Fritzin' the Looking-Glass
On the second anniversary of Fritz Spiegl's death,
JENNIFER PAULL looks into his witty reflection
and recalls musical frustrations and fun with Fritz
You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream.
- Frank Zappa (1940-1993) American rock musician, composer
I used to love to travel. Now I enjoy places when I reach them, but find myself lost to boredom and anxiety for most of the tedious journeying. I dare say the Orient Express would be more fascinating than the silver cigar cases that fly us about without much charm today. It appears I did take the legendary train from Paris to Prague when I was three, but can hardly claim to be very aware of what was going on at the time.
I possess an advanced talent for needing to reach places, which are one train plus three plane journeys away (Tallahassee FL, Cedar Rapids IA and so on ... a poetic list). I'm certain there is something in the Geneva Convention about this being beyond the permitted tolerance of any concert-giving musician without an overnight stay en route. Such a trip with inter-plane waits can approach twenty hours! 'They' never pay for overnighting and never have!
So, a train to Geneva Airport admiring the view (on first name terms with every stone by now) is followed by the inevitable Prélude before plane one. I inevitably cast a last, lingering look at my departing luggage as it is swallowed from view in the often, vain hope that it will be resurrected at the same destination aboard the same flight as myself. Before me; the fears of missing plane two in a hopelessly distant terminal from that at which I and the suitcase (in the US) will (hopefully) land and be examined by officials after plane one; of falling asleep, exhausted in boarding lounge three after a second 4-minute-mile dash and terminal change; Cancellation Panic Disorder, or the Whole-Shebang-going-to-Pot Phobia, or any or all of the above!
I can't read. The hum of engines closes me off from everything except my inner thoughts. So, grasping my approximation of hot coffee in a plastic cup, I sat like a sardine (but sardines have the right to lie flat, I wonder where their convention was signed?) and flicked though the Delta In-Flight magazine. There was a channel provided for 'Classical' music on the headset! The programme of choice morsels had been selected by Fritz Spiegl, with a few penned words of appropriate introduction. I smiled. This was more like it! I was now going to be able to replay my own memories for at least three flights and inter-flight boarding lounge, yawning sessions (often as lengthy as the flights themselves) and a litre or two more of brown, boring beverage (hot or cold -- with or without bubbles) and plastic food.
I can't remember exactly when I met Fritz. It was surely when I played with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time and the rules of the said Geneva Convention do not make revealing the year a necessity, which is most fortuitous as I do not recall! Of course, I had seen him before as I sat hidden in the shadows of the balcony when a student at the Liverpool Matthey School of Music, soaking up as many RLPO rehearsals as I possibly could. I think these were the most instructive of my years of introductory musical study for this very reason. I listened to wonderful conductors talking to the orchestra and learned and understood the potential pitfalls and problems of an extensive repertoire. These secrets do not reach the concert, but are exposed in rehearsal. I spent hours every week simply soaking it all in.
On stage, there were raised, wooden podia for the wind section upon which Fritz -- no mean artist with a brush -- had outlined footprints in white upon their black background for all who sat upon them. The size of feet varied little, but for his second flute, he had painted four beautiful cat's paws for the lady with whom there was minimal, mutual understanding. However, there were no barriers around their edges and one terrible day, Fritz' chair slipped over the edge during a rehearsal as he was sitting playing. He plummeted to the ground plus chair plus easily damaged flute. He turned puce, told John Pritchard what he thought about the management, con brio, and walked out never again to return to the RLPO. There was a pregnant silence and I shrank even deeper into my shadows. Looking back now, I wonder how he had the courage to do that. I am not passing any comment upon the situation, the ins and outs of which were unknown to me. I am simply saying that the actual deed in itself is a very dangerous one in the Arts, as he was surely aware. There are many versions of the story -- but I was there. The aftershock was so tremendous that the rehearsal broke up and everybody left, very much sotto voce. Going to rehearsals to learn about the standard repertoire was an invaluable education in more ways than one!
Fauré, Director of the National Conservatoire in Paris, walked out from his post when Ravel was not attributed the Prix de Rome for a submitted composition. In Fauré's opinion, it was his student's due. The politics by which prizes and postings are formulated and attributed meant less to him than the undoubted talent of his student and his own musical integrity. It's much easier to stay put and keep the salary and pay the mortgage and feed the children in any given situation. To attempt to keep body and soul together on the artistic tightrope always has and probably always will be to find one's self in quicksand.
Copyright © 23 March 2005
Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland