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Peter Schickele

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Peter Schickele

Biography

Johann Peter Schickele (b. 17 July 1935, Ames, Iowa) is an American composer, musical educator, and parodist, best known for comedy albums featuring music written by Schickele, but which he presents as being composed by the fictional P. D. Q. Bach.

Schickele was brought up in Washington, D.C., and Fargo, North Dakota, where he studied composition with Sigvald Thompson. He attended Fargo Central High School, graduating in 1952. He then attended Swarthmore College, graduating in 1957 with a degree in music; he was the first student at Swarthmore, and the only student in his class, with a music degree. He was a contemporary of Ted Nelson at Swarthmore, and he scored Nelson's experimental film, The Epiphany of Slocum Furlow. It was his first film score. He graduated from the Juilliard School with an M.S. in musical composition; in the ensuing years he has frequently cited Roy Harris as the most influential of his teachers.

Schickele wrote music for a number of folk musicians, most notably Joan Baez, for whom he also orchestrated and arranged three albums during the mid-1960s.

Schickele, an accomplished bassoonist, was also a member of the chamber rock trio Open Window, which wrote and performed music for the 1969 revue Oh! Calcutta!.

The humorous aspect of Schickele's musical career came from his early interest in the music of Spike Jones, whose musical ensemble lampooned popular music in the 1940s and 1950s. While at Juilliard (1959) Schickele teamed with conductor Jorge Mester to present a humorous concert, which became an annual event at the college. In 1965, Schickele moved the concept to The Town Hall and invited the public to attend; by 1972, they had become so popular that they were moved to Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. Vanguard Records released an album of that concert, and P. D. Q. Bach's career was launched.

Besides composing music under his own name, Schickele has developed an elaborate parodic persona built around his studies of the fictional "youngest and the oddest of the twenty-odd children" of Johann Sebastian Bach, P.D.Q. Bach. Among the fictional composer's "forgotten" repertory supposedly "uncovered" by Schickele are such farcical works as The Abduction of Figaro, Canine Cantata: "Wachet Arf!" (S. K9), Good King Kong Looked Out, the Trite Quintet (S. 6 of 1), O Little Town of Hackensack, A Little Nightmare Music, the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn, the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, The Art of The Ground Round (S. $1.19/lb.), Blaues Grasse (The Bluegrass Cantata), and perhaps best known of all, the dramatic oratorio, Oedipus Tex, featuring the "O.K. Chorale". Though P.D.Q. Bach is ostensibly a Baroque composer, Schickele extends his repertoire to parody much more modern works such as Einstein on the Fritz, a parody of his Juilliard classmate Philip Glass.

To illustrate the work of his uncovered composer, Schickele invented a range of rather unusual instruments. The most complicated of these is the Hardart, a variety of tone-generating devices mounted on the frame of an "automat", a coin-operated food dispenser. Schickele also invented the "dill piccolo" for playing sour notes, the "left-handed sewer flute", the "tromboon" ("a cross between a trombone and a bassoon, having all the disadvantages of both"), the "lasso d'amore", the double-reed slide music stand, which he described as having "a range of major third and even less expressiveness," the "tuba mirum", a flexible tube filled with wine, and the "pastaphone", an uncooked tube of manicotti pasta played as a horn.

To some degree, Schickele's music written as P.D.Q. Bach has overshadowed Schickele's work as a "serious" composer. Schickele has composed more than 100 original works for symphony orchestra, choral groups, chamber ensemble, voice, film (e.g. Silent Running and an animated adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are (which he also narrated)), and television. He has also written music for school bands, as well as a number of musicals, and has organized numerous concert performances as both musical director and performer. Schickele was active on the international and North American concert circuit.

Schickele's musical creations have won him multiple awards. His extensive body of work is marked by a distinctive style which integrates the European classical tradition with an unmistakable American idiom.

As a musical educator he also hosted the classical music educational radio program Schickele Mix which was broadcast on many public radio stations in the United States. Schickele's P. D. Q. Bach albums earned him four Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording/Album, in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993.


Works for Winds


References