Peter Schickele died on January 16th, after increasing health problems that confined him to his home in Woodstock, New York. He was 88 years old. He had a long parallel career as a serious composer and a musical comedian, in which he was known all over as P. D. Q. Bach and made memorable recordings still in print. His parodies of learned styles and burlesques of well-known masterpieces endure for their educational value as much as for their unerring drollery — as in the Concerto for Horn and Hardart in which a quasi-Mozart appoggiatura is drawn out for 30 seconds before gasping to a resolution, and in the Quodlibet with tonic-dominant melodies from all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies accumulating, followed by a combination of Schoenberg’s Little Piano Piece, op. 19, no. 2, and Puccini’s Un bel di vedremo (who would have thought that one could work?). You can’t forget his Beethoven Fifth first movement as a down-on-the-farm sportscast, or the mini-opera The Abduction of Figaro. The NYTimes obit is HERE.
I first got to know Peter indirectly, when some of my classmates heard him at Aspen summers. He was a Swarthmore student then; after graduation he went to the Juilliard School, where he met and married Susan Sindall, whom I had known in prep school. That connection helped in 1978 when I was teaching at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter came as a guest composer of the UNH Wind Ensemble, bringing a set of six new Contrary Dances, S. 39. We had him over to dinner, and he on the spot composed a two-part round on his own text in honor of Crawford, a pet crawfish who lived in our pond aquarium. At the concert at UNH, he conducted some of his serious pieces, including two amiable Monochromes for nine clarinets and12 flutes respectively.
After mostly retiring from the concert stage, he assembled a witty series of 175 hour-long Sunday programs, Schickele Mix, for National Public Radio, under different headings like “Basic Boom-chick,” a title which I have swiped for part of my Melody book — thank you for that, old friend — and “Basses Are Loaded.” Each program, over 15 years, ended with “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that certain je ne sais quoi.” Schickele Mix is fine musical enlightenment, still durable, and it’s still available.