P. D. Q. Bach

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P. D. Q. Bach is a fictitious composer invented by musical satirist "Professor" Peter Schickele. In a gag that Schickele has developed over a five-decade-long career, he performs "discovered" works of the "only forgotten son" of the Bach family. Schickele's music combines parodies of musicological scholarship, the conventions of Baroque and classical music, and some slapstick comedy.

The name "P. D. Q." is a parody of the three-part names given to some members of the Bach family that are commonly reduced to initials, such as C. P. E., for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. PDQ is an initialism for "pretty damn quick".


Schickele gives a humorous fictional biography of the composer[1] with citations such as the following:

  • P. D. Q. Bach was born in Leipzig on March 31, 1742,[2] the son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Anna Magdalena Bach; the twenty-first of Johann's twenty children.[1] According to Schickele, Bach's parents did not bother to give their youngest son a real name, and settled on "P. D. Q." instead. The only earthly possession Johann Sebastian Bach willed to his son was a kazoo.
  • P.D.Q. attributed his frequent headaches to his having been christened in a shipyard rather than a church.
  • Defined the doctrine of Originality Through Incompetence.

In preconcert lectures, Schickele joked that P. D. Q. Bach influenced Beethoven's famous deafness: Beethoven came to dread P. D. Q. Bach and his music so greatly that Beethoven resorted to stuffing coffee grounds into his ears whenever he saw P. D. Q. Bach coming.

In a running gag in Concerto for Horn and Hardart and in the introduction to Six Contrary Dances on his Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion album, Schickele inferred from fictional evidence that P. D. Q. Bach had a hollow leg that was considerably longer than the other one which explains the odd patterns in his dance music.


Schickele describes P. D. Q. Bach as having "the originality of Johann Christian, the arrogance of Carl Philipp Emanuel, and the obscurity of Johann Christoph Friedrich". The most distinguishing feature of P. D. Q. Bach's music, in the words of Schickele, is "manic plagiarism".

Schickele's works, attributed to P. D. Q. Bach, often incorporate comical rearrangements of well-known works of other composers. The works use instruments not normally used in orchestras, such as the bagpipes, slide whistle, kazoo, and fictional or experimental instruments such as the pastaphone (made of uncooked manicotti),[3] tromboon,[4] hardart, lasso d'amore,[5] and left-handed sewer flute. The works also incorporate items not normally used as musical instruments, such as balloons, fog horns, and bicycles. His music also calls for unusual methods of playing traditional instruments, such as blowing through double reeds by themselves (that is, detached from the instruments) throughout Iphigenia in Brooklyn. His parts for vocalists include coughing, snoring, sneezing, sobbing, laughing, and yelling.

P. D. Q. Bach's work pokes fun at musical genres including Baroque, Romantic, modern, country music (Oedipus Tex and Blaues Gras), and rap (Classical Rap). The "Schickele" or "S." numbers whimsically assigned to P. D. Q. Bach's works parody musicologists' catalogues of famous composers, such as the Köchel catalogue of Mozart's works.


There is often a startling juxtaposition of styles within a single P. D. Q. Bach piece. The Prelude to Einstein on the Fritz, which alludes to Philip Glass' opera Einstein on the Beach, provides an example. The underlying music is J.S. Bach's first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier, but at double the normal speed, with each phrase repeated interminably in a minimalist manner that parodies Glass's. On top of this mind-numbing structure is added everything from jazz phrases to snoring to heavily-harmonized versions of Three Blind Mice to the chanting of a meaningless phrase ("Koy Hotsy-Totsy," alluding to the art film Koyaanisqatsi for which Glass wrote the score). Through all these mutilations, the piece never deviates from Bach's original harmonic structure.

The humor in P. D. Q. Bach music often derives from violation of audience expectations, such as repeating a tune more than the usual number of times, resolving a musical chord later than usual or not at all, unusual key changes, excessive dissonance, or sudden switches from high art to low art.[6] Further humor is obtained by replacing parts of certain classical pieces with similar common songs, such as the opening of Brahms' Symphony No. 2 with "Beautiful Dreamer", or the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with Yankee Doodle.

Compositional periods[edit]

Schickele divides P. D. Q. Bach's fictional musical output into three periods: the Initial Plunge, the Soused Period, and Contrition.

During the Initial Plunge, P. D. Q. Bach wrote the Traumerei for solo piano, an Echo Sonata for "two unfriendly groups of instruments", and a Gross Concerto for Divers Flutes, two Trumpets, and Strings.

During the Soused (or Brown-Bag) Period, P. D. Q. Bach wrote a Concerto for Horn & Hardart, a Sinfonia Concertante, a Pervertimento for Bicycle, Bagpipes, and Balloons, a Serenude, a Perückenstück (literally German for "Hairpiece"), a Suite from The Civilian Barber (spoofing Rossini's The Barber of Seville), a Schleptet in E-flat major, the half-act opera The Stoned Guest (the character of "The Stone Guest" from Mozart's Don Giovanni), a Concerto for Piano vs. Orchestra, Erotica Variations (Beethoven's Eroica Variations), Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice, an opera in one unnatural act (Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), The Art of the Ground Round (Bach's The Art of Fugue), a Concerto for Bassoon vs. Orchestra, and a Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion.

During the Contrition Period, P. D. Q. Bach wrote the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn (Gluck's Iphigenia in Aulis, etc.), the oratorio The Seasonings (Haydn's The Seasons), Diverse Ayres on Sundrie Notions, a Sonata for Viola Four Hands,[7] the chorale prelude Should, a Notebook for Betty Sue Bach (Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach and Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue"), the Toot Suite, the Grossest Fugue (Beethoven's Grosse Fuge), a Fanfare for the Common Cold (Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man) and the canine cantata Wachet Arf! (Bach's Wachet auf).

A final work is the mock religious work Missa Hilarious (Beethoven's Missa Solemnis)(Schickele no. N2O – the chemical formula of nitrous oxide or "laughing gas").


Problems playing this file? See media help.
Tromboon detail; the bassoon reed is on the left

The tromboon is a musical instrument made up of the reed and bocal of a bassoon, attached to the body of a trombone in place of the trombone's leadpipe. It combines the sound of double reeds and the slide for a distinctive and unusual instrument. The name of the instrument is a portmanteau of "trombone" and "bassoon". The sound quality of the instrument is best described as comical and loud. Similar odd hybrid musical instruments have been developed by others, and are featured on a documentary website.[8]

The tromboon was developed by Peter Schickele, a skilled bassoonist himself, and featured in some of his live concert and recorded performances. Schickele called it, "a hybrid – that's the nicer word – constructed from the parts of a bassoon and a trombone; it has all the disadvantages of both".[9][10] This instrument is called for in the scores of P. D. Q. Bach's oratorio The Seasonings,[11] as well as the Serenude (for devious instruments) and Shepherd on the Rocks, With a Twist.

The tromboon (although it was not called such) was independently conceived of by the French composer Gérard Grisey, who used it as a sound effect in his 1975 work Partiels. It is unclear whether either Schickele or Grisey were aware of each other's nontraditional use of the trombone.


Schickele has performed a variety of P.D.Q. Bach shows over the years, although as of 2012 he has largely stopped touring due to age.[12]

"P. D. Q. Bach: The Vegas Years" was performed with an orchestra, and includes Oedipus Tex, selections from Art of the Ground Round, and the cantata Gott sei dank, daß heute Freitag ist ("Thank God It's Friday"). "P. D. Q. Bach & Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour" was performed with piano accompaniment, and includes Four Next-to-Last Songs, Shepherd on the Rocks, With a Twist, and excerpts from Little Notebook for "Piggy" Bach.

Schickele's entrances to performances were often unusual. In one San Diego concert the audience was informed that he was running late and it was uncertain just when he would arrive. Shortly thereafter, a profusely apologetic Schickele entered through an air-conditioning duct. In shows in Jacksonville and Tucson, he threw a rope down from the balcony and climbed down to the main level of the theater before walking to the stage.


On Vanguard
Title Year
Peter Schickele Presents an Evening with P. D. Q. Bach (1807–1742?) 1965
An Hysteric Return: P.D.Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall 1966
Report from Hoople: P. D. Q. Bach on the Air 1967
The Stoned Guest 1970
The Intimate P. D. Q. Bach 1974
Portrait of P. D. Q. Bach 1977
Black Forest Bluegrass 1979
Liebeslieder Polkas 1980
Music You Can't Get Out of Your Head 1982
A Little Nightmare Music 1983
On Telarc
Title Year
1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults 1989
Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities 1990
WTWP Classical Talkity-Talk Radio 1991
Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion 1992
Two Pianos Are Better Than One 1994
The Short-Tempered Clavier and Other Dysfunctional Works for Keyboard 1995
P. D. Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour 2007
Title Record company Year
The Wurst of P. D. Q. Bach Vanguard Records 1971
The Dreaded P. D. Q. Bach Collection Vanguard Records 1996
The Ill-Conceived P. D. Q. Bach Anthology Telarc Records 1998
Video releases
Title Year
The Abduction of Figaro 1984
P. D. Q. Bach in Houston: We Have a Problem! 2006
Title Year
The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach 1996


Four of the Telarc P. D. Q. Bach recordings received Grammy awards in the Best Comedy Recording category. These were the four albums released from 1989 until 1992.[13] Schickele also received a Grammy nomination in the Best Comedy Album category in 1996 for his abridged audiobook edition of The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schickele, Peter. The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach
  2. ^ Schickele, Peter. The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach, page 3: "the night of the 31st of March, 1742," "giving birth to his twenty-first child," "at one minute after midnight"
  3. ^ Blau, Eleanor (25 December 1998). "Oh, No! Still More (Quite a Bit More!) From P.D.Q. Bach". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Tromboon at Dolmetsch Music Dictionary
  5. ^ Lasso d'amore at Dolmetsch Music Dictionary
  6. ^ David Huron (2004). "Music-engendered laughter: an analysis of humor devices in PDQ Bach" (PDF). Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Music. pp. 700–704. 
  7. ^ The term four hands refers to the playing of one instrument, most commonly a piano, by two players at once.
  8. ^ "the oddmusic gallery". oddmusic.com. Oddmusic. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  9. ^ "P. D. Q. Bach & Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour". Retrieved 13 November 2008. 
  10. ^ Dr David Shevin (5 August 2004). "A Viva For Elizabeth Lands". Retrieved 13 November 2008. 
  11. ^ "The Seasonings, Oratorio for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass Soloists, SATB Chorus, and Orchestra by P. D. Q. Bach [Peter Schickele]", in Notes, Second Series, Vol. 30, No. 4 (June 1974), pp. 863–864. Last accessed 7 June 2008 (subscription required)
  12. ^ Schickele.com concert schedule
  13. ^ Biography page for Peter Schickele on Theodore Press Company's website
  14. ^ Past Winners Database page for the 1996 Grammy award nominees and winners on the Los Angeles Times website

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]