The composer/humorist is certainly best known as the "discoverer" of P.D.Q. Bach (1742-1807?), reputedly the youngest and oddest of J.S. Bach's 20-odd children, and "the final stop on the Bach family organ," if you will. The success cast Schickele as one of the great classical music satirists, joining the likes of Spike Jones, Gerard Hoffnung and Victor Borge.
But the P.D.Q. comedy tended to overshadow that Schickele was also composing serious music, including the film score for Douglas Trumbull's 1972 sci-fi flick, Silent Running.
Now, more than a quarter century later, Schickele's reputation outside of his 18th-century alter ego is doing rather well.
"These days, in terms of composing, I'm spending more time with Peter Schickele pieces than I am with P.D.Q. Bach discoveries," he says. He notes that his calendar year is essentially divided in half: the first six months touring and the second half composing.
"Even though there are still some people who don't even know that I write serious music, it's much less of a problem than it was 25 years ago," says Schickele. "One thing that has happened in the interim is that for about eight years, I did a radio program called 'Schickele Mix,' [which] was a program that combines entertainment and education. You do learn something about music listening to it, but it's full of all sorts of comedic touches."
That's the idea behind his current road show, P.D.Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour, which features soprano Michele Eaton and tenor David Dusing. "It's important to make very clear that the Peter Schickele stuff is lighthearted and mostly funny, too," he says. "In other words, I'm not putting my string quartets or symphonies on [it]. For instance, the program ends with a set of Shakespeare songs that are some of the most famous Shakespeare speeches set to 1950's rock 'n' roll. It's certainly funny -- it's sort of my signature piece."
Another Schickele piece in the show is "The Brothers Joad," a two-voice "crab canon" (where the second voice sings a tune that is the same as the first, but reversed in time and inverted in pitch). To perform it, Dusing and Schickele stand facing each other and read a single line from the same sheet of music, one with a perspective that is upside down and backward from the other. The performance illustrates how a crab canon works, but in a much more entertaining manner than your average music appreciation class.
And as Schickele says, you don't have to know a lot about classical music to enjoy the show. He has long maintained that there doesn't need to be a dividing line between enjoyment of musical styles. "I have always liked all kinds of music. When I was a teenager, I really worried about the fact that I liked a lot of nonclassical music. Of course, what happens as you grow up is you find you don't always have to make a choice between two things -- you can enjoy both. And one of the things I've been doing all my life is working out ways to let a lot of stuff from rock 'n' roll, jazz and folk music into my music."
He notes that the first half of the Ferst Center program will feature P.D.Q. Bach, but the second half is entirely Schickele. "That's where the Jekyll and Hyde comes in," says Schickele. "I'll leave it to you to decide which is the Jekyll and which is the Hyde."
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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