The Kennedy Center

Peter Schickele


Composer, musician, author, satirist — Peter Schickele is internationally recognized as one of the most versatile artists in the field of music. His works, now well in excess of 100 for symphony orchestras, choral groups, chamber ensembles, voice, movies and television, have given him “a leading role in the ever-more-prominent school of American composers who unselfconsciously blend all levels of American music.” (John Rockwell, The New York Times)

His commissions are numerous and varied, ranging from works for the National Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Minnesota Opera, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Audubon and Lark string quartets, the Minnesota Orchestral Association, and many other such organizations to compositions for distinguished instrumentalists and singers. Recent premieres include the Symphony No. 2 “The Sweet Season,” premiered by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under Stefan Sanderling; the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra “In Memoriam F.D.R.,” performed by Paul Tobias with the Pasadena Symphony under Jorge Mester; the “New Century Suite,” a concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra, commissioned by the New Century Saxophone Quartet and premiered by the quartet and the North Carolina Symphony; the “New Goldberg Variations” for cello and piano, performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax; the Symphony No. 1 “Songlines,” premiered by the National Symphony under Leonard Slatkin and since performed by such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra; the Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, performed at the OK Mozart Festival with Ransom Wilson conducting; songs and instrumental music for Sheridan's “The Rivals,” staged in Portland and Denver; “Little Mushrooms” for piano four-hands; “Two Songs on Elizabethan Lyrics”; and “Blue Set No. 1,” a jazz string quartet commissioned by the Greene Quartet and recorded on the Virgin label. The Armadillo String Quartet has presented annual concerts of Mr. Schickele's chamber music in Los Angeles since 1991.

Among the recordings recently released are “Blue Set No. 2” for four bassoons, played by the Bassoon Brothers on the Crystal label; the Grammy Award-winning “Hornsmoke,” featuring the title piece as well as “Brass Calendar” and other works for brass quintet, performed by the Chestnut Brass Company on Newport Classics; “Schickele on a Lark,” including the Quintet No. 2 for Piano and Strings, the String Quartet No. 2 “In Memoriam” and the Sextet for Strings, with the Lark Quartet on Arabesque; and another album of chamber music for strings, including the String Quartet No. 1 “American Dreams,” the Quintet No. 1 for Piano and Strings, and the String Quartet No. 5 “A Year in the Country,” with the Audubon Quartet on Centaur. Other compositions may be heard on RCA Red Seal, Vanguard, CRI, D'Note, Carlton, Koch International and MusicMasters.

Peter Schickele arranged one of the musical segments for the Disney animated feature film “Fantasia 2000.” He also created the musical score for the film version of Maurice Sendak's children's classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” issued on VHS along with another Sendak classic, “In the Night Kitchen” (Weston Woods), which Mr. Schickele narrates.Among his ongoing projects is a syndicated weekly radio program, “Schickele Mix,” which has been heard nationwide on Public Radio International since January 1992 and which won ASCAP's prestigious Deems Taylor Award.

In 1993 Telarc released a recording of Prokofiev's “Sneaky Pete (a.k.a. Peter) and the Wolf” and Saint-Saëns' “Carnival of the Animals” with newly written texts narrated by Peter Schickele, accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony under Yoel Levi. Mr. Schickele gave the New York premiere of “Sneaky Pete and the Wolf” at Carnegie Hall as part of the 1993 Toyota Comedy Festival and has performed the Saint-Saëns work with major American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic at its New Year's Eve gala concert in 1991. He continues to tour with a program of original cabaret songs, which he sings from the piano with the harmonizing assistance of David Düsing. Another program, “Condition of My Heart,” presents reflections on a long marriage in a continuous montage of poems by Susan Sindall and songs by Peter Schickele. As a lecturer, he has appeared in cities coast to coast; the Smithsonian Institution presented him in a series of four integrated lectures in 1997.

In his well-known other role as perpetrator of the oeuvre of the now classic P.D.Q. Bach, Peter Schickele is acknowledged as one of the great satirists of the 20th century. In testimony, Vanguard has released 11 albums of the fabled genius's works; Random House has published 11 editions of “The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach” (which has also been translated into German, and is available as an audio book from the HighBridge Company); Theodore Presser has printed numerous scores; and VideoArts International has produced a cassette of P.D.Q. Bach's only full-length opera, “The Abduction of Figaro,” which was premiered by the Minnesota Opera (in the 1989 summer season it was given 28 successive sold-out performances in Sweden by the Dramatiske Ensemblen). That all of this adds up to “the greatest comedy-in-music act before the public today” (Robert Marsh, Chicago Sun Times) is italicized by the four consecutive Grammy Awards earned by his Telarc discs: “P.D.Q. Bach: 1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults,” “Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities,” “WTWP—Classical Talkity-Talk Radio,” and “Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion,” winners in the Best Comedy Album category each year from 1990 through 1993, respectively. In addition to touring with three new programs – “Peter Schickele Meets P.D.Q. Bach,” “P.D.Q. Bach Strikes Back”  and “P.D.Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour” – he continues to present both old and new discoveries of his music in New York City each December. In 1998 Telarc released a new recording of P.D.Q. Bach's music called “The Ill-Conceived P.D.Q. Bach Anthology.” Vanguard has issued its own recent compilation on CD, “The Dreaded P.D.Q. Bach Collection."

Peter Schickele was born in Ames, Iowa, and brought up in Washington, D.C., and Fargo, North Dakota, where he studied composition with Sigvald Thompson. He graduated from Swarthmore in 1957, having had the distinction of being the only music major (as he had been, earlier, the only bassoonist in Fargo), and by that time he had already composed and conducted four orchestral works, a great deal of chamber music and some songs. He subsequently studied composition with Roy Harris and Darius Milhaud, and with Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma at the Juilliard School of Music. Then, under a Ford Foundation grant, he composed music for high schools in Los Angeles before returning to teach at Juilliard in 1961. In 1965 he gave up teaching to become the freelance composer/performer he has been ever since. In the course of his career Mr. Schickele has also created music for four feature films, among them the prize-winning “Silent Running,” as well as for documentaries, television commercials, several “Sesame Street” segments and an underground movie that he has never seen in its finished state. He was also one of the composer/lyricists for “Oh, Calcutta,” and has arranged for Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie and other folk singers. Mr. Schickele and his wife, the poet Susan Sindall, reside in New York City and at an upstate hideaway where he concentrates on composing. His son and daughter are involved in various alternative rock groups, both as composers and performers.
Peter Schickele