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P.D.Q. Bach


Born: April 1, 1742; Leipzig, Germany   Died: May 5, 1807; Wein-am-Rhein  
The last and oddest of J.S. Bach's 20-odd children, P.D.Q. Bach began his musical career in obscurity and embarked upon an unsteady march into utter oblivion. He spent most of his adult life in the small German town of Wein-am-Rhein. It was a village virtually bereft of culture, a situation that was not improved by P.D.Q. Bach's presence. The composer did occasionally encounter and steal ideas from local folk groups, such as Tommy Mann and his Read more Magic Mountain Boys, for whom he wrote his Bluegrass Cantata.

About 150 years after his demise, American composer and prankster Peter Schickele discovered the manuscript of P.D.Q. Bach's Sanka Cantata being used as a coffee filter, and thereupon devoted his primary energies to disinterring other scores. Since 1965 he has recorded and performed them with orchestras of less than impeccable standards. P.D.Q. Bach's unnaturally large and perhaps artificially enhanced catalog includes works for such unusual instruments as windbreaker and bicycle, although the compositions that have come to light in the past few decades have featured more traditional ensembles.

P.D.Q. Bach was discouraged from following in his father's and elder brothers' footsteps, although as a teenager he was apprenticed for a time to the inventor of the musical saw. He didn't begin writing music himself until 1770, and perhaps because of this late start he became what Schickele calls a "manic plagiarist." Not only did he steal tunes from his contemporaries and earlier composers, but he somehow anticipated melodies that would be written long after his death, including American pop and folk songs.

His career has been divided into three periods. The first, called Initial Plunge, produced such works as the Echo Sonata for two unfriendly groups of instruments and the Gross Concerto. The Soused Period, which accounts for the bulk of P.D.Q. Bach's career, saw the creation of the Concerto for horn and hardart, the Pervertimento, and Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice, an opera in one unnatural act. Finally came Contrition, a brief era that saw the composition of the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn and the Sonata for viola, four-hands. His catalog also includes such substantial works as the dramatic oratorio Oedipus Tex, the Royal Firewater Musick, the opera Einstein on the Fritz (of which only the annoyingly repetitive prelude survives), and the 1712 Overture, which anticipates some of the worst mannerisms of Tchaikovsky while showing no evidence of the later Russian composer's melodic gift. Read less

There are 20 P.D.Q. Bach recordings available.

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