The Ensouled Violin (1892) by Mme. Blavatsky (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror October 8, 2013 Women in Horror Month
Words create images. Does this headline conjure up images of craggy women flying on goats or witches dancing back to back around fiery circles? Press refresh in your mind. What if musical notes could create thick shapes and figures right before your eyes? Imagine the dance of violin music. If you’ve ever listened deeply to Paganini’s Witches’ Dance (La Streghe) you might know how his music can enter us in a very muscular way. But could music transform into a spell of images before our eyes? If music could perform such a supernatural event, is it the violin or the violinist that has that power?
Mme. Blavatsky brings us a story full of musical mesmerism, and Paganini is a major character drawn in full color. Paganini’s reputation for becoming bewitched by the devil in exchange for his brilliant career holds the central theme. The Italian was revered for playing his Witches Dance “pizzicato” with the left hand directly on the gut strings—without the aid of the bow. Was his superior talent singularly human?
In The Ensouled Violin, Franz Stenio, our semi-talented, young and aspiring musician dreams with his eyes open. He daydreams of nymphs and sirens, Calliope, Orpheus, and Olympus. These muses contribute to his Bohemian and penniless life. Until an old German, Samuel Klaus, a generous and hearty music teacher, decides to take Franz into his home as his own son. Klaus instills in Franz an ambition for exceptional talent and worldly fame, fame that might compete with the great and powerful Paganini. Off they go to Paris.
Yep, there are lots of discordant notes going on here, cacophonous cries of frenzy, a phantasmagoria, and Eastern Black Magic. Violins are mysterious instruments, singing out to us with the smallest swipe of the bow from their enchanting gut strings. One wonders, exactly whose gut strings are they that can create such beautiful sounds? Goats? Cats? Sheep? This is where the story gets especially ghastly. What kind of gut strings does Paganini use in his violin?
The old German teacher tells Franz the story of Paganini’s supernatural art and the Italian’s reputed deal with the devil. Franz is shocked but deeply curious. He asks Klaus, “Do you really believe that had I only the means of obtaining human intestines for strings, I could rival Paganini?”
Klaus unveiled his face, and, with a strange look of determination upon it, softly answered: “Human intestines alone are not sufficient for our purpose; they must have belonged to someone who had loved us well, with an unselfish holy love.”
Unselfish holy love? Blavatsky doesn’t leave us hanging for long with this sinister turn in the story. By the witches of Thessaly and the dark arts of Circe, our young and tender Franz chooses his fate … and the fate of another.
Blavatsky was a seductive storyteller. She became famous for being a philosopher, spiritualist, pioneer in the occult, one of the first people to coin the phrase the sixth sense, and was co-founder of The Theosophical Society in 1875. Her fiction is a small batch of stories in Nightmare Tales, published in 1907.
Read The Ensouled Violin at Gaslight:
May I suggest, for an added appreciation of this very extraordinary short story, you listen to Paganini’s Witches Dance at Classical Music Online. What could be better than a classic horror story and a magnificent piece of classical music to complement the experience? Well, perhaps a glass of wine, preferably in a cut-glass goblet. Magnifico!
You can access more of Mme. Blavatsky’s short stories in the links below, at the Theosophical University Press Online Edition.
CAN THE DOUBLE MURDER? — (c. 1876-77)
AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY — (c. 1876-77)
KARMIC VISIONS — (June 1888)
THE LEGEND OF THE BLUE LOTUS — (April 1890)
A BEWITCHED LIFE — (c. 1890-91)
THE LUMINOUS SHIELD — (c. 1890-91)
THE CAVE OF THE ECHOES — (c. 1890-91)
FROM THE POLAR LANDS — (c. 1890-91)
THE ENSOULED VIOLIN — (c. 1890-91)
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