Shining the light on a mysterious composer

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By Special to the Monitor

When an individual becomes so well known that only his or her last name is needed for wide public recognition, we often refer to those individuals as being part of the “Great Man Theory.”


This is especially true when it comes to music and music history.

The 17th and 18th centuries were replete with such individuals: Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and not to mention, although we will, a whole boatload of Bachs: J.S., J.C., C.P.E., W.F., J.C.F. – oh heck, the list is almost endless. Old Johann Sebastian had some 20 children, after all, and many of them went on to become first-rate composers as well known as their rather fecund father.

However, one member of this illustrious brood seems to have gone without notice or recognition, and perhaps rightfully so. J.S.’s 21st child, enigmatically named P.D.Q. by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, not that she named him, but after having produced seven children already, you’d think that J.S. might have let her – perhaps they had just run out of initials – was born on April 1, 1742.

No one knows what these initials stood for. J.S. himself is said to have told his eldest son Wilhelm Friedrich, the aforementioned W.F. and after-mentioned as well – see next paragraph, that they stood for nothing at all, which as well could be said of P.D.Q. himself later in his life. Dying on May 5, 1807, still no one knew what the initials stood for.

It would also seem that the Bach family – W.F. really was a schmuck – and history itself – sometimes history can be a schmuck, too – has effectively erased the memory of this ne’er-do-well younger sibling much in the way J.S. himself had done during the eight years of P.D.Q. Bach’s life that the two co-existed.

After Big Daddy Bach expired, his family gradually dispersed. He left no will, and it seems that those remaining members with any interest in upholding the family’s status as composers did their level best to hide or ignore the existence of P.D.Q. Bach.

Thank goodness, or at least thank something or other, for the tireless efforts of one Prof. Peter Schickele of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople.

Through his redundantly tireless efforts – he did a lot of walking – he has over the past 50 or so years been able to excavate, dredge and otherwise “discover” the works of a composer who has been called “a pimple on the face of music,” “a one-man plague,” “the worst musician ever to have trod organ pedals,” “the most dangerous musician since Nero” and other things not quite so complimentary.

So the question then is “why?” But perhaps a better question is “What the…?”

On April 10, the Los Alamos Pick-up Ensemble, we couldn’t really think of a better name …so sue us, will present “An Evening with P.D.Q. Bach and Friends” at the UNM-LA Student Center.

 If you are a fan of Prof. Schickele or, heaven forbid, of P.D.Q. Bach (it is an acquired taste…kind of like a peanut butter sandwich with mayo and sardines) then you will want to put this event on your calendars.

This performance, which starts at 7 p.m., will be presented free to the public as well as anyone else who happens to show up.

Just so there’s no disjunction or confusion as often happens when articles are written in a disjunct and confusing manner,

“An Evening with P.D.Q. Bach and Friends” will be presented at 7 p.m. April 10 at in the UNM-LA Student Center. We won’t charge admission – but it will cost you a buck to leave.