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A Musical Joke - PDQ Bach and the Four Hands Viola

In college, I had the idea that I would become one of those fancy Bach scholars. I hadn’t yet started harpsichord, but greatly enjoyed Johann Sebastian Bach’s music and the whole Baroque era. So, I set out to learn about “all the Bachs”. I went through each of the sons (where I found a great love for Johann Christian’s music especially), and eventually found the most “notorious” composer of the family: PDQ Bach.

Given my great ignorance to the Bachs, I immediately accepted that this “PDQ” was certainly a descendant of the illustrious family tree. It was exciting to discover this “hidden gem”, and I was ready to show others this amazing find. Almost a week later, I additionally discovered that “PDQ Bach” is just an alter ego of the composer Peter Schickele. No relation.

In hindsight, I wish I had tried to announce PDQ Bach as part of the family tree to my colleagues. I certainly would have been laughed at, and it would have tarnished the “Bach guy” reputation I was trying to cultivate in my undergrad.

Once I began my harpsichord studies, I revisited PDQ Bach to see if there was any music for the instrument. I’ve come across his piece for harpsichord and viola (four hands) a couple times. Below is a performance of the piece by Alicia Choi, Rose Wollman, and Garnet Ungar from the University of Evansville.

While this music is certainly meant to be a musical joke of sorts, I actually really like it. There is something quite relatable to seeing a keyboardist perform while the accompanying musicians are charismatically displaying their own struggles to the audience. One day, maybe we’ll find a way to program this. Until then, it's a perfect track to listen to alongside this foolish day.

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