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Peter Schickele

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Peter Schickele
Schickele in 2010
Born(1935-07-17)July 17, 1935
DiedJanuary 16, 2024(2024-01-16) (aged 88)
EducationSwarthmore College (BA)
Juilliard School (MM)
Occupation(s)Composer, musical educator, parodist

Peter Schickele (/ˈʃɪkəli/;[1] July 17, 1935 – January 16, 2024) was an American composer, musical educator and parodist, best known for comedy albums featuring his music, which he presented as being composed by the fictional P.D.Q. Bach. He also hosted a long-running weekly radio program called Schickele Mix.[2]

From 1990 to 1993, Schickele's P.D.Q. Bach recordings earned him four consecutive wins for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.[3]

Early life


Peter Schickele was born on July 17, 1935, in Ames, Iowa,[1][4] to Alsatian immigrant parents. His father, Rainer Schickele (1905, Berlin – 1989, Berkeley, California), was the son of writer René Schickele and was an agricultural economist teaching at Iowa State University.[5] In 1945, Schickele's father took a position at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., then became chairman of the Agricultural Sciences Department at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) in Fargo, North Dakota in 1946.[5]

Schickele (rear) and others at Swarthmore College

In Fargo, the younger Schickele studied composition with Sigvald Thompson of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra. He graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1952, then attended Swarthmore College, graduating in 1957 with a degree in music. He was the first student at Swarthmore to earn a music degree.[6] He was a contemporary of Ted Nelson at Swarthmore, and he scored Nelson's experimental film The Epiphany of Slocum Furlow. It was his first film score.[7] He graduated from the Juilliard School in 1960[8] with a master's degree in musical composition.[9] He studied composition with Roy Harris and Vincent Persichetti.[10]

Early career

Schickele in Milwaukee in 1981

Schickele wrote music for a number of folk musicians, most notably Joan Baez, for whom he also orchestrated and arranged three albums during the mid-1960s, Noël (1966), Joan (1967), and Baptism (1968). He also composed the original score for the 1972 science fiction film Silent Running.[11]

Schickele seated barefoot atop a piano, c. 1980s

Schickele, an accomplished bassoonist, was also a member of the chamber rock trio the Open Window, which wrote and performed music for the 1969 revue Oh! Calcutta![12] and released three albums.[13][14][15]

The humorous aspect of Schickele's musical career came from his early interest in the music of Spike Jones, whose musical ensemble lampooned popular music in the 1940s and 1950s.[4] in 1959, while at Juilliard, Schickele teamed with conductor Jorge Mester to present a humorous concert, which became an annual event at the college.[citation needed] In 1965, Schickele moved the concept to The Town Hall in New York City and invited the public to attend;[4] Vanguard Records released an album of that concert, and the character of "P.D.Q. Bach" was launched.[16] By 1972, the concerts had become so popular that they were moved to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

P. D. Q. Bach


Schickele developed an elaborate parody around his studies of P.D.Q. Bach, the fictional "youngest and the oddest of the twenty-odd children" of Johann Sebastian Bach.[4] Among the fictional composer's "forgotten" repertory are such farcical works as The Abduction of Figaro,[1] the "Unbegun" symphony,[1] "Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons",[1] Canine Cantata: "Wachet Arf!",[17] Good King Kong Looked Out,[18] the "Trite" Quintet,[17] "O Little Town of Hackensack",[1] A Little Nightmare Music,[19] the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn,[1] the Concerto for Horn and Hardart,[1] The Stoned Guest,[1] "Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice",[1] the Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra,[1] the dramatic oratorio Oedipus Tex[17][20] and Einstein on the Fritz, a parody of Schickele's Juilliard classmate Philip Glass.[21]

His fictitious "home establishment" is the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, where he reports having tenure as "Very Full Professor" of "musicolology" and "musical pathology". He invented a range of rather unusual instruments. The most complicated of these is the Hardart, a tone-generating device mounted on the frame of an "automat", a coin-operated food dispenser. This modified automat is used in the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, a play on the name of Horn & Hardart who pioneered the American use of the automat in their restaurants.[1]

Schickele also invented the "dill piccolo" for playing sour notes, the "left-handed sewer flute", the "tromboon" ("a cross between a trombone and a bassoon, having all the disadvantages of both"), the "lasso d'amore", the double-reed slide music stand, the "tuba mirum" (a flexible tube filled with wine), and the "pastaphone" (an uncooked tube of pasta played as a horn).[22]: 153 

To a large degree, Schickele's music as P.D.Q. Bach has overshadowed his work as a "serious" composer.[23][24]

Schickele performed two concerts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first concert at The Town Hall in New York on December 28 and 29, 2015.[25] He reduced his concert appearances due to health issues, but continued to schedule live concert performances through 2018.[26]

Other musical career


Schickele composed more than 100 original works for symphony orchestra, choral groups, chamber ensemble, voice, television and an animated adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are (which he also narrated).[16] He made a brief foray into cinema with the Bruce Dern film Silent Running (1972), for which he composed the musical score and co-wrote the original songs "Silent Running" and "Rejoice in the Sun" with Diane Lampert. He also wrote music for school bands, as well as for a number of musicals, including Oh! Calcutta!, and organized numerous concert performances as both musical director and performer. Schickele was active on the international and North American concert circuit.[1]

Schickele's musical creations won him multiple awards. His extensive body of work is marked by a distinctive style which integrates the European classical tradition with an unmistakable American idiom.[27]

Schickele also created such not-quite-P.D.Q. Bach albums as Hornsmoke,[28] Sneaky Pete and the Wolf,[29] and The Emperor's New Clothes.[30]

Schickele's music is published by the Theodore Presser Company.[31]



As a musical educator he also hosted the classical music educational radio program Schickele Mix, which aired on many public radio stations in the United States (and internationally on Public Radio International). The program began in 1992; lack of funding ended the production of new programs by 1999, and rebroadcasts of the existing programs finally ceased in June 2007.[32] Only 119 of the 169 programs were in the rebroadcast rotation, because earlier shows contained American Public Radio production IDs rather than ones crediting Public Radio International. In March 2006, some of the other "lost episodes" were added back to the rotation,[2] with one notable program remnant of the "Periodic Table of Musics", listing the names of musicians and composers as mythical element names in a format reminiscent of the periodic table.[33]

Personal life


Schickele married poet Susan Sindall on October 27, 1962.[34] His children, Matt and Karla, are both musicians. The two played together in the trio Beekeeper in the 1990s.[35] Karla is also an orchestral music composer.

Schickele's brother David Schickele (1937–1999) was a film director and musician.[36]

Peter Schickele died at his home in Bearsville, New York, on January 16, 2024, at the age of 88, due to a series of infections that damaged his health.[1]


Year Award Category Work Result Ref(s)
1970 Grammy Awards Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album Oh! Calcutta! Nominated [3]
1990 Best Comedy Recording P.D.Q. Bach: 1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults Won
1991 P.D.Q. Bach: Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities
1992 Best Comedy Album P.D.Q. Bach: WTWP Classical Talkity-Talk Radio
Best Album for Children Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf / A Zoo Called Earth / Gerald McBoing Boing Nominated
1993 Best Comedy Album P.D.Q. Bach: Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion Won
1996 Best Spoken Comedy Album The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach Nominated
1999 Best Classical Crossover Album Schickele: Hornsmoke (Piano Concerto No. 2 In F Major "Ole"; Brass Calendar; Hornsmoke – A Horse Opera) Won
2004 Best Spoken Word Album for Children The Emperor's New Clothes Nominated


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Fox, Margalit (January 17, 2024). "Peter Schickele, Composer and Gleeful Sire of P.D.Q. Bach, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2024.
  2. ^ a b "Schickele Mix: The Lost Episodes". Yellowstonepublicradio.org.
  3. ^ a b "Peter Schickele". Grammy.com. The Recording Academy. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 2202. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  5. ^ a b "Finding Aid to the Rainer Schickele Papers" (PDF). North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies and University Archives. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016.
  6. ^ "In Honor of Composer and Satirist Peter Schickele '57 H'80". www.swarthmore.edu. January 22, 2024. Retrieved March 22, 2024.
  7. ^ The Epiphany of Slocum Furlow on YouTube
  8. ^ Cabaniss, Thomas (October 2015). "Remembering Persichetti: A Centennial Panel and Concert". The Juilliard Journal. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  9. ^ Battey, Robert (May 12, 2007). "Schickele Keeps the 'Serious Fun' Rolling With NSO". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ Fox, Margalit (January 17, 2024). "Peter Schickele, Composer and Gleeful Sire of P.D.Q. Bach, Dies at 88". The New York Times – via NYTimes.com.
  11. ^ Ravas, Tammy (2004). Peter Schickele: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 7. ISBN 0-313-32070-5.
  12. ^ "Oh! Calcutta! – Cast". Playbill. March 1971.
  13. ^ OCLC 7010731 (The Open Window, 1969)
  14. ^ OCLC 3745796 (Three Views From "The Open Window", 1969)
  15. ^ OCLC 25739018 (Oh! Calcutta!, 1970)
  16. ^ a b The Tennessean March 12, 2009, "The Nashville Scene", p. 46
  17. ^ a b c Peter Schickele: Compositions, Peter Schickele
  18. ^ Peter Schickele: Portrait of P.D.Q. Bach, Peter Schickele
  19. ^ 'A Little Nightmare Music' From P.D.Q., The Washington Post. Accessed 16 May 2024.
  20. ^ Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities, Peter Schickele
  21. ^ Gann, Kyle (January 19, 1999). "Classical Trash". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  22. ^ Schickele, Peter (1976). The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach (1807–1742)? (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-73409-2.
  23. ^ Bargreen, Melinda (August 31, 2007). "Composer's jovial shtick is serious musical business". The Seattle Times.
  24. ^ "Swarthmore's First Music Major" Archived January 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine by Paul Wachter, Swarthmore College Bulletin (September 2007)
  25. ^ Oestreich, James R. (December 30, 2015). "Review: Bach at St. Paul's, and the Fictional Relative, P.D.Q., at Town Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  26. ^ "Peter Schickele Concert Schedule". The Peter Schickele Web Site. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  27. ^ Vance R. Koven (March 21, 2016). "Shickele Sans PDQ". The Boston Musical Intelligencer. Retrieved July 17, 2023.
  28. ^ Hornsmoke (A Horse Opera) – Peter Schickele at AllMusic
  29. ^ Sneaky Pete and the Wolf – P.D.Q. Bach at AllMusic
  30. ^ The Emperor's New Clothes, for narrator & ensemble – Peter Schickele at AllMusic
  31. ^ Western, Marvin L. (2007). The Music of Peter Schickele An Analysis of His Music Involving the Clarinet. Shenandoah University. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  32. ^ "Dedicated to the Proposition that All Musics are Created Equal". The Peter Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach Web Site. Archived from the original on December 8, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  33. ^ "Schickele Mix Program Database Search". The Peter Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach Web Site. Archived from the original on November 12, 2007. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  34. ^ "Susan Sindall Is Bride of a Juilliard Teacher". The New York Times. October 28, 1962. p. 91. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  35. ^ James R. Oestreich (February 1, 1995). "At Work With: Peter Schickele; When P.D.Q. Meets P.D. Slow". The New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  36. ^ Kozinn, Allan (November 11, 1999). "David Schickele, 62, Filmmaker and, With Brother, a Parodist". The New York Times.