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As Ferdinand Hiller stood beside Beethoven's coffin he asked whether he could cut off a lock of the master composer's hair. In the days before the invention of photography this was not an unusual request; in fact it was common for people to keep locks of hair as remembrances of those who had died. The historical keepsake continued to be passed down subsequent generations of the Hiller family, until years later the heirloom (pun intended) mysteriously came into the possession of a Danish doctor who had been involved in helping hundreds of Jews forced into hiding from the Gestapo during World War II. Who handed the antiquity to the doctor, and why, is just one of the riddles thrown up by a treasure trail that spans two centuries and touches countless lives.
Beethoven's Hair is a historical jigsaw painstakingly pieced together by Russell Martin (author of the highly acclaimed Out of Silence who discovers that as the macabre memento travels through time it has a profound effect on the people who become intrinsically linked by its existence. Revered by Beethoven enthusiasts around the world, the historical lock is considered a true relic that keeps "the spirit of [Beethoven] present and somehow wonderfully alive". As does Martin's book, by sporadically transporting the reader back to 19th-century Vienna for a colourful glimpse of the great composer's life. And now, thanks to modern-day DNA testing, previously unknown secrets about the man who became a musical genius can be revealed. This is a fascinating read. --Christopher Kelly [via]