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Peter Schickele Dies: “P.D.Q. Bach” Parodist & Film/Broadway Composer Was 88

Peter Schickele, whose comedic parodies of classical music overshadowed his own strengths as a serious composer, died Tuesday at his home in Bearsville, N.Y. at 88. His daughter confirmed the death and attributed it to a series of infections that damaged his health.

Schickele won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album four years in a row from 1990-1994. He also won in 2000 for Best Classical Crossover album.

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The composer aimed at breaking down the stuffiness of classical music in the grand tradition of Victor Borge. His compositions included the No-No Nonette, the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn, the Unbegun Symphony, and Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons, among other titles.

Schickele claimed to be the discoverer of 18th-century composer P.D.Q. Bach, the son of Johann Sebastian Bach, “the last and by far the least” of his 20 children. Schickele claimed to have made several unusual discoveries of P.D.Q. Bach works, many of them allegedly found in taverns that the composer once haunted.

He was a concert hit, and regularly toured around the holidays. In between, he wrote scores for film and Broadway under his real name. He composed more than 100 symphonic, choral, solo instrumental and chamber works. His work was also performed by the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the folk singers Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie, for whom he wrote arrangements.

The first P.D.Q. Bach album, Peter Schickele Presents an Evening With P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742)? was a live recording of his first Town Hall concert. It was released in 1965.

His other P.D.Q. Bach recordings included the four Grammy winners for best comedy album: 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.

He earned his fifth Grammy, for best classical crossover album, for Hornsmoke which includes his serious compositions Horse Opera for Brass Quintet, and Piano Concerto No. 2.

When not in his P.D.Q. Bach disguise, he wrote the score for the 1972 science fiction film Silent Running, starring Bruce Dern, with Robert Dennis and Stanley Walden. He also contributed songs to the Broadway revue Oh! Calcutta!

Survivors include his wife, a daughter, Karla, a son, Matthew, and two grandsons.

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