The Kennedy Center

Variations on an Unusually Simple-Minded Theme for Piano and Orchestra, S. 1

About the Work

PDQ Bach Composer: PDQ Bach
© Richard Freed

For these four outstanding rediscoveries among P.D.Q. Bach's works, Professor Schickele has requested that there be no printed program notes, as he will introduce each of them from the stage, giving full background as well as "the story behind the story," and will discuss in particular some of the unusual instruments specified in P.D.Q.'s imaginative scoring. He has, however, provided the following thoughts on the sociological as well as purely musical ramifications of the belated rediscovery of this unique figure.

"Why?" That is the question most often asked, by musicians and lay persons alike, after the concerts of P.D.Q. Bach's music presented by the author across the width and breadth of the North American continent. In the decades that have elapsed since he began regularly performing the works of this musical missing link, the author estimates that that question, "WHY?" has been asked more than two thousand times in his presence; the number of times it has been asked behind his back, were it ascertainable, would surely boggle the mind, and a boggled mind is of no use to anyone. For that reason alone it would seem that providing some answers to this extraordinarily persistent question—probably the third-most-often asked question in the Western Hemisphere (after "What is the meaning of life?" and "Who was that lady I saw you with last night?")—should be an incidental but nevertheless Number One concern for anybody purporting to write a definitive account of what is known about the strangest stop (if one may be permitted a metaphor) on the Bach family organ.

One of the answers to the question is tied to the development of the long-playing record: the over-idolizing of historical figures is usually followed by a period of debunking, and during the last several decades, which have seen the recording of virtually (or maybe literally) everything written by J.S. Bach, there has naturally developed an interest in the soft underbelly of eighteenth-century music, the so-called Seamy Side of the Baroque. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be worried about. ???????????

For another answer to the question, we may adopt the reasoning of a United States senator from the Midwest who, when one of then-President Nixon's nominees to the Supreme Court was criticized as being "mediocre," came to the nominee's defense by pointing out that many people in this country are mediocre, and why shouldn't they be represented on the Supreme Court? The author has actually found that P.D.Q. Bach's music is capable of having a therapeutic effect on audiences; the works of J.S. Bach and Mozart are so serenely perfect that many people come away from hearing them with an aggravated inferiority complex caused by the knowledge that no matter how hard they try they can never hope to achieve such beauty, whereas hearing the works of P.D.Q. Bach comforts the listener with the ego-building and not unrealistic feeling that, even if he has had no music lessons, he could easily do as well with one ear, as it were, tied behind his back.