Happy Birthday to PDQ’s Dad

It’s not easy to make people laugh with music. It’s not easy even to keep the listener’s interest. Peter Schickele knows this. I’d say that not since Rossini was there a composer whose central focus is to keep the listener entertained.

Of course, his own music has been overshadowed by his son, PDQ Bach.

What makes this funny? The easy laughs come from surprising shifts from classical counterpoint to boogy-woogy, or from string orchestra to pennywhistle. Another trick is to abuse the venerable practice of repetition until the listener wonders whether the needle is stuck on the old 33 lp. But the best of PDQ Bach’s humor is reserved for seasoned classical music buffs who recognize the far-flung quotations from the romantic repertoire that are prone to show up when least expected.

Charles Ives and Luciano Berio were previous masters of quotation from the classics, but their intent was not overtly humorous. What is the difference? And is there a clear line?

Much less well-known is the music that Schickele has published under his own name. I like to think that Schickele has learned a great deal from PDQ about how to hold keep the listener on his toes. Here is the first movement of his piano quintet, an action-packed minute and a half. (What is the counter-rhythm between piano and strings at the 30-second mark?)

Happy birthday, Peter PDQ Schickele-Bach, 86 years old today.

Post a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s