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Schickele gets Bach to P.D.Q.

On his first album in a decade, Professor Peter Schickele (and his alter ego, P.D.Q. Bach) create cadenzas of laughter in classical music.

Courtesy of Telarc

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Like the superhero in a Saturday-morning cartoon, Peter Schickele leads a double life. There's Peter Schickele the serious composer, who has devoted much of his 40-year career to writing and arranging serious orchestral works, folk-pop songs, and the occasional opera. Then there's Professor Peter Schickele the disheveled academic, who "discovers" the compositions of the hopelessly inept Baroque composer P.D.Q. Bach.

As the good professor has often explained, P.D.Q. is the "last and by far the least" of Johann Sebastian Bach's 20-odd children. But his compositions' titles tell us all we really need to know. There's the "Concerto for Two Pianos Versus Orchestra," the "Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycles & Balloons," and of course, the "Safe Sextet." Unless pressed, Schickele insists that any similarities between him and P.D.Q. Bach are purely coincidental.

Never mind the striking resemblance Schickele bears to the portrait of the allegedly deceased German composer on the cover of his latest CD, "The Jekyll and Hyde Show." His first album in over a decade includes recent P.D.Q. discoveries such as the "Four Next-to-Last Songs" and a string quartet subtitled "The Moose."

"Classical music, much to the chagrin of those of us who love it, has acquired this stuffy reputation," observes Schickele.

He adds that the formal trappings of concerts, from the tuxedos to the ritualized entrances and bows, give people the impression of a field stuck in the 19th century. That goes a long way toward explaining Schickele's trademark stage entrance: swinging in from a backstage rope.

Born in Ames, Iowa, in 1935 and raised in Fargo, N.D., where he became the town's only bassoonist, Schickele developed a taste for the madcap recordings of the bandleader and satirist Spike Jones. In 1953, Schickele, together with his brother and a friend, were toying with a tape recorder in a family basement.


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