This week, We kicked off a month of seasonal shows with a celebration of Krmapusnacht. Browse below for trivia about Krampus, and music by composers who deserve a visit from the Christmas devil.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Eine Alpensinfonie [An Alpine Symphony], Op. 64 With several horror films inspired by him, as well as a couple microbrews, a funkopop, a local festival and all sorts of pop ephemera, Krampus has become something of a counterculture icon in the United States. But before this lovable goat demon made his way across the Atlantic to terrorize American children, Krampus was a familiar sight in advent festivals in Austrian and German Alpine villages. Since at least the 17th century, if not before then, Krampus has accompanied St. Nicholas on his rounds visiting children. It is said that while St. Nicholas rewards good behavior with gifts, candy, and coins, Krampus punishes bad behavior with his birch switch, and for the really bad children children, a trip in his wicker backpack to hell. Alpine villages such as Kappl, Lienz and even the city of Salzburg are known for elaborate festivals on Krampusnacht, the evening before St. Nicholas’s Day. The highlight of the night is the Krampuslauf or Krampus Run, in which performers don elaborate Krampus costumes and run through the streets switching onlookers in their path.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Baryton Trio No. 49 in G, Hob. XI:49 You might have assumed that Haydn was on our naughty list for his many musical moments of mischief. His Surprise Symphony surely had its first listeners startled from their seats. His Distraction Symphony has its musicians purposefully play out of tune, and his Joke Quartet is full of falsed endings to try and bait the audience to clap before the music is over. These are just a few of many examples. However, in true Krampus fashion, the reason Haydn is on our show tonight is for an incident from when he was a child, a choirboy to be specific, at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Records show that Haydn was expelled from the choir there, and though a reason was given that it was because his voice broke, another account states that he cut off a fellow chorister’s ponytail, and was subsequently expelled. As further punishment, in typical 18th century-disciplinary fashion, he also received some thumps from the choirmaster’s cane. Although, had he been up in the Alps, perhaps that cane would have been the Krampus’s birch switch.
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) The Wreckers: Overture Although a Londoner by birth, Ethel Smyth was sent to Leipzig for her musical education, and hob-nobbed with the likes of Brahms, Grieg, and Clara Schumann. She was a highly-regarded singer and composed many chamber songs, but aspired to compose opera, eventually producing The Wreckers. This opera follows inhabitants of a Cornish fishing village that lure ships onto the rocks so they can plunder them. Although no pirate, Smyth herself had a couple run-ins with the law. She was militant in her support for women’s rights during the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, and was jailed for two months with other members of the Women’s Social and Political Union for throwing bricks.
Arnold Bax (1883-1953) November Woods As a composer and writer infatuated with Celtic mythology, many of Arnold Bax’s symphonic poems evoke the wild and mysterious landscapes of the British Isles, where in deep forest glens and windswept moors, the supernatural always seems close at hand. However in Bax’s case, while the dark and romantic woods might be where faeries dance in the moonlight, it’s also where you might go for a little extra-marital affair. In 1916 Bax had begun a passionate romance with the pianist Hariet Cohen. The fact that Bax was already married and had two kids did little to dissuade him from cycling out to meet Hariet in the stormy Buckinghamshire countryside in late autumn, where they would retire for the evening at a quaint inn. These episodes were immortalized in Bax’s autobiographical symphonic work November Woods and its corresponding poem Amersham.
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) Symphony No. 1 in c Much has been written about Anton Bruckner’s odd behavior and strange habits, especially his obsession with counting and numbers. However, according to his contemporaries his other great obsession was death, and to say his attitude towards death was odd would definitely be an understatement. He frequented funerals and viewings of total strangers, and reportedly had a specially commissioned photo in his studio of his mother’s corpse in an open casket, for all his students and visitors to see. Most infamously, there are accounts of Bruckner trying to steal both Schubert and Beethoven’s skulls while the bodies were being interred. During the internment ceremony, Brukner apparently kissed the skulls and cradled them in his arms, and had to be forcibly pulled away from the caskets. The composer maintained that during the incident, one of the lenses from his spectacles dropped into Beethoven’s remains and had been there ever since.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) Play of the Virtues [Ordo Virtutum]: Enter The Devil A singular work by polymath Hildegard of Bingen is her allegorical Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama about a soul who is eager to skip life and go straight to heaven, and is tempted by the devil. This excerpt, where the devil appears in a speaking role, is on tonight’s show so we can put on our horned history hats for Krampus. It’s hard to trace the history of Krampus, but he likely originates as a figure from Germanic pagan rituals assimilated with the devil character in early christian morality plays, of which Ordo Virtutum is the oldest surviving example. These medieval plays portrayed personifications of the virtues who spar with the devil, and the lucky player who got to be the devil would wear a whimsical horned mask meant to scare the audience or make them laugh. Some of these masks are still preserved, and it’s thought that they inspired the horned masks that mischief merry-makers don for the Krampus Run.
Peter Warlock (1894-1930) Capriol Suite By many accounts, Philip Heseltine’s upbringing was unremarkable. He came from a well-off family and benefited from a formal education at Eton and Oxford, where he showed an interest in early music and became an avid fan of Frederick Delius. However, after many disappointments and false starts at a career, something changed in the young Philip and he reinvented himself, growing a sinister little beard and mustache and changing his name to Peter Warlock. Peter Warlock was edgy and confrontational, publishing inflammatory criticism in culture magazines and living a scandalous lifestyle of drugs and sex, excessive partying and dabbling in the occult. He became particularly notorious for riding his motorcycle naked through English villages. As a composer, he tended to write during short but intense bursts of creativity, however due to his untimely death from gas poisoning at age 36 his oeuvre of original work is comparatively small. His greatest legacy is the nearly 600 transcriptions of early music he published over two decades.
Thomas Weelkes (c.1575-1623) Give the king thy judgements, O God When it comes to general bad behavior while on the clock, it's hard to beat the 16th century madrigalist and organist Thomas Weelkes. While his role as one of the founding composers of English church music has stood the test of time, so has his reputation for public drunkenness and profanity. While serving as organist for Chichester Cathedral, he had a habit of showing up intoxicated at the organ console and shouting profanities during sermons. It is a true testament to his talent that he was only fined and not immediately fired from his post when during an evensong, he accidentally urinated on the Dean of the Cathedral from the choir loft! After many public scandals his conduct eventually caught up with him, and he was dismissed by the Bishop of Sherborne in 1617. He was able to stay on as a clerk, though apparently the demotion did little to alter his behavior.
Glenn Crytzer (b. 1981) The Krampus Krampus is not the only scary Christmas-time companion. There is also Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, a grizzled old man who also accompanies Saint Nicolas, and who is said to give children coal if they haven’t helped keep the house clean. There is Père Fouettard in France, who accompanies Father Christmas. His name translates to Father Whipper; I think it’s pretty clear what his job is. In Italy there is Le Bafana, she is a witch, with a broomstick and everything! although not an evil witch. Using her magic broomstick to fly from house to house, she is said to have a big grin as she comes down the chimney with gifts for the household. But, Krampus has to be the scariest with his huge horns, slimy tongue and rattling chains, and the one with the biggest cloven-hoof print right here in Bloomington, home of WFIU. Krampusnacht has been publicly celebrated in Bloomington with either a parade or festival for over a decade, with folklorist Al Ridenour believing Bloomington’s celebration to be the biggest in the country.