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Musical World

Peter Schickele

  • Composer
  • Special Appearances


Peter Schickele commissions are numerous and varied, ranging from works for leading Symphonic and Chamber Music organizations  to compositions for distinguished instrumentalists and singers. Recent premieres include "A Year in the Catskills" for woodwind quintet, with the Blair Quintet of Vanderbilt University;  Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, with Danielle Farina and the Pasadena Symphony under Jorge Mester; Music for Orcas Island, for the 2007 Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival; Symphony No. 2 "The Sweet Season," premiered by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under Stefan Sanderling;  Concerto for Cello and Orchestra "In Memoriam F.D.R.," performed by Paul Tobias with the Pasadena Symphony under Jorge Mester; "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; "New Goldberg Variations" for cello and piano, performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax; Symphony No. 1 "Songlines," premiered by the National Symphony under Leonard Slatkin and performed by such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra; and "Blue Set No. 1," a jazz string quartet commissioned by the Greene Quartet and recorded on the Virgin label, among others.  

Among the recordings recently released are Schickele's "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra," featuring Robert Spring with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus on Summit Records;  the Grammy Award-winning "Hornsmoke", featuring the title piece as well as "Brass Calender" 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, String Quartet No. 2 ‘In Memoriam'" and the "Sextet for Strings", with the Lark Quartet on Arabesque; "The Emperor's New Clothes," for narrator and chamber ensemble, commissioned and performed by An die Musik on Newport Classic; and another album of chamber music for strings, including "String Quartet No. 1 ‘American Dreams'", the "Quintet No. 1 for Piano and Strings", and "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, Crystal, 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 varied projects was a weekly, syndicated radio program, Schickele Mix, which was heard nationwide over Public Radio International beginning in 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. His orchestral programs, "P.D.Q. Bach: The Vegas Years" and "P.D.Q. Bach Strikes Back," as well as his chamber program, "P.D.Q. Bach and Peter Schickele: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour," have received wide acclaim. He also continues to tour with a program of original cabaret songs, which he sings from the piano with the harmonizing assistance of David Düsing.  "Condition of My Heart," presents reflections on a long marriage in a continuous montage of original songs by Mr. Schickele and poems by his wife, the poet Susan Sindall.

In his role as "discoverer" 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). That all of this adds up to "the greatest comedy-in-music act before the public today" (Robert Marsh, Chicago Sun Times) is underscored 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.  A CD of "P.D.Q. Bach: The Jekyll and Hyde Tour" on the Telarc label was released  in November 2007, and P.D.Q. Bach's full-length opera, "The Abduction of Figaro," is now available on DVD (Video Artists International).  In addition to touring, he continues to present both old and new discoveries of his music in New York City, recently with the New York Philharmonic. In 1998 Telarc released "The Ill-Conceived P.D.Q. Bach Anthology." Vanguard has issued its own 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 (having earlier been  the only bassoonist in Fargo).  By that time he had already composed and conducted four orchestral works, a great deal of chamber music and a number of songs. He subsequently studied composition with Roy Harris and Darius Milhaud, and with Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma at the Juilliard School of Music. 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.