Peter Schickele

American broadcaster, composer, musical comedian, parodist and teacher Peter Schickele was born on 17 July 1935 in Ames, Iowa, to Alsatian parents. He grew up in Washington DC and in Fargo, North Dakota, where his composition teacher was Sigvald Thompson. He studied music at Swarthmore College and composition at Juilliard, where Roy Harris was one of his teachers and Philip Glass a fellow classmate.

An early interest in Spike Jones led Schickele to create a humorous concert at Juilliard, which became an annual event, growing into a popular event at Avery Fisher Hall.

Schickele was most famous for creating parodies of classical works under the name of an invented composer P D Q Bach (1807-1742)?, supposedly the youngest of J S Bach's sons, who supposedly predicted that the young Wolfgang Mozart would, 'if given the proper training', become one of the world's greatest billards players.

Peter Schickele in Milwaukee in 1981
Peter Schickele in Milwaukee in 1981


He created a series of 'forgotten' works in P D Q Bach's name, such as the crazily imbalanced Sinfonia Concertante for Lute, Bagpipes and Orchestra, the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn (in which the libretto, at one point, reads 'He who is running, knows. Running nose, running nose') and the Missa Hilarious, which twists the text of the Mass into, for example, 'Yrie-K', 'Christe-Olé', 'Gloria ... I just met a girl named Gloria', 'Gloria, sock it to me, sock it to me, Gloria', 'Ho-ho-ho-sanna in Excelsior', 'Angus Dei', 'Dona Nobis Pasta' and 'Amen, A-women, A-wilderness, A-nuts, A-A-A-A-A...choo!'

He also created a series of crazy instruments, voice and ensemble names such as the bargain counter tenor, basso blotto, dill piccolo, the Greater Hoople Area Off-Season Philharmonic, hardart, I Virtuosi di Harris County, lasso d'amore, mezzanine soprano, O K Chorale, off-coloratura soprano, schleptet, tenor profundo, tromboon and tuba mirum, and claimed to teach at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople 'when he could find it'. His P D Q Bach concerts became famous through recordings and his North American and international tours (during which he often made his entrance by swinging onto the stage using a rope). He also created crazy radio station call signs such as WOOF and WTWP (wall-to-wall Pachelbel).

P D Q Bach: Oedipus Tex and other choral calamities. © 2006 Telarc
P D Q Bach: Oedipus Tex and other choral calamities. © 2006 Telarc


Schickele's parodies, which have been compared to those of Victor Borge and to the UK's Hoffnung concerts, to some extent overshadowed his more than a hundred original works for chamber ensemble, choirs, film, orchestra, school band, TV and voice. Occasionally Schickele released a parody under his own name, such as Bach Portrait (which he narrated himself), lampooning Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait.

From 1992 until 1999 he hosted the educational classical music radio show Schickele Mix on American public radio stations.

Peter Schickele continued performing until 2018, although he scaled down his live appearances due to ill health. He died at his home in Bearsville, New York, on 16 January 2024, aged eighty-eight.


A selection of articles about Peter Schickele

Classical music news - January 2024 Obituaries - Our summary of those the classical music world has lost this month

Ensemble. 'Fantasia' Around The World - Giuseppe Pennisi visits the big screen in Rome

Rui dos Reis - Jennifer Paull interviews and investigates the Portuguese composer-pianist