From the Vault...


P.D.Q. Bach
"The Short-Tempered Clavier"

© Telarc Records

Year of Release: 1995

track listing
  • Opening And Introduction
  • I. C Major
  • II. C Minor
  • III. C-Sharp Minor
  • IV. D Major
  • V. D Minor
  • VI. E-Flat Major
  • VII. F Major
  • VIII. G Minor
  • IX. G Major
  • X. A Major
  • XI. A Minor
  • XII. B-Flat Major
  • Introduction
  • I. Tocata Et Fuga Obnoxia
  • II. Chorale Prelude
    (Ave Maria Et
    Agnus Dei)
  • III. Fantasia Sopra
    Maria Mack
  • IV. Lullaby And
  • Introduction
  • I. Spiel Vorspiel
  • II. Entrada Grande
  • III.Smokski
    The Russian Bear
  • IV. Toccata Ecdysiastica
  • Calliope Frustration
  • Introduction
  • I. Chorale: Orally
  • II. Chorale Prelude On An
    American Hymn For
    The Last Sunday
    Before The Fourth
    Day Of The Seventh
    Month After
    New Year's Eve
  • III. Chorale Variations On
    In Der Nacht
    So Hell Der Petrus I
  • Epilogue

  • WSVNRadio Archives
    A B C D E F G H I J K L M
    N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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    P.D.Q. Bach
    "The Short-Tempered Clavier"

    Professor Peter Schickele is the Dr. Demento of Classical Music. As mentioned from previous PDQ Bach reviews on this site, when I first purchased PDQ Bach music from the local record store, the employee there warned me that this was no ordinary source of Classical Music.

    As my knowledge and interest of PDQ Bach's music increased, it was obvious to acquire more of the PDQ Bach catalog. With this week's album review, 1995's The Short-Tempered Clavier, there is no doubt that the "normal" Classical Music fan will enjoy the music contained here. Yet, throughout the album (as many others), you can easily hear the humor in the music, yet the orchestrations are truly fantastic, comparing to the "normal" classical pieces you would hear.

    There are 3 preludes (prelude being defined from the liner notes from the album: "It is obviously a piece that goes in front of another piece.") The first, is the main title of this album, as it has 12 pieces, and are titled in the letter majors and minors of the musical notes - C major, C minor, C-sharp minor, D major, etc. (Most standard classical pieces are also titled in this way.) The 13 pieces are all instrumental, with the use of the Hamburg Stairway D piano, recorded in Mechanics Hall in Worchester, Massachusetts, February 22, 1995. The piano preparation was by Barbara Pease Renner. Christopher O'Riley, pianist. The humor in various pieces here are easily heard, using such "pieces" as "Chopsticks," "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony," "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," and the intro to the Big Ben clock, to name a few.

    The second prelude is entitled "Little Pickle Book," and it has only 4 pieces. The first piece is based on Johann Sabastian Bach's classic "Toccata et Fuge in D Minor," retitled as "Toccata et Fuge Obnoxia." Humorously done as expected. The second piece is "Chorale Prelude (Ave Maria et Agnus Dei)." I'm not really familiar with the track Agnus Dei, yet I've seen it referenced from the German band Laibach, and one of the WSVNRadio Hall of Fame artists, Gerald Krampl. He recorded many album projects as the name "Agnus Dei." The third piece has an almost childlike quality, "Fantasia sopra [Fraulein Maria Mack]." The final piece is "Lullaby And Goodnight," as it easily references to the children's song, yet heard in its own humorous and eerie atmosphere. The "Little Pickle Book" was recorded on the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ in the Imperial Spud Theatre, in Hoople, North Dakota, on April 11, 1995, with additional recording at Commercial Recording Studio, Studio 1, in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 1, 1995. Dennis James, theater organist.

    The third prelude is entitled Sonata Da Circo (Circus Sonata), as it has 4 pieces. Circus music, Calliope music. The four pieces are "Spiel Vorspiel," " Entrada Grande," "Smokski The Russian Bear," and "Toccata Ecdysiastica." There is also another piece, "Calliope Frustration." Now, from listening to these five pieces, I just find THIS kind of Calliope music from this album to be extremely weird, and having disturbing images of bad clowns. The bad movie Killer Klowns From Outer Space" also comes to mind. Again, this is weird and disturbing music. Sonata Da Circo (Circus Sonata) was recorded on a Morecraft Steam Calliope at the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana, on May 30, 1995. David Robinson & Prof. Schickele, steam calliope performers.

    The last prelude is entitled Three Chorale-Based Piecelets. It has 3 pieces. The first, "Chorale: Orally", has an eerie depressing church music sound, The second, (you'll love its title), "Chorale Prelude on an American for the Last Sunday Before the Fourth Day of the Seventh Month After New Year'e Eve." This song is really PDQ Bach's version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." The last piece is considered the best of the three: "Choral Variations on [In der Nacht so Hell, der Petrus ist mein Freund." This piece was recorded next to the feediots at King Congregational Church in Fayray, North Dakota, May 1, 1995. Prof. Schickele, organist.

    Liner Notes from each Prelude (by Professor Peter Schickele):

    The Short-Tempered Clavier turned out to be as pivotal to P.D.Q. Bach's oeurve as The Well-Tempered Clavier was to his father's (Johann Sebastian Bach). That is, they're both humungous pieces that seem to sum up almost everything the composers had learned about the art of, in J.S. Bach's case, trying to cash in on his father's most famous works.

    The creative life of "The Tosspot of Wein-am-Rhein" (as he probably would have been called if that weren't such a clumsy epithet) has been divided into three periods: The Initial Plunge, The Soused Period, and Contrition; internal evidence suggests that the Little Pickle Book hails from the final period, looking back as it does -- stylistically speaking, that is -- to the music of the composer's father and his (ie: the composer's father's) contemporaries, yet lacking, as it also does, any of the presciently reckless harmonies and one-leg-shorter-than-the-other rhythms that give his (ie: the composer's) early works such a late feeling.

    The two principal forms of chamber music in the Baroque era were the sonata da chiesa (church sonata) and the sonata da camera (photographic sonata); P.D.Q. Bach's Sonata Da Circo is, as far as this particular editor knows, the only example of a circus sonata written during the Baroque, or, for that matter, any other, either, when you come right down to it, era.

    P.D.Q. Bach spent his Soused Period in Wein-am-Rhein, which, chorally-wise speaking, was a one-man town. If you wanted choral singers or a choral director, you talked. If you knew that was good for you, with the only official choral contractor in the area, Don "Chroal" Leone. He doesn't have anything to do with the Three Chorale-Based Piecelets that ends this album, but I wanted to mention him anyway; his descendants are still around, and just as powerful as ever.

    As mentioned in other reviews for this album, the main title of this album's prelude is the best [3 stars]. The remaining preludes were probably fillers to complete the album. But the Sonata Da Circo (Circus Sonata) virtually killed the album for me, with its eerieness of calliope music. For the serious Classical fan, I'm sure they probably hate P.D.Q. Bach, for distinguishing its so-called humor, easily fitting the Dr. Demento format, and yes, some of the pieces of P.D.Q. Bach's music could be classified as "demented humor." But for those who can easily put this all aside, P.D.Q. Bach's "music" is considered as novelty and comedy. Judging on the music from the main title track's prelude, it is oustanding to even the best classical works. Anyone who is professionally trained to play this kind of Classical Music, whether humorously or serious, is far and beyond a "clavier genius."

    By the way, the defnition of clavier is: "The keyboard of a music instrument."

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