The church was packed.  Music lovers had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the life of the controversial musicologist, Dr Richard Jiggle. The memorial service, held three months after his untimely death, had been widely publicised.  Extra chairs were hurriedly arranged in the side aisles once it became clear they were needed to prevent people having to stand or, worse still, be denied entry. The sun illuminated the stained-glass windows on the south side of the church, casting a kaleidoscope of abstract patterns onto the stone pillars of the nave.

The congregation was not only large, it was unusually diverse. The late Dr Jiggle’s family members, a sister and a brother together with their offspring (Dr Jiggle had never married), were joined by his academic colleagues who, perched on the unforgiving wooden pews, sat shoulder to shoulder with Dr Jiggle’s numerous fans: regular concert-goers from the Barbican who loved, and in many cases collected, his irreverent programme notes and holiday-makers on cruises who had been enthralled by his lectures.

Dr Jiggle would have been delighted with the turnout.  He had always relished entertaining captive audiences, particularly those, drinks in hand, gathered together in the sumptuous lounges of luxury cruise liners. At the time of his death, his popularity as a speaker on classical music and the lives of composers was at its height.

There were two eulogies.  The first was delivered by Dr Jiggle’s sister. Unlike her late brother who had been overweight and unkempt, she was a neat, small woman, dwarfed by the brass eagle lectern with its generous wings.  The top of her head bobbed up and down as she read an account of her brother’s happy childhood in Dorset and how, despite almost certainly being dyslexic, he had taught himself to read music at an early age. He had learnt to play the piano and the ‘cello, gaining distinctions in both at grade 8.  She recounted how it slowly dawned on him that he wasn’t cut out for a career as a performer, being too gregarious to shut himself away practising for eight hours a day.  He won a scholarship to Cambridge and gained an MA in musicology.

People in the congregation, relishing their memories of Dr Jiggle as a cheerful, larger than life character, were incredulous that his sister could be so dull.  There had been ample opportunities for histrionics, but her delivery had been dry and humourless.  People gazed at the cover of the order of service where a large photograph of Dr Jiggle, wearing a skew-whiff bow tie, beamed happily at them. They longed for him to rise from the dead and deliver his own eulogy.

After Dr Jiggle’s sister had spoken, and ‘Blessed are the poor in heart’ had been sung (Dr Jiggle had left a list of his favourite hymns and organ music), a tall distinguished man rose from his pew and strode to the lectern. This was Sir Vernon Hamilton, a long-time colleague of Dr Jiggle’s at the school of music.

Sir Vernon stood, calmly surveying the congregation as he gathered his thoughts.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, as many of you will know, Richard, my late colleague, was a brilliant lecturer.’  Sir Vernon’s voice was deep and strong.  ‘Richard had an uncanny ability to adjust his delivery to suit the wavelength of his listeners. One of his many maxims was ‘know your audience’ and with that in mind I’m going to ask you to indicate, by raising your hand, into which of two categories you primarily fall.  Firstly, those of you who enjoyed Richard’s programme notes and/or knew Richard as a popular speaker on cruise ships.’

Hands shot up from at least three quarters of the congregation.  Some, in their enthusiasm, even waved both hands.

Sir Vernon smiled. ‘Thank you.  And secondly, Richard’s students, past and present, and his colleagues from academia.’

About a quarter of the hands were raised.

‘Just as I thought, we have a church full of fans!’  He shouted the word ‘fans’ as if he was introducing an act at the London Palladium.  A restrained cheer went up − restrained only because people were unsure how demonstrative to be within the hallowed walls of the church.

Sir Vernon beamed approvingly.  ’I'll do my best to address what I have to say to the vast majority here, namely, those of you who admired Richard as an entertaining storyteller.’

The congregation settled down as comfortably as the oak pews would allow. Some people were using the embroidered kneelers as cushions. The church bells chimed half past the hour.

Sir Vernon continued.  ‘It’s fair to say that Richard had a low boredom threshold.’  People laughed, appreciating the understatement. ‘He wrote the Barbican’s programme notes for a number of years without mishap, but eventually he started to include deliberate mistakes just to see if anyone would notice.  Initially the mistakes were minor, an incorrect birth date or place, for example, or a contrived middle name.  However, factual mistakes like these were usually corrected by the proof reader, and Richard realised he’d have to be − how can I put it? − more creative.’

Members of the congregation smiled to themselves, as if to say ‘here we go’.

Sir Vernon cleared his throat and continued. ‘As those of you who were avid collectors of his programme notes will know, his campaign to attract attention exceeded his expectations and soon hundreds of concert goers were caught up in a ‘spot-Richard’s-mistakes’ game.  It was an undoubted win-win:  Richard basked in his newfound notoriety and the Barbican’s programmes became collectors’ items.’

Sir Vernon paused.  He wasn’t speaking from notes and moved away from the shelter of the lectern, standing instead, tall and exposed, on the steps to the chancel.

‘Of the many fictions Richard dreamed up, perhaps the most outrageous, was the story he spun about Beethoven and Schubert.  Despite both composers living in Vienna and moving in the same circles, there is no evidence they ever met. Beethoven was a celebrity in his lifetime and it is unlikely that Schubert, 23 years his junior, had either the courage or the opportunity to make himself known to the master.’

Some members of the congregation exchanged knowing glances. Sir Vernon, confident he had everyone’s attention, continued.

‘However, as many of you will know, shortly before his death Richard claimed to have unearthed evidence that the two composers not only met in 1822, five years before Beethoven’s death, but that Beethoven secretly commissioned Schubert to ghost write some of his late string quartets.  Richard claimed that the deal meant that Beethoven, by then not only deaf but also stressed and in ill health, was freed up to concentrate on composing his ambitious ninth symphony.  Furthermore, according to Richard, the secret agreement explained why Schubert discontinued work on his eighth symphony: the Unfinished.’

Suddenly a strident woman’s voice called out from the gallery. ‘Has Richard’s claim that there was a secret agreement between the two men been totally discredited?’

People, astonished at the interruption, turned and gazed up at the gallery, straining to see who had spoken.  Before Sir Vernon could respond, a man in the front pew, stood up and turned to face the congregation.

‘I am a professor at the Royal School of Music and, much as it may disappoint you, I can assure you that there is absolutely no truth in my late colleague’s story.  It was a complete fabrication and Richard had been warned to desist from inventing such stories and bringing our profession into disrepute or face the consequences.’

An elderly man shouted, ‘Absolutely disgraceful!  You lot are just jealous of his success. You should be ashamed of yourselves, hounding the poor man to his death.’

‘Yes,’ screamed the woman from the gallery, ‘you only have yourselves to blame.  You have his blood on your hands!’

Someone else called out, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that one of you pushed him overboard.’

A number of people clapped in agreement and some shouted ‘hear, hear’.

Sir Vernon, attempting to regain control of the proceedings, said,  ‘Ladies and gentlemen, nothing would delight me more than to be able to use this occasion to announce that Richard’s theory had been authenticated, but I fear, as Professor Jenkins has said, it was nothing more than one of Richard’s entertaining stories.’

‘Prove it!’ shouted a new voice.

Professor Jenkins, looking flushed, leapt up again and yelled, ‘There is nothing to prove, absolutely nothing!  The whole story is utter nonsense.’

‘Sit down!’ someone called out. ‘You’re not helping.  We enjoyed Richard’s stories. Just a bit of harmless fun.’

The canon, who had been conducting the service before mayhem broke out, stood and raised his arms in a bid to calm the proceedings. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please remember we are in God’s house and gathered together to celebrate Dr Jiggle’s remarkable life.  Might I suggest we regain our composure by singing the next hymn, Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.’

The organ struck up.  Sir Vernon shrugged his shoulders in capitulation and returned to his seat with as much dignity as he could muster. The congregation reluctantly struggled to their feet and the hymn was duly sung, albeit half heartedly.

Thereafter the canon kept a tight grip on the proceedings and the remainder of the service passed without incident.

In the weeks following the disorderly memorial service, two significant things happened.

Firstly, a coroner’s inquest into Dr Jiggle’s untimely death brought in an open verdict.  No one could explain how he could have fallen off a luxury liner on a calm night and drowned in the Mediterranean.  The circumstances of his death, at the age of 63, remained an mystery.

Secondly, a small piece appeared in the Times under the headline ‘Dissonant musicologists’.  It recounted how a secret compartment had been discovered in an antique writing desk that had belonged to the late musicologist, Dr Richard Jiggle. Documents found in the compartment confirmed that the desk had once been the property of Anton Diabelli, an Austrian music publisher who died in Vienna in 1858.  Apparently, amongst the documents was a note in Diabelli’s handwriting, dated 18 November 1822, describing how he had introduced the young Schubert to Beethoven ‘with a view to Beethoven using Schubert to share his load’.

The article finished with a quote from a Professor Jenkins. ‘This is an astonishing and totally unexpected find.  Up until now it had always been assumed that the two composers never met. If they did, it helps to explain why Schubert was a torch bearer at Beethoven’s funeral.  It is no exaggeration to say that the discovery of these documents is unprecedented and some or all of Beethoven’s late string quartets, despite the original scores being in his hand, may have to be reattributed.’

2 comments

  1. Love it! A great story! I can’t help feeling Richard Jiggle may have had the last word here and played a last trick on the music society — but then, maybe not. Maybe this “clown of the music world” was sitting on some earth-shattering evidence all his life without knowing it.

  2. You have a new profession. I know you’re a raconteur par excellence. Now I know you’re a short story author par excellence. Marvellous.

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