast, Case Notes, Tim Lihoreau investigates one of the most bizarre mysteries from the history of music.

Subscribe on iTunes, Android or listen right here, in the player below.

Guests include music professor Erik Levi and mortician Carla Valentine, as well as writer Colin Dickey and our very own presenter Catherine Bott.

Here's a chilling picture of Haydn's head in its display case

Haydn skull in display case. Lessing Images


Here's a couple of historians examining Haydn's skull

Haydn skull

Here's his coffin being re-opened in 1954

Haydn's tomb is opened

 Pictures: Lessing Images

Listen to the whole episode here:

Or download and subscribe on iTunes – or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

The recordings featured in this episode were:

The Creation – Haydn
Collegium Vocale Gent and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées conducted by Philippe Herreweghe 

'London' Symphonies – Haydn
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, conducted by Howard Shelley 

The 'Joke' Quartet – Haydn
The London Haydn Quartet 

The Queen of the Night’s aria from The Magic Flute – Mozart
Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Pygmalion conducted by Raphaël Pichon 

Original music was written by Thomas Hewitt Jones.