Peter Schickele


Peter Schickele (; born July 17, 1935) is an American composer, musical educator, and
parodist A parody, also called a spoof, a send-up, a take-off, a lampoon, a play on (something), or a caricature, is a creative work designed to imitate, comment on, and/or make fun of its subject by means of satire, satiric or irony, ironic imitation. Often ...
, best known for comedy albums featuring his music, but which he presents as being composed by the fictional P. D. Q. Bach. He also hosted a long-running weekly radio program called ''Schickele Mix''. From 1990 to 1993, Schickele's P. D. Q. Bach recordings earned him four consecutive wins for the
Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album The Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album is presented by the The Recording Academy, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States to "honor artistic achievement in comedy." The award was awarded yearly from 1959 to 1993 and th ...

Early life

Schickele was born in
Ames, Iowa Ames () is a city in Story County, Iowa, United States, located approximately north of Des Moines, Iowa, Des Moines in central Iowa. It is best known as the home of Iowa State University (ISU), with leading agriculture, design, engineering, and I ...
, United States, to immigrant parents. His father, Rainer Schickele (1905,
Berlin Berlin (; ) is the and by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as of 31 December 2019 makes it the , according to population within city limits. One of 's , Berlin is surrounded by the state of , and contiguous with , Brande ...

– 1989,
Berkeley, California Berkeley ( ) is a city on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay San Francisco Bay is a shallow estuary in the US state of California. It is surrounded by a contiguous region known as the San Francisco Bay Area (often simply "the Bay Area") ...
), son of the writer , was an agricultural economist teaching at Iowa State University. In 1945, Schickele's father took a position at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; then, in 1946, became chairman of the Agricultural Sciences Department at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) in Fargo, North Dakota. In Fargo, the younger Schickele studied composition with Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, 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, to earn 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 in 1960 with a master's degree in musical composition.

Early career

Schickele wrote music for a number of folk music, folk musicians, most notably Joan Baez, for whom he also orchestrated and arranged three albums during the mid-1960s, ''Noël (Joan Baez album), Noël'' (1966), ''Joan (album), Joan'' (1967), and ''Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time, Baptism'' (1968). He also composed the original score for the 1972 science fiction film ''Silent Running''. Schickele, an accomplished bassoonist, was also a member of the chamber rock trio The Open Window, which wrote and performed music for the 1969 revue, ''Oh! Calcutta!'' and released three albums. 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 (New York City) and invited the public to attend; Vanguard Records released an album of that concert, and the character of "P. D. Q. Bach" was launched. By 1972, the concerts had become so popular that they were moved to Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center.

P. D. Q. Bach

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. His fictitious "home establishment", where he reports having tenure as "Very Full Professor Peter Schickele" of "musicology, musicolology" and "musical pathology", is the "University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople", which is described as "a little-known institution which does not normally welcome out-of-state visitors". 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. The modified automat is used in the ''Concerto for Horn and Hardart'', a play on the name of proprietors Horn & Hardart, who pioneered the North American use of the automat in their restaurants. Schickele also invented the "pickled cucumber#Kosher dill (US), 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 "whirly tube, 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. Further invented instruments of his include the "pumpflute" (an instrument that requires two people to play: one to pump, and one to flute) and the "proctophone" (a latex glove attached to a mouthpiece, and "the less said about it, the better"). The ''überklavier'' or super piano, with a 15-octave keyboard ranging from sounds which only dogs can hear down to sounds which only whales can make, was invented in 1797 by Klarck Känt (pronounced "Clark Kent"), a Munich piano-maker who demonstrated the instrument for P.D.Q. A sample of a piece written for the überklavier, ''The Trance and Dental Etudes'', appeared in P.D.Q.'s unauthorized autobiography, published in 1976. P.D.Q's ''Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons'' (1965) demonstrated the inherent musical qualities of everyday objects in ways not equally agreeable to all who listen to them. To a large degree, Schickele's music as P. D. Q. Bach has overshadowed his work as a "serious" composer. During the 1970s and early 1980s, performances by Schickele of the music of P. D. Q. Bach often featured guest appearances by the Swarthmore College Choir, usually advertised as "fresh from their recent tour of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania". Schickele performed two concerts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first concert at The Town Hall (New York City), The Town Hall in New York on December 28 and 29, 2015. He has since reduced his concert appearances due to health issues, but continued to schedule live concert performances through 2018.

Other musical career

Schickele has composed more than 100 original works for orchestra, symphony orchestra, choral groups, chamber music, chamber ensemble, voice, television and an animated adaptation of ''Where the Wild Things Are'' (which he also narrated).''The Tennessean'' March 12, 2009, "The Nashville Scene", p. 46 He made a brief foray into Film industry, cinema with the Bruce Dern film ''Silent Running'' (1972), for which he composed the Film score, musical score and co-wrote the original songs "Silent Running" and "Rejoice in the Sun" with Diane Lampert. He has also written music for school bands, as well as for a number of musical theatre, musicals, including ''Oh! Calcutta!'', 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. Schickele has also created such not-quite-P. D. Q. Bach albums as ''Hornsmoke'', ''Sneaky Pete and the Wolf'', and ''The Emperor's New Clothes''. Schickele's music is published by the Theodore Presser Company.


As a musical educator he also hosted the classical music educational radio program ''Schickele Mix'', which aired on many public broadcasting, public radio stations in the United States (and internationally on Public Radio International). The program began in 1992; lack of funding ended the production of new programs by 1999, and rebroadcasts of the existing programs finally ceased in June 2007. Only 119 of the 169 programs were in the rebroadcast rotation, because earlier shows contained Public Radio International#History, American Public Radio production IDs rather than ones crediting Public Radio International. In March 2006, some of the other "lost episodes" were added back to the rotation, with one notable program remnant of the "Periodic Table of Musics", listing the names of musicians and composers as mythical element names in a format reminiscent of the periodic table. (Due to copyright restrictions, ''Schickele Mix'' is not available to be sold commercially, although bootleg versions have turned up on the internet.)


Personal life and family

Schickele's two children, Matt and Karla, are both indie rock musicians. The two played together in the indie rock trio Beekeeper in the 1990s. Karla Schickele then joined the band Ida (band), Ida, has recorded solo music under the name K. Matt Schickele, and is part of the M Shanghai String Band. She is also an orchestral music composer. Schickele's brother, David Schickele (1937–1999), was a film director and musician.


External links

* * *
Schickele's page at Theodore Presser Company

The Peter Schickele Myspace (Maintained by a fan)

February 5, 1988
Bach Project – Peter Schickele

Peter Schickele interview

Schickele's papers
at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, New York {{DEFAULTSORT:Schickele, Peter 1935 births Classical music radio presenters 20th-century classical composers 21st-century classical composers American classical bassoonists American male classical composers American classical composers American opera composers Male opera composers American satirists American comedy musicians Aspen Music Festival and School alumni Grammy Award winners Juilliard School alumni Living people P. D. Q. Bach Vanguard Records artists Telarc Records artists People from Ames, Iowa People from Fargo, North Dakota Swarthmore College alumni American musicologists Humor in classical music Classical musicians from Iowa Classical musicians from North Dakota Pupils of Darius Milhaud Pupils of Vincent Persichetti Pupils of William Bergsma 21st-century American composers 20th-century American composers