Peter Schickele

Peter Schickele

Peter Schickele, 2010
Born (1935-07-17) July 17, 1935
Ames, Iowa
Occupation composer, musical educator, parodist

Peter Schickele (/ˈʃɪkəli/; born July 17, 1935) is an American composer, musical educator, and parodist, best known for comedy albums featuring music written by Schickele, but which he presents as being composed by the fictional P. D. Q. Bach. He also hosted a longrunning weekly radio program called Schickele Mix.[1]

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

Schickele was born in Ames, Iowa, to Alsatian immigrant parents; his father, Rainer Schickele (born in Berlin in 1905), was an agricultural economist teaching at Iowa State University.[2] In 1945, Rainer Schickele took a position at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Peter's next childhood home; then, in 1946, Rainer became Chairman of the Agricultural Sciences Department at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) in Fargo, North Dakota.[2] In Fargo, Peter 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, with 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.[3] He graduated from the Juilliard School with an M.S. in musical composition; in the ensuing years he has frequently cited Roy Harris as the most influential of his teachers.

Early career

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).

Schickele, an accomplished bassoonist, was also a member of the chamber rock trio Open Window, which wrote and performed music for the 1969 revue Oh! Calcutta!.

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. 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 and invited the public to attend; by 1972, they had become so popular that they were moved to Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. Vanguard Records released an album of that concert, and P. D. Q. Bach's career was launched.[4]

P. D. Q. Bach

Main article: P. D. Q. Bach

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. 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.

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, 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, a Munich pianomaker 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.[5]: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.[5]:177

To some degree, Schickele's music written as P.D.Q. Bach has overshadowed Schickele's work as a "serious" composer.[6][7]

For a period of time in the 1970s and early 1980s, performances by Schickele of the works of P.D.Q. Bach often involved guest appearances by the Swarthmore College Choir, often advertised as "fresh from their recent tour of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania."

Mr. Schickele began to curtail his live performances of P.D.Q. Bach due to health reasons, but 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.[8] He continues to have live concert performances scheduled through August 2016. [9]

Other musical career

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).[4] 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 the late Diane Lampert. He has also written music for school bands, as well as 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.

In recent years, Schickele has created such not-quite-P.D.Q. Bach albums as Hornsmoke,[10] Sneaky Pete and the Wolf,[11] and The Emperor's New Clothes.[12]

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. Lack of funding ended the production of new programs in the late 1990s, and rebroadcasts of the existing programs finally ceased in June 2007.[13] 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,[1] 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.[14]


Year Award Category Work Result Ref(s)
1990 Grammy Awards Best Comedy Album P.D.Q. Bach: 1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults Won [15]
1991 P.D.Q. Bach: Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities
1992 P.D.Q. Bach: WTWP Classical Talkity-Talk Radio
1993 P.D.Q. Bach: Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion

Personal life and family

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.

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.[16] He is also an orchestral music composer.

Peter Schickele's brother, David Schickele (d. 1999), was a film director and musician.[17][18]


  1. 1 2 "Schickele Mix: The Lost Episodes". Yellowstone Public Radio.
  2. 1 2 North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies and University Archives, Finding Aid to the Rainer Schickele Papers, URL=
  3. The Epiphany of Slocum Furlow on YouTube
  4. 1 2 The Tennessean March 12, 2009, "The Nashville Scene", p. 46
  5. 1 2 Schickele, Peter (1976). The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach (1807–1742)? (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-73409-2.
  6. "Composer's jovial shtick is serious musical business" by Melinda Bargreen, The Seattle Times (August 31, 2007)
  7. "Swarthmore's First Music Major" by Paul Wachter, Swarthmore College Bulletin (September 2007)
  8. Oestreich, James R. (30 December 2015). "Review: Bach at St. Paul's, and the Fictional Relative, P.D.Q., at Town Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  9. "Peter Schickele Concert Schedule". The Peter Schickele Web Site. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  10. "Hornsmoke (A Horse Opera) – Peter Schickele". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-03-22.
  11. "Sneaky Pete and the Wolf – P.D.Q. Bach". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-03-22.
  12. "The Emperor's New Clothes, for narrator & ensemble – Peter Schickele". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-03-22.
  13. "Dedicated to the Proposition that All Musics are Created Equal". The Peter Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach Web Site. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  14. "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.
  15. Peter Schickele at
  16. "M Shanghai String Band: Biography". M Shanghai String Band. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  17. Kozinn, Allan (November 11, 1999). "David Schickele, 62, Filmmaker and, With Brother, a Parodist". The New York Times.
  18. David Schickele at the Internet Movie Database
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