Odd Bach's classical, quirky appeal 

The works of the fictitious P.D.Q. Bach first floated to the surface of the classical-music repertoire in 1959, when the real Professor Peter Schickele first began performing the strange stuff. Ostensibly the "last but least" of the famous J.S. Bach's more than 20 children, P.D.Q., according to Schickele's "Definitive Biography," penned hundreds of bizarre pieces, then was promptly "elbowed out of the bus of history." The liner notes from "The Wurst of P.D.Q. Bach" claim that his works might have disappeared altogether had not the professor visited Bavaria and found a manuscript being used as a coffee strainer.

This imaginative creation of the now-retired Schickele, a brilliant composer himself who employed his talents in the service of his quirky sense of irony, P.D.Q. Bach is the featured composer at Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra's "Sounds of Summer" series July 27 concert. Hosted by WMFE-FM's Dave Glerum, the event will be staged in the appropriately intimate chamber setting of the Garden House at Leu Gardens.

According to OPO general manager Mark Fischer, the choice to include the music of P.D.Q. Bach in the series -- which otherwise features respectable composers like Beethoven, Brahms and Shostakovich -- arose from the "the soft spot we all have in our hearts for the much-maligned composer."

"His place in musical history -- obscurity, not being taken seriously -- is something we've all had to deal with in our careers. ... Besides, it's fun to put together, and it will be fun to witness."

The concert will feature uncommon compositions, such as "Echo Sonata for Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments," in which a flute, oboe and bassoon battle it out with a horn, trumpet and trombone, as well as uncommon instrumentation, like the PVC windbreaker, which was one of several original "instruments" re-created just for this concert.

"Concerto for Horn and Hardart," one of P.D.Q.'s most notorious works, was apparently inspired by the original restaurant automats. (You know, open the glass door of the Horn and Hardart and pull out macaroni, rice pudding or coffee.) Schickele claims that the inspiration was the other way around, and that the Hardart was a musical instrument that, like the automat, served sandwiches and pie. More than 9 feet long and with a two-octave range, its tones come from blown bottles, a cooking timer, a shotgun and other oddities.

Breaking up the program with a few moments of almost-serious relief, the musicians also will attack Mozart's "Musical Joke," which Fischer describes as the composer's self-satire. "If you're a lover of Mozart," he says, "the thought that he would write something poking fun at his own craft is enlightening."

While much of the humor inherent in P.D.Q.'s music is subtle and requires some knowledge of classical music, Fischer says that at times it verges on slapstick. For instance, "Serenude" employs the use of another unique instrument, the "tromboon," a combination trombone and bassoon. The piece requires a conductor, since it involves 12 musicians on strings, plus kazoos, slide whistles and a shower hose -- all in the key of D.

The Orlando Philharmonic hopes that the offbeat concert will show off the extreme versatility of its artists. And ticket sales have been brisk, so reserve your place soon.

More by Morris Sullivan


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