The violinist who was executed in the Tower

The violinist who was executed in the Tower


norman lebrecht

September 20, 2011

Daniel Hope, always buzzing with ideas, has a new radio documentary coming up about a German-Brazilian violinist who was convicted of spying in the First World War and executed in the Tower of London. The evidence against him was circumstantial, at best. It calls to mind a much later fatal incident of Brazilian mistaken identity in London – the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the panicked aftermath of the 7/7 bombing attacks.

It’s a tale I’ve never heard before and I shall be glued to the radio on the date below. Daniel has also got a Wigmore Hall date next week.

Daniel Hope presents ‘Fiddler in the Tower’ on  BBC Radio 3, on 26th October 2011

Violinist Daniel Hope visits the Tower of London and tells the little-known and remarkable story of German/Brazilian Fernando Buschmann (1890-1915) the virtuoso violinist and engineer charged with espionage  in World War One.
Buschmann’s wartime existence comprised of a string of still-born entrepreneurial adventures from aircraft design to cheese and vegetable export, with allegedly spying on the Royal Navy also thrown in.   His big love was his violin and when he 1915 he was arrested and condemned to face a firing squad at the Tower he asked for his instrument to be brought to his cell. The night before his execution Buschman played through the night, the violin echoing and keening round the place. When his guard collected him for the walk to the miniature rifle range to face a Scots Guards firing-squad, Buschman picked up his violin and kissed it saying “Goodbye, I shall not want you any more”. And in a heart-rending final gesture he gave the instrument to one of the soldiers who had a violinplaying child.
In the Chapel of the Tower, beside the tombs of famed Tower victims, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Sir Thomas More, Daniel performs the music Buschman played tries to fathom what motivated this man and imagines himself facing those final fated hours.
There’s a chance to hear Daniel Hope in Recital at the Wigmore Hall on 26 September, at 1pm, with Sebastian Knauer, in a programme celebrating Joachim
Grieg  Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor Op. 45
Joachim  Hebrew Melody Op. 9 No. 1 (arr. violin and piano)
Brahms  Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Op. 100


  • Doug says:

    Before getting all teary-eyed and laying into the moral relativism, read up on Buschmann. He was obviously a spy. His only downfall is that he lived in time when spies were executed. Now they become international celebrities.

    • Phil Tomaselli says:

      Buschmann may have been a talented violinist but he certainly was a spy, albeit not necessarily a particularly willing one. A transcript of his trial is available for all to see at The Nationalo Archives at Kew, along with a general account of the investigation that led to his capture by MI5. I have read both.

  • ariel says:

    If we could only send a batch of to-days violinists to the tower – what a relief that would be for humanity.
    Does the tower have a suggestion box for violinists never to be heard from again ?
    Could it be that he was not executed for being a spy …his violin playing ???

  • I’m just wondering, where Daniel Hope finds all that energy . I’m admiring his passion for music and his imperturbable desire to share this passion in a very unpatronizing way!
    Looking forward to meeting him on October 4 at the Philharmonie Luxembourg.

  • Joseph OGBONNA says:

    I read this deeply emotional story from a book given to me by the principal of the school I teach in Nigeria. His name is Mr Christopher Terry, and he is British. I made further research on Fernando Buschmann on the internet, and found this story. I really did shed tears. I frankly cried and wished I could go back in time and plead for clemency for this courageous Brazilian-German fiddler. The wicked officers who executed him should have acted like human beings, which I presume they were, by rescinding the order to execute this pleasant gentle man. May his passionate soul continue to rest in peace. I just can’t stand the pain.

  • Joseph OGBONNA says:

    I am a prolific poet. I feel deeply moved to compose a poem for the ‘fiddler in the tower’.

  • Joseph OGBONNA says:

    You can read my poem ‘The Fiddler at London’s Tower’ on the internet. I just composed it.