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J R Soc Med. 2002 October; 95(10): 523.
PMCID: PMC1279190

Fritz Spiegl's MuSick Notes—A Medical Song Book

Reviewed by J S P Lumley

280 pp. Price £52.99 ISBN 1-85070-278-0 (h/b)
London: Parthenon Publishing, 2002 .

In his latest work, Fritz Spiegl has assembled the words and music of forty-two songs and other musical matter, all relating to medicine (it is about lotions, urges and purges). The cover of each piece has been reunited with its music, sometimes after more than a century. Twenty-six of these memorable illustrations have also been reproduced in full colour in a separate section.

The contents provide remedies for most of life's ailments, including Dr Jongh's Cod Liver Oil and Bile Beans. The Wincarnis Waltz demonstrates how medicine dealt with the problems of prohibition. Apparently, Beecham's pills were as good for bad legs as for headache and all nervous afflictions (as well as supporting Sir Thomas's orchestra), while Ja Jah protected against income tax as well as baldness. 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: we are reminded in the Lithotomy Sonata that Samuel Pepys was a rare survivor of such an intervention. We learn of heartache, heartbreak and the debauched medical student, and marvel at the potentials of thermogene and ipecacuanha in an era devoid of evidence-based practice, controlled trials or licensing laws. The more memorable tunes are often from the pen of distinguished composers. The music is well reproduced, although the three-quarter score occasionally requires magnification. None of the publishers is still in existence: there may be a message there somewhere.

Fritz Spiegl has provided an admirable collection of medical curios, giving us a glimpse of the music performed in Victorian and Edwardian parlours probably alongside the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and those of other more serious composers. The words and commentary offer plenty of opportunity for enjoyable browsing, and there is some good material to add to the performer's repertoire.

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press