earthly possession

P. D. Q. Bach

P. D. Q. Bach is a fictional composer invented by musical satirist "Professor" Peter Schickele. In a running gag that Schickele has used in a four-decade-long career, he performs "discovered" works of this forgotten member of the Bach family. He has recorded this music on the Vanguard and Telarc labels. Schickele's music combines parodies of musicological scholarship, the conventions of Baroque and classical music, and elements of slapstick comedy.

The name "P. D. Q." is a parody of the three-part names given to some members of the Bach family that are commonly reduced to initials, such as C. P. E., for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. PDQ is an acronym for "pretty damn quick" (or the bowdlerized "pretty darn quick") in vernacular English.


Among the many "facts" about the composer's life in Schickele's fictional biography of the composer, we find the following:

P.D.Q. Bach was born in Leipzig on April 1st, 1742, the son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Anna Magdalena Bach; the twenty first of Johann's twenty children. According to Schickele, Bach's parents did not bother to give their youngest son a real name, and settled on "P.D.Q." instead. The only earthly possession Johann Sebastian Bach willed to his son was a kazoo.

In 1755, P.D.Q. Bach was an apprentice of the inventor of the musical saw, Ludwig Zahnstocher (German for "toothpick"). In 1756, P.D.Q. Bach met Leopold Mozart and advised him to teach his son Wolfgang Amadeus how to play billiards. Later on P.D.Q. Bach went to St. Petersburg to visit his distant cousin Leonhard Sigismund Dietrich Bach (L.S.D. Bach), whose daughter Betty Sue bore P.D.Q. a child.

Finally, in 1770, P.D.Q. Bach started to write music, mostly by stealing melodies from other composers.

P.D.Q.'s final words, which were spoken to Betty-Sue Bach, were "Time, gentlemen." The time was exactly eleven o'clock on the evening of May 5, 1807 in Baden-Baden-Baden [sic], Germany.

P.D.Q. Bach's grave was marked "1807–1742". The reverse order of the dates has led to some controversy, but Prof. Schickele calls the theory that P.D.Q. Bach lived his life backwards, Merlin-like, "too fanciful to merit serious consideration" and insists that the marking on the grave was a "...transparent attempt [by] the Bach family to make it appear that P.D.Q. could not possibly have been sired by Johann Sebastian, who died in 1750." Nevertheless, when listing the dates in sheet music or program notes, he always includes a question mark: "(1807-1742)?"

P.D.Q. Bach's Epitaph reads [as requested by his cousin Betty Sue Bach and written by the local doggerel catcher]:

In the "original" German:
Hier liegt ein Mann ganz ohnegleich;
Im Leibe dick, an Sünden reich.
Wir haben ihn in das Grab gesteckt,
Weil es uns dünkt er sei verreckt.


Here lies a man with sundry flaws
And numerous Sins upon his head;
We buried him today because
As far as we can tell, he's dead.

In preconcert lectures, Schickele has revealed that P.D.Q. Bach had a substantial influence on Beethoven's deafness. This is due to the latter's habit of stuffing coffee grounds into his ears whenever he saw P.D.Q. Bach coming.

Before performing the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, Schickele stated, though no documentary evidence existed, that the dance music of P.D.Q. Bach generally suggested that one of P.D.Q. Bach's legs was shorter than the other.


Schickele describes P. D. Q. Bach as having "the originality of Johann Christian, the arrogance of Carl Philipp Emanuel, and the obscurity of Johann Christoph Friedrich." The most distinguishing feature of P. D. Q. Bach's music, in the words of Schickele, is "manic plagiarism".

P. D. Q. Bach seldom wrote original tunes; for the most part he stole melodies from other composers and rearranged them in often funny ways. Also, P. D. Q. Bach's music uses instruments not often used in orchestras, such as the tromboon, slide whistle, hardart, lasso d'amore and kazoo, as well as items not normally used as musical instruments, such as balloons, fog horns, and bicycles. His music also calls for unusual methods of playing traditional instruments, such as blowing through double reeds by themselves (that is, detached from the instruments) throughout Iphigenia in Brooklyn. His parts for vocalists include coughing, snoring, sobbing, laughing and yelling.

P. D. Q. Bach's work pokes fun at many types of music, including Baroque, Romantic, modern, country music (Oedipus Tex and Blaues Gras), and rap (Classical Rap). The "Schickele" or "S." numbers whimsically assigned to P. D. Q. Bach's works parody musicologists' catalogues of famous composers, such as the Köchel catalogue of Mozart's works.

There is often a startling juxtaposition of styles within a single P. D. Q. Bach piece. The Prelude to Einstein on the Fritz, which alludes to Philip Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach, provides an example. The underlying music is J. S. Bach's first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier, but with each phrase repeated interminably in a minimalist manner that parodies Glass's. On top of this mind-numbing structure is added everything from jazz phrases to snoring to the chanting of a meaningless phrase ("Koy Hotsy-Totsy," alluding to the art film Koyaanisqatsi for which Glass wrote the score). Through all these mutilations, the piece never deviates from Bach's original harmonic structure.

The humor in P. D. Q. Bach music often derives from violation of audience expectations, such as repeating a tune more than the usual number of times, resolving later than usual, unusual key changes, or sudden switches from high art to low art.

Schickele divides P. D. Q. Bach's musical output into three periods: the Initial Plunge, the Soused Period, and Contrition.

During the Initial Plunge, P. D. Q. Bach wrote the Traumarai for solo piano, an Echo Sonata for "two unfriendly groups of instruments", and a Gross Concerto for Divers' Flutes, two Trumpets, and Strings.

During the Soused (or Brown-Bag) Period, P. D. Q. Bach wrote a Concerto for Horn & Hardart, a Sinfonia Concertante, a Pervertimento, a Serenude, a Perückenstück, a Suite from The Civilian Barber, a Schleptet in E-flat major, the half-act opera The Stoned Guest, a Concerto for Piano vs. Orchestra, Erotica Variations, Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice (an opera in one unnatural act), The Art of the Ground Round, a Concerto for Bassoon vs. Orchestra, and a Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion.

During the Contrition Period, P. D. Q. Bach wrote the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn, the oratorio The Seasonings, Diverse Ayres on Sundrie Notions, a Sonata for Viola for Four Hands, the chorale prelude Should, a Notebook for Betty Sue Bach, the Toot Suite, the Grossest Fugue, a Fanfare for the Common Cold, and the canine cantata Wachet Arf!

He also composed the religious work "Missa Hilarious" (Schickele no. N2O, N2O being nitrous oxide or "laughing gas"), which was found along with documents pertaining to his excommunication.


Schickele currently performs the music of P. D. Q. Bach in two different touring programs, both accompanied by soprano Michèle Eaton and tenor David Düsing.

P.D.Q. Bach: The Vegas Years is performed with an orchestra, and includes Oedipus Tex, selections from Art of the Ground Round, and the cantata Gott sei dank, daß heute Freitag ist ("Thank God It’s Friday").

P.D.Q. Bach & Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour is performed with piano accompaniment, and includes Four Next-to-Last Songs, Shepherd on the Rocks, With a Twist, and excerpts from Little Notebook for "Piggy" Bach.



Vanguard Years
Title Year
Peter Schickele Presents an Evening with P. D. Q. Bach (1807-1742?) 1965
An Hysteric Return: P. D. Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall 1966
Report from Hoople: P. D. Q. Bach on the Air 1967
The Stoned Guest 1970
The Intimate P. D. Q. Bach 1974
Portrait of P. D. Q. Bach 1977
Black Forest Bluegrass 1979
Liebeslieder Polkas 1980
Music You Can't Get Out of Your Head 1982
A Little Nightmare Music 1983

P.D.Q. Bach on Telarc
Title Year
1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults 1989
Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities 1990
WTWP Classical Talkity-Talk Radio 1991
Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion 1992
Two Pianos Are Better Than One 1994
The Short-Tempered Clavier and other dysfunctional works for keyboard 1995
P. D. Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour 2007

Title Record Company Year
The Wurst of P. D. Q. Bach Vanguard Records 1978
The Dreaded P. D. Q. Bach Collection Vanguard Records 1996
The Ill-Conceived P. D. Q. Bach Anthology Telarc Records 1998

Video releases
Title Year
The Abduction of Figaro 1984
P.D.Q. Bach in Houston: We Have a Problem! 2006


Four of the Telarc P.D.Q. Bach recordings received Grammy awards in the Best Comedy Recording category. These were the four albums released from 1989-1992. Schickele also received a Grammy nomination in the Best Comedy Album category in 1996 for his abridged audiobook edition of The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach.

Further reading


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