Friday, April 25, 2014

Swan Song of the Satanist

Because of its ability to evoke unaussprechlichen thoughts, feelings and memories, music is often an important element in horror entertainments.  It is a central focus in two stories written in the 1920s and the 1930s by two of the more famous pulp fiction authors.  H.P. Lovecraft published his beloved The Music of Erich Zann in the March issue of The National Amateur, in 1922.  This story was discussed in an earlier post, (see A Musical Nightmare ), and is generally well known to readers of Lovecraft.

Briefly, in Lovecraft’s The Music of Erich Zann, an impoverished student of metaphysics befriends a secretive old musician named Erich Zann.  The man is a very accomplished player of an instrument that resembles a cello.  He plays his instrument near an open window, overlooking the city.  There is an eerie sense that the old man that is actually playing a duo and not a solo, and there is a nightmarish end to his last performance.

Robert E. Howard’s Casonetto’s Last Song is probably less well known, but shares some similarities with The Music of Erich Zann.  One wonders if the earlier story was the inspiration for Howard’s work.  Casonetto’s Last Song was published posthumously in 1973 in Etchings and Odysseys #1, but must have been written sometime before 1936, the year that Howard died. 

Although Erich Zann played live for the narrator of Lovecraft’s story, the late—because recently executed—Casonetto appears in Howard’s tale only as a gramophone recording of his last vocal performance.  (Disc shaped records like the one depicted in the story came into vogue by the early 1920s.) And what a performance!  The deceased opera singer nearly accomplishes a unique form of revenge through the power of his song. 

The helpful chart below summarizes some of the similarities and differences between these interesting stories.

The Music of Erich Zann
Casonetto’s Last Song
Instrument played
Male operatic voice
Musical Composition
Invocation from the Black Mass
Cheap orchestral gigs
Renowned opera singer; high priest of demonic cult
Type of performance
Live performance, including duo with a guest musician
High fidelity gramophone recording
Intent of musical composition
Ward off entity from another dimension
Accompaniment to sacrifice of human virgins when invoking Satan
Effect on audience
Cosmic fear
Psychic re-enactment of a black mass ending in ritual murder
“Where are they now?”
Erich Zann died of fright during his last performance, but kept on playing even while dead.
Casanetto was arrested and executed for human sacrifice.  He made an unsuccessful, posthumous attempt at revenge against his accuser.  He is in Hell now.


  1. I have one *serious* suspension-of-disbelief issue with Cassonetto's LAst song;" given how popular he is said to be, many of his recordings would be in private hands, both collectors and ordinary listeners, who would not be inclined to turn over or sell their records just because of a proviso in Cassonetto's will, nor could most of them even be traced. So, while his executor could get back any copies left in stores and warehouses (assuming nobody in *those* places pulls a fast one) many copies of his records would still be out there, and ready for revival in an LP in the 60s! D'C'A'

    1. Good point. Even worse, what if Cassonetto's recording was eventually digitalized, and then made available for innumerable downloads on I-tunes? His future listeners would be re-enacting black masses--when they were not disco dancing to hits from the 70s,(an even greater horror).


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