THE LOST STRADIVARIUS (1895) by John Meade Falkner – More than a century before Anne Rice’s violin-oriented ghost story Violin came The Lost Stradivarius. Halloween month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with a look at this neglected gem of horror fiction.
The main story is set in the 1840s. John Maltravers, a young man from the British gentry, is attending Magdalen College at Oxford University. Stumbling across an anonymous piece of lost music the talented Maltravers plays the piece on a violin.
This spontaneous recital summons up – among other horrors – the ghost of Adrian Temple, the violinist who composed the eerie piece of music when he was a student at Oxford in the 1750s. That ghost leads John to the hidden location of his (Temple’s) Stradivarius violin.
Under the tutelage of the spectral Adrian Temple, Maltravers becomes a master violinist on that Stradivarius, and is drawn deeper and deeper into occult studies and bawdy rituals. Driving away friends and family and scandalizing Oxford University, John flees to Naples, Italy.
In Naples the young man becomes obsessed with further mastering the priceless Stradivarius as Adrian Temple’s ghost tutors him in the ways music can open doorways to the beyond. Adrian was himself an occultist and a member of the Medmenham Monks, the forerunners of the infamous Hellfire Club.
Like Temple before him, Maltravers divides his time between occult study, wild orgies and refining his musical talents, all in hopes of conjuring up a Visio Malefica – the demonic counterpart to a Beatific Vision.
The Lost Stradivarius is not as action-oriented as some of the other lost horror stories I’ve covered but it should appeal to lovers of Gothic literature with its combination of aesthetic pursuits and entities summoned from beyond the grave.
As a nice footnote here I’ll mention that on January 29th, 1966 British television (ITV to be exact) aired an adaptation of The Lost Stradivarius with the legendary Jeremy Brett as John Maltravers. Brett’s skill with a violin – which decades later would be on display in his series of Sherlock Holmes appearances – must have really shone in that debut episode of Mystery and Imagination.
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