Influenza: A Tone Poem: 1932


In this season of la Grippe, a heart-warming tale of a musical doctor happy in his work.


Toronto, Ont., June 21. Dr. Forde E. MacLoughlin of Hamilton, Ont., has set disease to music, and called it: “Influenza—A Tone Poem.”

He believes he is the first person living or dead, to see a cadenza in a cough, a thrill in a chill or a fortissimo in a fever. He has composed “Influenza—A Tone Poem” in spare moments during his regular profession as a physician.

Dr. Macloughlin’s music, in manuscript, is one of the exhibits in the “Hobby Display,” a feature of the Canadian Medical association’s sixty-third annual meeting which went into its second session today.


Dr. MacLoughlin’s “Influenza,” though described as a tone poem, is in symphonic form. The four parts of the work, as described by the doctor-composer, are:

First movement: Preliminary symptoms.

Second movement: Onset of the disease.

Third movement: The disease.

Fourth movement: Convalescence.

In the first movement the doctor uses clarinets in swift crescendo runs to introduce what might be called the “chills-running-up-the-spin motif.” With marked originality, Dr. MacLoughlin employs a jew’s harp in the second movement to give the piece a headache; and he introduces another influenza symptom—perspiration—by adroit use of clarinets, strings and oboes.


This “onset of the disease” movement melts (via the perspiration motif) into the third movement in which the doctor really lets himself go. This is where “influenza” actually arrives. A brilliant “delirium crescendo,” as the doctor calls it, brings the third movement to a close. The finale—“convalescence”—is stately and noble, depicting the patient a bit wobbly and weak, but glad to be alive.

Other doctors at the convention have evinced marked interest in “Influenza—A Tone Poem,” and have suggested that the Hamilton physician should pursue this hobby even further. Among suggestions for other selections are: “Fractured Skull-Foxtrot” and The Fallen Arches Blues.”

Santa Fe [NM] New Mexican 21 June 1932: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That tuneful person over at the Haunted Ohio blog has told stories of several musical oddities recently: a man with a musical heart and “Mr Lowth’s Vibratorium,” a device using a pipe organ as an instrument of healing. Mrs Daffodil wonders if the tone-poem so eloquently described above was ever performed. If so, the audience must have come away, not humming, but coughing. Despite the operatic flourish of “delirium crescendo,” the programme note about “glad to be alive” was no hyperbole; the casualties of Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 were still very much in mind.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.


3 thoughts on “Influenza: A Tone Poem: 1932

  1. Undine

    Apparently the good doctor conducted a performance of his work at the 1932 meeting of the Canadian Medical Association. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard of it being performed again.

    Incidentally, the influenza epidemic inspired several blues songs of the period…


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Not exactly a toe-tapper, one imagines, unless one counts the feverish chills. “I got the shiverin’, shakin’, head-throbbin’ influenza blues…” Yes, one can see that being sung in a fevered saloon atmosphere where whiskey is being downed as a prophylactic!


  2. Pingback: “And in flew Enza” | morbitopia

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