It’s not often that you get to listen to the sound of a surgical procedure put to music, but that’s exactly what the Dutch-based pharmaceutical company Norgine (established way back in 1906) decided its’ UK sales force needed to help them sell their laxatives to chemists’ shops around the country in the mid-1960s.
Livingstone Recordings, a short-lived London-based label that specialised in religious recordings and had previously put out an album by Billy Graham, manufactured the disc. The B-side features A Representatives Visit, an audio vignette which features a Norgine salesman selling Normacol to a GP: ‘can we begin by talking about constipation?’ Ugh! ‘Now let’s jump from the bowel to the stomach’…
But it is the A-side that’s the pip.
Tableau of a Lithotomy was written by the 17th century French composer Marin Marais. A busy man, as well as writing several books of instrumental music and being a court-appointed musician to the king, he also managed to find the time to sire 19 children. The piece, as described on the gatefold sleeve of the disc, is ‘a musical description of a bladder operation’ It appears that Marais intended that Tableau of a Lithotomy would demonstrate the versatility of the viol (also known as the Viola da Gamba), a bowed string instrument similar to the cello.
'Some 250 years ago a French composer, Marin Marais, wrote - to the best of our knowledge - the only musical description of a surgical operation. He called it "Le tableau de l'operation de la taille" or "Tableau of a Lithotomy". This most unusual offering was taken from an old edition of the Library of the Conservatory of Music in Paris; it had not previously been performed in modern times.
Marin Morais (1656-1728) - the greatest player of the viola de gamba of his time - was a pupil of Lulli and a soloist in the Royal Chamber Orchestra at the time of Louis XIV. He wrote profusely and brilliantly for the viola da gamba, but his compositions for this 7-stringed instrument are in such complicated polyphonic style that they defy transcription for the 4-stringed violin-cello and today, unfortunately all but forgotten.
Our recording was made by the famous Dutch viola da gamba player Carel Boomkamp, accompanied by the distinguished harpsichordist, Millicent Silver.
The verbal commentary which you will hear with the music, announcing the phases of the operation as it progresses, is based on the composer’s original annotations, which were intended to accompany the music’.
A lithotomy (from Greek "lithos" (stone) and "tomos" (cut)), is a surgical method for removal of stones formed inside organs such as the kidneys, bladder, and gallbladder, that cannot exit naturally through the urinary system.
Apologies for the poor quality of the B-side: I'll replace the link after I've converted my own copy.