From the Vault...


P.D.Q. Bach
"At Carnegie Hall"

© Vanguard Records

Year of Release: 1966

track listing
  • Oratorio - The Seasonings
  • Unbegun Symphony
  • Pervertimento For
    Bagpipes Bicyle And

  • 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
    "At Carnegie Hall"

    Originally titled An Hysteric Return: P.D.Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall, Professor Peter Schickele performs "the music of PDQ Bach" at Carnegie Hall. The year was 1966. This concert was created for the compact disc in 1987. There are only three tracks on this concert.

    "Oratorio - The Seasonings" -- Beginning with a spoken word history of PDQ Bach, then about the instrumentation. The orchestra and choir perform in full style, with a flute-type instrument making this piece humourous. (As I was reading the liner notes, it was actually a foghorn.) Opera male singing follows, with some humour spots. A duet of opera singers (male and female) sets the pace for a "normal" opera sound, yet the lyrics have it's own humor. The choir itself is well worth listening to. Beautifully vocalized. This continues throughout the reamining near 24-minute track, with a "not-so-normal" operatic performance. Just listening to this track does prove, that it definitely was performed extremely well for the live Carnegie audience.

    The second track, "Unbegun Symphony" is probably considered the most "normal sounding" classical piece. It includes the famous Danube's Waltz, likewise many other well-known classical pieces, that I cannot name off the top of my head when I heard it. (It's one of those, "Oh, I know this song, but I don't know the name ofit...; it seems this way with a lot of well-known Classical pieces.) so you know by using thesewell-known compositions, the music itself is well worth listening to, and watching it performed live. This piece clocks in at less than 11-minutes in length.

    The final track, "Pervertimento For Bagpipes, Bicycle And Balloons" indicates the audience's responses by laughing and applauding. Obviously, there is something going on during this performance: Read the section of the liner notes below, where this track is mentioned.

    From the liner notes:
    In the year that has elapsed since his music was first introduced to an eagerly skeptical public, P.D.Q. Bach has emerged as a unique phenomenon in the current Baroque revival. It would be difficult to name another composer whose works have aroused so much interest, in such a short time, and with so little reason. Certain scholars have claimed that the popularity of J.S. Bach's only-forgotten son is due to the fact that he represents the seamy side of 18th century music, a side which was either neglected or suppressed until the recent development of hard-core musicology. Music critis, however, have pointed out that audiences seem to be moved to the point of laughter by P.D.Q. Bach's egregious limitations, and it is probably this more than anything else that accounts for the irresponsible enthusiasm show by these audiences; to them and to thousands of record buyers, P.D.Q. Bach can do no right.

    Fortune (or is it perhaps one of the Muses?) has continued to guide me to the hiding places of long-lost P.D.Q. Bach manuscripts. THe unearthing of the grand oratorio, The Seasonings, however, was especially exciting, since it proved beyond a doubt that P.D.Q.'s inabilities were not limited to the smaller forms. The road to musicians' Hell must be paved with P.D.Q. Bach compositions.

    His instrumentation, however, is always interesting; in The Seasonings he employs a lurid assembly of instruments that includes a push-button chord organ, two slide whistles, two kazoos (the instruments themeselves are modern, but for the sake of authencity they are equipped with original 18th centure tissue paper), a shower hose in D, a trombbon (this instrument is a hybrid -- constructed from parts of a bassoon and a trombone; it has all the disadvantages of both), a windbreaker and a slide windbreaker, and interestingly enought, a foghorn. I don't know of any other piece, intended for performance on the land, that uses a foghorn.

    Perverimento: Equally adventuresome in orchestation is the Pervertimento. The virtuosity of the bicycle and bagpipes parts is considerable; the balloonist, on the other hand, has very little to do, although a great deal is required of the balloons themselves. At the end of the piece, a large bunch of helium-filled balloons is released. As they float towards the ceiling, three pitch pipes, attached to the mouth of of the balloons, play the final chord. This spectacular ending suggests that the work was written forsome grand festivity at the court.

    The bicycle is used in several ways. In the second and last movements a siren mounted on the rear wheel sings the plaintive melodies; in the Trio of the Minaret, the performer blows on the handlebars as if they were a trumpet; and in the final movement, after the passage for siren, playing cards are allowed to flap on the spokes of the rear wheel as it turns, thus producing a percussive effect known to every small boy but, until P.D.Q. Bach, unknown to even the most sophisticated masters of orchestration.

    P.D.Q. demonstrated his mastery of the bagpipes in his Sinfonia Concertante, but in the Pervertimento he achieves a variety of timbres which forces us to consider him history's greatest composer of classical music for bagpipes and orchestra. In the Romanza I, he uses a small practice bagpipe without drones which sounds as if it has a sinus condition. This movement is the only instance in the entire literature, as far as I have been able to ascertain, of the indicattion "molto vibrato" for a bagpipe. Actually this is probably another case of P.D.Q. Bach's unintentional originality. The man for whom he wrote the part was one of his most devoted drinking companions, and from all reports the poor fellow had very little choice about whether to use vibrato or not.

    P.D.Q. Bach has been accused of gimickry, but I think it is safe to say that no other instruments could convey his own peculiar vision, in all its myopia, as faithfully as do these. So we have used the authentic instruments whenever possible; it seems the least we can do for a composer who is now so misunderstood, and who has himself so misunderstanding.
    From the notes of Professor P. Schickele

    As mentioned in previous P.D.Q. Bach reviews -- Peter Schickele takes a look at Classical music in a very humorous way. It's obvious the audience was entertained throughout this concert. Schickele provides commentary before each performance, and gives the audience a good way to laugh. The orchestration - fantastic! The opera singers and choir -- superb! The humor in the singing, and the commentaries from the Professor keeps the entertainment alive.

    Just to mention the performers on this album: Professor Peter Schickele (bicycle, windbreaker, tromboon), The Royal P.D.Q. Bach Festival Orchestra, Jorge Mesler, conductor. Lorna Haywood (soprano), Marlena Kleinman (alto), John Ferrante (tenor), William Woolf (bass), The Okay Chorale, John Nelson, director. Maurice Eisenstadt (bagpipes), Robert Lewis (balloons).

    For the more serious Classical fan, the humor and the odd instrumentation may not be suitable. Yet for those who enjoy Classical, and can take in stride the humor, P.D.Q. Bach is not only a good Classical choice, but a dose of comedy shouldn't hurt anything. Discover P.D.Q. Bach's world of Classical music. The music is awesome, and so is the humor, all in (somewhat) good taste.

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