Friday, January 19, 2024


I grew up next to a college campus. The college had a serious music department and from an early age I was taken to both instrumental and vocal recitals and concerts. All of my closest friends in high school were serious about classical music. They also thought PDQ Bach was hilarious and introduced me to Schickele's albums. This obituary today reminded me of that less serious side of our enjoyment of music.
Peter Schickele who has died aged 88, was better known as the fictional composer PDQ Bach, whose Victor Borge-style parodies delighted and entertained audiences; he was equally inventive with instruments, coming up with a trombone-bassoon combination known as the tromboon and the left-handed sewer flute.

A grizzly-bearded, Brahms-like figure, Schickele looked like a refugee from a psychedelic Sixties rock band. He claimed to be head of musical pathology at the non-existent University of Southern North Dakota in Hoople, where he was engaged in excavating the work of PDQ Bach, “history’s most justifiably neglected composer”.

His creation took on a life of its own, with a back story that cast a wickedly irreverent eye over the more pretentious aspects of musical scholarship. PDQ Bach (born 1807, died 1742) was the “last and least talented” of Johann Sebastian’s 20 sons and credited with composing anything that traditional musicologists loved to unearth in dusty archives: oratorios, cantatas, motets and madrigals. ....

In the course of his “research” Schickele came upon such masterpieces as PDQ Bach’s Missa Hilarious, the dramatic oratorio Oedipus Tex and Eine Kleine Nichtmusik, in which Mozart’s famous serenade is overlaid with snatches from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

Schickele fiercely denied having a hand in their creation, insisting that they had all been found in dustbins, attics and the like. ....

Opera made an appearance in the form of The Abduction of Figaro; The Civilian Barber and Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice, described as “an opera in one unnatural act”. The Half-Nelson Mass was not easily forgotten by its victims, nor was the “Canine Cantata” Wachet Arf. ....

In PDQ Bach, Schickele created a character that was at once richly comic and brilliantly plausible. ...[M]uch of his humour relied on wrong notes and unusual juxtapositions. By remaining close to the truth, his ingeniously orchestrated hoaxes were both pointed and entertaining, with the music deriving its satirical edge from the creator’s comprehensive knowledge of the appropriate idioms. .... (more)

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