c. 1560: Dominique Phinot, queer composer

1 comment January 25th, 2016 Headsman

Jacob Bonfadius, a man otherwise not in the last place among the erudite, because of copulation with boys (a most vile and sordid thing), was beheaded in prison and publically burned. The French Dominique Phinot, a distinguished musician, was also killed in the same way for a very similar folly.

-Gerolamo Cardano

This throwaway remark by the Italian Renaissance man Cardano is our only clue to the fate — indeed, to the very biography — of the composer Dominique Phinot. Based on the volume’s publication in 1561, it is thought that Phinot suffered for his folly around 1557-1560. We don’t even know the place.

Whatever damnatio memoriae obscured him in death, Phinot (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a prominent and highly regarded musician in his working life, acclaimed an expert in polychoral motets. Some 90 exemplars, and dozens of other compositions, survive; the 17th century Italian musicologist Pietro Cerone credited Phinot’s innovations with opening the way for Palestrina.

He emerges for posterity through those compositions; the earliest surviving date to 1538 and his publication locales (and the powerful men to whom they were dedicated) suggest a man for whom patrons in northern Italy (and across the Alps in Lyons) eagerly competed in the 1540s and 1550s. It is known that Phinot was retained by the Duke of Urbino for a period.

It is surely topical to notice that our correspondent Cardano was himself widely whispered to enjoy the same folly, too: a Venetian whose deep interest in music led him to “adopt” into his wifeless** household a number of boys with musical gifts, Cardano could hardly fail to court suspicion. “The rumor was being circulated everywhere that I was using my boys for immoral purposes,” Cardano reports autobiographically of one instance where he was threatened with exposure. Cardano appears never to have been formally charged as a sodomite, but it is remarkable — and even, he admits, “foolishness” — that his brushes with danger never caused him to reconsider the boy-keeping policy.†

As a proper Renaissance man, Cardano’s interests stretched far beyond pederasty and a good tune. He was, in the backhanded compliment of Sir Thomas Browne, “a great Enquirer of Truth, but too greedy a Receiver of it” and treatised profusely on philosophy, law, geology, astronomy, pedagogy, medicine, and mathematics. The latter two fields brought him his fame, but his musings flashed intermittent prescience across disciplines. Cardano argued for the full mental capacity of the deaf, and correctly inferred that mountains had once been underwater from the presence of seashell fossils upon them. A cryptographic technique, a puzzle, and a gear mechanism all bear the Cardano name. His mathematician’s sure grasp on probability also made him a deft gambler — and he published yet another volume on this subject as a young man.

Cardano the physician’s most famous patient was the Archbishop of St. Andrews, whom Cardano in 1553 cured of a debilitating asthma that had stricken the prelate speechless and was thought untreatable by contemporaries. Thanks to Cardano, Archbishop Hamilton became spry enough to get hanged for murder in 1571.

Yet Cardano the man had a still closer acquaintance with the executioner’s office through the person of his firstborn son … a topic for another day’s post.

* Opera Omnia, vol. 2, p. 354 (Theonoston seu de tranquilitate) Translation via Clement Miller in “Jerome Cardan on Gombert, Phinot, and Carpentras,” The Musical Quarterly, July 1972. The aforementioned Gombert was another composer who got busted for same-sex contact; he caught a term in the galleys.

** Cardano’s wife Lucia died in 1546.

† For more see Guido Giglioni, “Musicus Puer. A note on Cardano’s household and the dangers of music,” Bruniana & Campanelliana, vol. 11, no. 1 (2005).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Italy,Sex,Uncertain Dates

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2009: Akmal Shaikh, mentally ill drug mule

8 comments December 29th, 2009 Headsman

This morning, China confirmed (to London’s fury) the dawn execution of British national Akmal Shaikh.

As tweeted @executedtoday, Shaikh has been at the eye of a media firestorm the past week, though without himself being aware of his impending (and publicly announced) execution until family members who had raced to China to plead for mercy met with him within the past day.

“He was obviously very upset on hearing from us of the sentence,” said the clan’s post-meeting (under)statement.

The 53-year-old Shaikh had been homeless in Poland and apparently duped into schlepping some cargo to China as part of a wild goose chase to become a pop star and bring world peace.

In any case like this (and certainly on any blog like this), the mystery parcel invariably contains drugs, doesn’t it? In this instance, our courier was busted at Ürümqi airport with 4 kg of heroin, some 80 times China’s death-sentencing threshold. He swore he knew nothing about it.

If “carry suspicious package for shady central Asian contact to usher in Age of Aquarius” sounds a bit daft … well, mental illness was the basis of Shaikh’s family’s appeal for his life. Shaikh seems to have been severely bipolar and to “may also have … delusional psychosis.”

“Insufficient,” said China; it never gave him a formal psychological evaluation.

So this morning, Akmal Shaikh became the first European executed in China in some 50-plus years … and the lone casualty of a lonely quest to somehow save the world.

Update: China flexes its muscle in the diplomatic row: “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally and not create new obstacles in bilateral relations.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Drugs,England,Execution,Milestones,Pelf,Ripped from the Headlines

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1942: Mykhailo and Olena Teliha, Ukrainian artists

Add comment February 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1942, poet Olena Teliha and her husband Mykhailo were shot by the Nazis at Babi Yar for their Ukrainian nationalist activism.


Olena Teliha (top) and her husband, Mykhailo Teliha.

Having lived in Czechoslovakia (where they met and married) and then Poland during the interwar period, the Telihas weren’t present for the worst of Soviet depredations in Ukraine. Mykhailo, a bandurist, might have been in an especially bad way, since his musical genre of choice harkened to subversive themes of Cossack insurrection, and was therefore heavily persecuted.

Instead, they moved to Kiev as the German invasion opened the prospect of returning to their ancestral homeland. There they found their affiliation with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists quite unwelcome to the new occupiers.

Olena kept writing for a prohibited nationalist paper, and Mykhailo gamely stuck by her.

Without a Name

Neither love, nor caprice nor adventure–
Not everything must be named.
As not always in abysmal waters
Can one find a motionless floor.

And when Your reawakened soul
Again rushes to a luminous path,
Do not question whose inspired oars
Were able to cast aside the dark shore.

Neither love, nor tenderness, nor passion,
Only heart — tumultuous eagle!
Drink then splashes, fresh, effervescent,
Of nameless, joyful sources.

(Executed Today friend Sonechka’s original translation from the Ukrainian text, found among this collection of Olena Teliha’s work)

Their execution this date is not to be confused with the mass execution of thirty thousand-plus Jews in September 1941, the atrocity with which Babi Yar is most frequently associated. This ravine continued to be used for Nazi executioners throughout the occupation of Kiev, including for more than 600 Ukrainian nationalists — who are today honored at the site with this monument:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Ukraine,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women

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1936: Antonio José, forgotten composer

3 comments October 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1936, the Spanish composer Antonio José was shot by Falangists during the Spanish Civil War.

The 33-year-old Burgos native (English Wikipedia page | the more detailed Spanish) was a rising young star, a writer, teacher and “folklorist” who had only that April earned plaudits for a paper on popular songs at an international musicology conference.

That July, the Spanish Civil War erupted … and the fascists clapped him in irons and shot him in the marshes near Estepar, Spain. I have not been able to find any clear documentation as to specifically how he earned the death sentence — which is not to say that the Spanish Falange deserves the benefit of the doubt for the regularity of its judicial procedures.

Despite Maurice Ravel’s (pre-Civil War) opinion that Jose would become “the Spanish composer of our century,” Jose’s work vanished into obscurity after his untimely death. Pieces like this Sonata Para Guitarra have only recently been widely rediscovered.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Shot,Spain,Wartime Executions

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2007: Not Sina Paymard, saved by a flute

July 18th, 2008 Headsman

On this date one year ago, a teenager who saved himself with a flute cheated Iran’s hangman by the narrowest of margins.

Sina Paymard had had the hemp about his throat the previous fall for murdering — at the tender age of 16 — a drug dealer in a pot buy gone bad.

The bipolar young musician’s last request was to play the ney (a Persian flute), and in a feat fit for legend, he played so movingly that the family of the victim reprieved him.

This power under Islamic sharia law comes with a price: the reprieve bought time for the families to negotiate alternative financial compensation known as diyeh. Come July, the lad’s family was still $90,000 short, and he was shifted to Tehran’s Evin prison to do the whole thing over again.

Sina’s new execution date received worldwide attention:

… helping them scrape together enough from donors (“notably a substantial donation from a university lecturer”) to make good his escape.

Such are the vicissitudes of the Iranian judiciary that Paymard went from all but dancing on air twice to outright liberty: he’s a free man today, or was as of a few months ago.

Though things worked out for Sina Paymard, other juvenile offenders continue to face the ultimate sanction in Iran — virtually the last outpost of the practice on the globe. Earlier this month, StopChildExecutions.com detailed 138 Iranian prisoners condemned for crimes committed as children; Iran has executed at least two such prisoners this year.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines

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