In 1954 Professor Peter Schickele, rummaging around a Bavarian castle in search of rare musical gems, happened instead upon a piece of manuscript being employed as a strainer in the caretaker’s percolator. This turned out to be the “Sanka” Cantata by one P.D.Q. Bach. A cursory examination of the music immediately revealed the reason for the atrocious taste of the coffee; and when the work was finally performed at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, the Professor realized too late that he had released a monster on the musical world. Unable to restrain himself, and with the misguided support of the U. of S.N.D. at H. and otherwise reputable recording and publishing companies, Prof. Schickele has since discovered more than four score of P.D.Q. Bach scores, each one more jaw-dropping than the last, each one another brick in the wall which will someday seal the doom of Musical Culture.
The conspiracy of silence that has surrounded P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742)? for
two centuries began with his own parents. He was the last and the least of the
great Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty-odd children, and he was certainly the
oddest. His father ignored him completely, setting an example for the rest of
the family (and indeed for posterity), with the result that P.D.Q. was virtually
unknown during his own lifetime; in fact, the more he wrote, the more unknown he
became. He finally attained total obscurity at the time of his death, and his
musical output would probably have followed him into oblivion had it not been
for the zealous efforts of Prof. Schickele. These efforts have even extended
themselves to mastering some of the rather unusual instruments for which P.D.Q.
liked to compose, such as the left-handed sewer flute, the windbreaker, and the
Since 1965 the tireless Professor has kept audiences in stitches with his presentation of P.D.Q. Bach’s uniquely typical music. In addition to his annual concerts in New York City, he has appeared with over fifty orchestras, ranging from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the New York Pick-Up Ensemble; and his self-contained show The Intimate P.D.Q. Bach (featuring the Semi-Pro Musica Antiqua) has played in cities and on campuses from Maine to California.
Vanguard has released 11 albums of the fabled genius’s works; Random House has published eleven editions of The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach (which has also been translated into German, and is available as an audio book from the HighBridge Company); Theodore Presser Company has printed innumerable scores; and P.D.Q. Bach’s only full-length opera, The Abduction of Figaro, is now available on DVD (Video Artists International). That all of this adds up to “the greatest comedy-in-music act before the public today” (Robert Marsh, Chicago Sun Times) is underscored by the four consecutive Grammy awards earned by his Telarc discs, P.D.Q. Bach: 1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults, Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities, WTWP—Classical Talkity-Talk Radio, and Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion, winners in the Best Comedy Album category each year from 1990 through 1993, respectively. His subsequent P.D.Q. Bach albums on Telarc are Two Pianos are Better Than One, with Jon Kimura Parker and the Professor playing the Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra, also featuring some chamber works by the minimeister; The Short-Tempered Clavier and Other Dysfunctional Works for Keyboard, featuring works for piano, theatre organ and calliope. A CD of P.D.Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour on the Telarc label was released in November 2007.
In addition to touring, he continues to present both old and new discoveries of P.D.Q. Bach’s music in New York City, recently with the New York Philharmonic. Prof. Schickele is currently touring with his close acquaintance Peter Schickele in two new programs, P.D.Q. Bach: The Vegas Years and P.D.Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour. In 1998, Telarc released a new recording of P.D.Q. Bach’s music called The Ill-Conceived P.D.Q. Bach Anthology.” Vanguard has issued its own compilation on CD, The Dreaded P.D.Q. Bach Collection.