Along with all the usual reasons for going to see P.D.Q. Bach, there is now one bittersweet additional one.
Sad to say, this may be the last time around for the hapless composer of "Concerto for Horn and Hardart," the "No-No Nonette," the "Schleptet in E-flat" and many even less distinguished pieces.
"Yes, I've decided that this season is my next-to-last touring with P.D.Q.," said Peter Schickele, the man who, as "Prof." Peter Schickele, not only discovered P.D.Q.--the fictive, besotted last-born son of J.S. Bach--but also parlayed him into a hefty, improbable 25-year career.
"My last regular concert will be April 1, 1991, which is of course P.D.Q.'s birthday," said Schickele by phone from his country getaway in Woodstock, N.Y. "It will be with the Pasadena Symphony, which is conducted by Jorge Mester. It was Mester who conducted the first P.D.Q. concert when we were Juilliard students in 1959, and the very first public concert in 1965."
A moment later, Schickele softened the shocking finality of this announcement.
"It won't necessarily be a complete goodby to P.D.Q. I still plan on doing the New York concerts during the last week in December, as long as a crowd shows up. And some more recordings."
But with the end of regular touring, an era will end. P.D.Q. Bach concerts--with their distinctive blend of deliciously low slapstick and brilliant musical parody--have taken their place in the very top drawer of musical satire. The shows appeal to all levels of musical and comedic sophistication. They are even loved by most classical music fans, a group not always associated with a razor-sharp sense of humor.
The P.D.Q. performances are physically taxing. Making one's entrance by shimmying down a knotted rope from a balcony places more of a demand on one than, say, walking on from the wings. But the endomorphic, 54-year-old Schickele says it is not declining stamina that's behind P.D.Q's semi-retirement.
"I've got other things I want to do. I've got an idea for a radio program and a couple of television possibilities. These aren't signed and sealed, so I can't really talk about them. I also enjoyed the few film scores I've done (four altogether, including "Silent Running") and would like to do more. But the trouble with that business is that they always want you to start tomorrow, and I'm booked up two years in advance."
He also cites the mounting commissions for his "serious" music. This has always been a touchy point for Schickele, who was a graduate composition student of the eminent composer Vincent Persichetti. Schickele's non-P.D.Q. music is widely performed and, for the most part, warmly embraced by audiences and critics. But Schickele is clearly discomfited that the unwelcome shadow of P.D.Q. hangs inappropriately over many of the serious performances. "Some people go into a concert of my serious stuff determined to find things to laugh at. And they do. It's as if they can't accept the distinction."
So one additional purpose of P.D.Q.'s withdrawal from the public stage will be to help put the two aspects of Schickele's career into what he regards as a healthier balance.
"My hope is that in the long run there would be an appreciation for both. To me they are very complementary. In a way, the spirit that leads P.D.Q. also gives my serious music a sunny, dramatic quality. . . . On the other hand, to tell you the truth, if I were forced to list my favorite works--something I hope I'm never forced to do--I would include some P.D.Q. pieces along with the Peter Schickele pieces."
Schickele conceded that without the impetus of touring, certain ideas for gags or bits that have been percolating may never be realized.
"I have an 'Ideas' file that's full of napkins from Holiday Inns and that kind of thing. Over the years some of them have indeed turned into pieces."
One of them that hasn't is a rather recondite idea for a sendup of Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.
"I thought it would be fun to write a piece called 'Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes From Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber by Paul Hindemith by Peter Schickele.' But I'm not sure the piece could have ever lived up to the title."
Schickele also noted ruefully that certain P.D.Q. instruments may forever remain in the concept stage. "A timpanist wanted me to invent a ukulele da gamba, and I'm sorry I didn't do it." The uke would have been played--like the now-out-of-fashion viola da gamba--upright, between the performer's knees.
But the P.D.Q. muse is not silent. Schickele recently released a new recording on the Telarc label and another is already in the works.
"I have the same arrangement with Telarc that I used to have with Vanguard (his longtime record company during the '60s and '70s). It's a gentleman's agreement that I won't do any P.D.Q. Bach records without telling them first. But I'm not tied down to having to produce one a year, or anything like that."
Meanwhile, there are some P.D.Q. commissions left to honor. Among them at the moment is a piece that will premiere later this season with the Cleveland Orchestra.
Its title alone should reassure any P.D.Q. fans who fear that the master is in danger of losing his creative spark. It's called . . . "The Safe Sextet."