P.D.Q. Bach, A Little Nightmare Music

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Peter Schickele is a fine composer, who happens to be cursed with a sense of humor. Since you don't usually find the words “humor” and “classical music” in the same sentence, Schickele has spent 40 years channeling his comic urges into his alter ego, PDQ Bach. Described as “the last and least of Bach's sons,” PDQ is the most hilariously inept composer ever to set quill to parchment. Every so often Schickele emerges with his recent “discoveries” of … well, let's call it music. And in A Little Nightmare Music, Schickele ignores the desperate pleas of music lovers everywhere by adding to the catalogue of PDQ Bach recordings.

The last and least of Bach’s sons continues his assault on classical music.

This album is perhaps not PDQ's finest hour (that would be, by universal acclaim, the hour of his death), but it'll keep eMusic fans happy until The 1712 Overture and Oedipus Tex and the rest of Schickele's madcap recordings become available. Schickele's humor is broad enough that you don't need to be a classical music expert to enjoy the fun… but the more you know about it, the funnier the performances are. Inappropriate “borrowings” from eerily familiar sources (how would PDQ have heard ragtime back then?) are ineptly thrown together in the “Octoon.” The humor is largely vocal in the title track, an outright theft of a certain Mozart hit with a ridiculous operetta-style libretto (the finale's title says it all — “What Hutzpah”). But the humor also depends on the crack playing of Schickele's musicians; for this sort of humor to work, the musicians have to be top drawer, and Schickele's always are.

A Little Nightmare Music

P.D.Q. Bach

The album's best tracks are at the end — in the “Royal Firewater Musick” (S. 1/5, get it?). This sendup of Handel's various suites features some of Schickele's more “in-joke” material, like the Baroque-style ornamentation run amok at the beginning of the first movement. The piece seems to get steadily more unsteady on its feet as you approach the fourth movement (“Sarabanda straight up”) before rallying to sing its drunken heart out in the finale, “One for the Road,” a tribute to PDQ Bach's stature as an equal-opportunity plagiarist.

Often the best parts of a PDQ Bach album are Schickele's own introductions, whether as stories/lectures or as skits. This record has none of those, but the music is, unfortunately, vintage PDQ.