BY PETER HUMMERS, OUTER BANKS SENTINEL | The noted P.D.Q. Bach “scholar*,” Professor Peter Schickele, shared some of his findings with a delighted Outer Banks Forum audience at the First Flight High School Saturday evening.
P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742?), the “last and least offspring” of Johann Sebastian Bach, has been called a “pimple on the face of music,” “the worst musician ever to have trod organ pedals” and other things not quite so complimentary.
The indefatiguable Professor Schickele is constantly discovering new musical outrages committed by the the “most dangerous musician since Nero” (he actually discovered one during the performance – under the lectern onstage) and is unafraid to commit them in public.
He was joined in his life’s work this evening by soprano Michèle Eaton, tenor Brian Dougherty and long-suffering stage manager William Walters.
The “Jekyll and Hyde” appellation referred to the structure of the performance. The first half of the evening was dedicated to P.D.Q.’s music; the second to Schickele’s own compositions of advanced modern music, which ranged from the whimsical to the seriously beautiful.
Throughout, Schickele handled instrumental chores, mostly pianistical, although P.D.Q.’s Shepherd on the Rocks, With a Twist featured two instruments invented by Bach, the tromboon (a cross between a trombone and a bassoon, combining all the disadvantages of both in one easy-to-schlep instrument) and the lasso d’amore. Schickele also sang; several performances featured three-voice à capella arrangements.
The Bach offerings included Four Next-to-Last Songs such as “Gretchen am Spincycle,” about the relationship between God and a young maiden doing her laundry, and “Es war ein dark und shtormy Night.”
Shepherd on the Rocks, With a Twist was terrific and horrific; the tromboon was easily as scary as the bagpipe, which was originally, of course, designed to intimidate Scotland’s enemies on the battlefield.
Much of the audience, including this reviewer, was delirious during the first half of the evening. Some of the humor depended on a knowledge of classical music and letters (Johann Schiller was in the habit of frequently borrowing money from his girlfriend, so much so that he ultimately wrote a poem about what he “owed to Joy”), but much was in the more accessible vein of the Marx Brothers. During Prof. Schickele’s keyboard antics, almost all that stood in the way of his channeling Chico Marx was his neglecting to “shoot” keys with his index finger, although he did, by playing in mid-air to the right of the keyboard, play some notes that were “too high-pitched for humans to hear.”
Apres-intermezzo, Prof. Schickele played some of his own brilliant music, no fooling around. Well, not too much fooling around, although he has a soft spot for rounds (“Row, row, row your boat”) and canons, much as a writer might enjoy limericks. Many of these were sung à capella and combined sparkling music with comparable wordplay.
He performed his art song “Dear, If You Change,” with soprano Eaton, a lovely setting of an anonymous Elizabethan lyric. The piano accompaniment carried just the hint of dischord, giving the effect of a slightly subdued Charles Ives song, and Eaton rode along expertly, her pure voice lending a final touch of poignancy.
Prof. Schickele said, “You know what they say about the sixties: if you can remember them, you weren’t there. I don’t remember writing this song,” before playing “Blue Window (in My Mind),” which phrase, he said, definitely marked it as a sixties song.
As to the fooling around, the singers did perform three rounds by P.D.Q., including “P.D.Q. 3-Step Crab Dinner” and “The Mule,” based on the lyric “The mule he has two legs behind, and two he has before. You get behind before you find what the two behind be for.”
The Professor’s own Two For the Road included “Songs From Shakespeare” rendered in modern musical idioms (idia?) like boogie woogie, rap and doo-wop, and which could have come from Frank Zappa’s Ruben and the Jets album, but with the immortal Bard as lyricist. Like everything else during the evening, it represented a sort of unified field theory of music and wit.
*Some have gone so far as to suggest that P.D.Q. Bach is entirely a figment of Prof. Schickele’s fevered imagination. He said he was just as real as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and other such upstanding citizens.