Thursday, April 19, 2007

Through the looking glass

Fritz Spiegl (27 January 1926 - 23 March 2003) was a musician, journalist, broadcaster, humorist and collector of Austrian origin who lived and worked in England from 1939. As a jew he fled the nazis and on arrival in Britain, Spiegl was sent to a minor public school, where he learned little beyond "rugger, plane-spotting and a bit of Latin". Every Saturday, for eight years, Spiegl would discuss such bizarre matters as the use of the word "lie", the flagrant misuses of parliamentary language, the prevalence of tautology in popular speech and the verb "jubilize" as it was employed during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. He kept collecting peculiar notions and anecdotes throughout his life.

On the first of April, 1960 the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra flute player Spiegl played an instrument of his own creation, the Loophonium. You can listen to a podcast here. Or read the transcript. As mentioned during the presentation, "The perfect Surrealist work of art was once described as the meeting of an umbrella and a bicycle on a dissecting table. This is the marriage of a euphonium and a lavatory".

In 1952 he started organising 'April Fool's Day Concerts', such as a concerto for two tuning forks, a Motor Horn Concerto or Rossini's La Cenerentola played on 8 grand piano's by 16 pianists. He left the Liverpool Philharmonic after he decided to play his part on regular concerts half a tune lower than he should have. He became partly deaf, according to him due to the copper section, but remained an active composer - one of his most famous works was BBC's Radio 4 UK theme.

The Loophonium, also called the 'Harpic-phone' whose lid was lifted whenever Rule Brittania was played, can be admired and heard at the Walker Museum in Liverpool.

Spiegl wrote very odd books, amongst them several books on Liverpool dialect, and

"the words and music of forty-two songs and other musical matter, all relating to medicine … Spiegl's anecdotes and historical vignettes provide a  characteristic blend of humour and education, updating the reader on phrenology, laughing gas, Burke and Hare, and the undertaker Bantry who first linked obesity with early death"

from the Journal of the Royal society of Medicine

About which a work in progress can be found on the Scouse Press site.

"KORO/KURU With Creutzfeldt-Jakob and “Mad Cow” disease in the news, the MEDIA have become aware of other degenerative brain diseases, like kuru, endemic in parts of New Guinea and caused by cannibal consumption of brain tissue. It is not to be confused with koro, also a complaint suffered by NATIVES. This, though imaginary, causes fear and distress among certain African tribes, whose menfolk believe that witch-doctors have cast a spell on their penises to make them shrink. And, as if by magic, the more they worry about it the worse the condition gets."

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