I’ve had a few Gerard Hoffnung references and pieces here lately, and in one of them I mentioned how he was sort of a precursor (or even likely an inspiration) to Peter Schickele -- pronounced Shick-uh-lee. And I realized that many people probably don't know him either -- though I suspect more will, since he’s much more recent and had many successful albums and even performed live with symphony orchestras for years.
He joking went by “Prof. Peter Schickele,” whose career was supposedly dedicated to the work of P.D.Q. Bach, the fictitious illegitimate son of J.S. Bach. (Schickele’s reasoning was that Bach has so many legitimate children, what’s one more?)
Though it helps to have an understanding of classical music to get his humor in full, what’s more important is to haven an appreciation of it. (The latter is my category…) Like Hoffnung, would often use using odd objects as musical instruments in his “discovered” pieces by P.D.Q. Bach.
Like Hoffnung, too, not everyone will Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach, because their work is focused on a specific area, that being classical music. As such, they’re sort of in the vein, as well, of Victor Borge or even closer to the joyous Anna Russell who toured for decades, most famously given comedy “lectures” on things like “How to Write a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta” and analyzing Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Though Borge and Russell were more “traditional-ish” comedians.
If you don’t know Schickele’s work – but even if you do -- I will toss in what is easly my favorite of his works – and probably his most popular – Beethoven’s 5th Symphony presented like the broadcast of a football game, “Orchestra vs. conductor,” complete with referee, play-by-play announcer and color analyst.
I’m going to provide two separate links to it, for reasons I’ll explain. This first is the version he made for his album, P.D.Q. Bach On the Air. It’s wonderful.
Schickele would also perform this in concert, which I saw once. (A friend worked for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and invited me to the rehearsal of it…) This is a video of the piece , which in some ways in a lot more fun than the album version, since it has the visuals – like all the orchestra members with numbers on their backs, cheerleaders, a penalty box, and many other bits thrown in that you couldn’t possibly do on a record -- but I think the comic timing on the album is significantly better. (But also, this in-concert video starts late and leaves out the introduction that sets the piece up.) However, I’m going to post it for those who prefer to watch it performed. BUT -- if you do decide to watch the live concert video, I’d still suggest listening to the album introduction up to the point of when the announcers call out, “And they’re off!!” – and then switch over to the in-concert video. The intro is only about a minute, but it helps, I think.) For that matter, I found that it’s fun even watching them both. The album version is impeccable for the timing and performance – but watching the concert version afterwards adds a lot of visual fun.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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