The Composer Is Dead
Key crew
Publisher: HarperCollins
Writer: Lemony Snicket
Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Release details
Genre: Mystery
Release date: March 3, 2009
Format: Picture book, 40 pages
ISBN 9780061236273
The Composer Is Dead is a picture book mystery, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Carson Ellis, with music by Nathaniel Stookey. It was released as both a musical recording, and a book with a CD insert of a live performance of a Lemony Snicket concert.


There's dreadful news from the symphony hall—the composer is dead! If you have ever heard an orchestra play, then you know that musicians are most certainly guilty of something. Where exactly were the violins on the night in question? Did anyone see the harp? Is the trumpet protesting a bit too boisterously?

In this perplexing murder mystery, everyone seems to have a motive, everyone has an alibi, and nearly everyone is a musical instrument. But the composer is still dead.

Perhaps you can solve the crime yourself. Join the Inspector as he interrogates all the unusual suspects. Then listen to the accompanying audio recording featuring Lemony Snicket and the music of Nathaniel Stookey performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Hear for yourself exactly what took place on that fateful, well-orchestrated evening.


After the suspicious death of the composer, an Inspector is called in to find the murderer(s).

He begins by interrogating the strings. The Violin section explains that they were kept busy all night by playing, but would have no motive to kill the composer, as without an orchestra they'd be playing at square dances or romantic restaurants. The Cellos and Basses were providing accompaniment, and the Inspector suspects they may have had a motive for playing something boring, but the Cellos and Basses argue that they feel no need to show off. The Inspector almost forgets about the Violas- which tends to happen a lot- but they have an alibi that they were stacking chairs the night before, though they noticed the Concertmaster talking to the composer. The Concertmaster explains that she was talking to him about her cadenza, which was too important for her to risk murderering him.

The Inspector then talks to the woodwinds, beginning with the flutes, who were doing bird imitations all night, but are too wimpy and high-pitched for murder. The Reed instruments- Clarinets, Bassoons and Oboes- then compliment the Inspector until he moves on from them, and he decides to investigate the brass.

The Trumpets then explain that the night before they were playing loudly for the arrival of Kings of Presidents and led soldiers into battle and led parades. They enjoy being loud, though, and explain that they think the murder was committed by a foreigner. Following this tip, the Inspector questions the French Horns, who murmur something about the Old Country. The Trombones defend them, explaining that they took them to a club last night.

The Percussion Instruments barge in to say that they were also the club, and by the end they were too exhausted to commit murder. The Inspector asks the Tuba where he was, and he explains that he was home all night playing cards with his landlady, the Harp.

The Inspector is baffled that none of the instruments seem to have committed the murder, but then he comes to an epiphany; the Conductor must be the murderer, as "wherever there's a conductor, you're sure to find a dead composer!" He orders that the Conductor be arrested, but the orchestra comes to his aid. Speaking in unison, they explain that all of them "have butchered a conductor at one time or another," but they also keep composers alive. Without instruments, there would be no composing at all (except for various kinds of nonorchestral music), and that if you want to hear the work of the greatest composers, a little murder must be allowed here and there.

The Inspector protests that this is injustice, and the orchestra explains, "Those who want justice can go to the police. But those who want something a little more interesting... should go to the orchestra!"


  • The book was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, and premiered at Davies Symphony Hall on July 8, 2006, with Daniel Handler narrating and Edwin Outwater conducting. The orchestral work has since been performed at several other orchestras.[1]
  • The book was written in order to introduce children to the different instruments.


Audio Gallery

"The Composer is Dead."

Composer Is Dead 1

The String Section

Composer Is Dead 2
Composer Is Dead 3

The Woodwind Section

Composer Is Dead 4

The Brass Section

Composer Is Dead 5

The Percussion Section

Composer Is Dead 6

The Tuba and the Harp

Composer Is Dead 7

"But the Composer is still dead."

Composer Is Dead 8

The Conductor.

Composer Is Dead 9


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