Peter Schickele

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Peter Schickele
Peter Schickele.jpg
Schickele in 2010
Born (1935-07-17) July 17, 1935 (age 87)
EducationSwarthmore College (BM)
Juilliard School (MM)
Occupation(s)composer, musical educator, parodist

"Professor" Peter Schickele (/ˈʃɪkəli/; born July 17, 1935)[1] is an American composer, musical educator, and parodist, best known for comedy albums featuring his music, but which he presents 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.

Early life[edit]

Schickele was born in Ames, Iowa, United States,[1] to Alsatian immigrant parents. His father, Rainer Schickele (1905, Berlin – 1989, Berkeley, California), son of the writer René Schickele, was an agricultural economist teaching at Iowa State University.[3] In 1945, Schickele's father took a position at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; then, in 1946, became chairman of the Agricultural Sciences Department at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) in Fargo, North Dakota.[3]

Schickele (rear) and others at Swarthmore College

In Fargo, the younger Schickele studied composition with Sigvald Thompson. He attended Fargo Central High School, graduating in 1952. He then attended Swarthmore College, graduating in 1957 with a degree in music; he was the first student at Swarthmore, and the only student in his class, to earn a music degree. 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.[4] He graduated from the Juilliard School in 1960[5] with a master's degree in musical composition.[6]

Early career[edit]

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.[7]

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![8] and released three albums.[9][10][11]

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.[1] While at Juilliard (1959), Schickele teamed with conductor Jorge Mester to present a humorous concert, which became an annual event at the college. In 1965, Schickele moved the concept to The Town Hall (New York City) and invited the public to attend;[1] Vanguard Records released an album of that concert, and the character of "P. D. Q. Bach" was launched.[12] By 1972, the concerts had become so popular that they were moved to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

P. D. Q. Bach[edit]

Besides composing music under his own name, Schickele has developed an elaborate parodic persona built around his studies of the fictional "youngest and the oddest of the twenty-odd children" of Johann Sebastian Bach, P. D. Q. Bach.[1] Among the fictional composer's "forgotten" repertory supposedly "uncovered" by Schickele are such farcical works as The Abduction of Figaro, Canine Cantata: "Wachet Arf!" (S. K9), Good King Kong Looked Out, the Trite Quintet (S. 6 of 1), "O Little Town of Hackensack", A Little Nightmare Music, the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn, the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, The Art of The Ground Round (S. $1.19/lb.), Blaues Grasse (The Bluegrass Cantata), and perhaps best known of all, the dramatic oratorio, Oedipus Tex, featuring the "O.K. Chorale". Though P. D. Q. Bach is ostensibly a Baroque composer, Schickele extends his repertoire to parody much more modern works such as Einstein on the Fritz, a parody of his Juilliard classmate Philip Glass.

His fictitious "home establishment", where he reports having tenure as "Very Full Professor Peter Schickele" of "musicolology" and "musical pathology", is the "University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople", which is described as "a little-known institution which does not normally welcome out-of-state visitors". To illustrate the work of his uncovered composer, Schickele invented a range of rather unusual instruments. The most complicated of these is the Hardart, a variety of tone-generating devices mounted on the frame of an "automat", a coin-operated food dispenser. The modified automat is used in the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, a play on the name of proprietors Horn & Hardart, who pioneered the North American use of the automat in their restaurants.

He 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, which he described as having "a range of major third and even less expressiveness"; the "tuba mirum", a flexible tube filled with wine; and the "pastaphone", an uncooked tube of manicotti pasta played as a horn. Further invented instruments of his include the "pumpflute" (an instrument that requires two people to play: one to pump, and one to flute) and the "proctophone" (a latex glove attached to a mouthpiece, and "the less said about it, the better"). The überklavier or super piano, with a 15-octave keyboard ranging from sounds which only dogs can hear down to sounds which only whales can make, was invented in 1797 by Klarck Känt (pronounced "Clark Kent"), a Munich piano-maker who demonstrated the instrument for P.D.Q. A sample of a piece written for the überklavier, The Trance and Dental Etudes, appeared in P.D.Q.'s unauthorized autobiography, published in 1976.[13]: 153  P.D.Q's Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons (1965) demonstrated the inherent musical qualities of everyday objects in ways not equally agreeable to all who listen to them.[13]: 177 

To a large degree, Schickele's music as P. D. Q. Bach has overshadowed his work as a "serious" composer.[14][15]

During the 1970s and early 1980s, performances by Schickele of the music of P. D. Q. Bach often featured guest appearances by the Swarthmore College Choir, usually advertised as "fresh from their recent tour of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania".

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.[16] He has since reduced his concert appearances due to health issues, but continued to schedule live concert performances through 2018.[17]

Other musical career[edit]

Schickele has 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).[12] 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 has also written music for school bands, as well as for a number of musicals, including Oh! Calcutta!, and has organized numerous concert performances as both musical director and performer. Schickele was active on the international and North American concert circuit.

Schickele's musical creations have 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.

Schickele has also created such not-quite-P. D. Q. Bach albums as Hornsmoke,[18] Sneaky Pete and the Wolf,[19] and The Emperor's New Clothes.[20]

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


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.[21] 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.[22]


Year Award Category Work Result Ref(s)
1970 Grammy Awards Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album Oh! Calcutta! Nominated [23]
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

Personal life and family[edit]

Schickele's two children, Matt and Karla, are both indie rock musicians. The two played together in the indie rock trio Beekeeper in the 1990s.[citation needed]

Karla Schickele then joined the band Ida, has recorded solo music under the name K. Matt Schickele, and is part of the M Shanghai String Band.[24] She is also an orchestral music composer.

Schickele's brother, David Schickele (1937–1999), was a film director and musician.[25][26]


  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 2202. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b "Schickele Mix: The Lost Episodes".
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ The Epiphany of Slocum Furlow on YouTube
  5. ^ Cabaniss, Thomas (October 2015). "Remembering Persichetti: A Centennial Panel and Concert". The Juilliard Journal. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  6. ^ Battey, Robert (May 12, 2007). "Schickele Keeps the 'Serious Fun' Rolling With NSO". The Washington Post.
  7. ^ Ravas, Tammy (2004). Peter Schickele: a bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 7. ISBN 0-313-32070-5.
  8. ^ "Oh! Calcutta! – Cast". March 1971.
  9. ^ OCLC 7010731 (The Open Window, 1969)
  10. ^ OCLC 3745796 (Three Views From "The Open Window", 1969)
  11. ^ OCLC 25739018 (Oh! Calcutta!, 1970)
  12. ^ a b The Tennessean March 12, 2009, "The Nashville Scene", p. 46
  13. ^ a b Schickele, Peter (1976). The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach (1807–1742)? (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-73409-2.
  14. ^ Bargreen, Melinda (August 31, 2007). "Composer's jovial shtick is serious musical business". The Seattle Times.
  15. ^ "Swarthmore's First Music Major" Archived January 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine by Paul Wachter, Swarthmore College Bulletin (September 2007)
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "Peter Schickele Concert Schedule". The Peter Schickele Web Site. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  18. ^ Hornsmoke (A Horse Opera) – Peter Schickele at AllMusic
  19. ^ Sneaky Pete and the Wolf – P.D.Q. Bach at AllMusic
  20. ^ The Emperor's New Clothes, for narrator & ensemble – Peter Schickele at AllMusic
  21. ^ "Dedicated to the Proposition that All Musics are Created Equal". The Peter Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach Web Site. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ "Peter Schickele". The Recording Academy. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  24. ^ "M Shanghai String Band: Biography". M Shanghai String Band. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  25. ^ Kozinn, Allan (November 11, 1999). "David Schickele, 62, Filmmaker and, With Brother, a Parodist". The New York Times.
  26. ^ David Schickele at IMDb

External links[edit]