Among J.S. Bach’s numerous offspring were several sons who achieved considerable fame as composers while they were still alive. However, there was one son who never experienced success in his lifetime. That unfortunate soul was P.D.Q. Bach, the least known of old Bach’s many children, whose music was neglected until Peter Schickele began unearthing it in the mid-20thcentury.
What Schickele discovered in his research was a composer who left a vast body of work at the time of his death. And although he was immensely prolific and wrote in all genres he never really found his own voice, unlike his famous father. Most scholars consider P.D.Q. Bach a phony and accuse him of outright plagiarism, but these allegations have never deterred Schickele from making sure the obscure composer found his rightful place, although on a lower pedestal than his siblings, in the Bach family hall of fame.
P.D.Q. Bach, who, of course, is Schickele’s alter ego, will be the featured composer at Utopia Early Music’s season opener this Saturday and Sunday. Titled “My Bonny Lass She Smelleth: P.D.Q. Bach and More Saucy Songs of the 17th Century,” the concert will include selections from Bach’s The Short-Tempered Clavier and The Art of the Ground Round, along with legitimate, albeit naughty, songs from Elizabethan England, as well as 17th century drinking songs.
“We did a concert similar to this one a few years ago, which was a lot of fun,” said Utopia co-founder Emily Nelson. “We thought it was time to incorporate P.D.Q. into the mix.”
Fellow Utopia co-founder Christopher LeCluyse, who has sung some of P.D.Q.’s music in the past, said it’s not easy parodying other composers’ styles. “P.D.Q.’s music is so clever,” LeCluyse said. “You have to be a really good composer to make fun of others’ music.”
Nelson concurred. “The voice leading is good, and it’s really beautiful. You have to be twice as smart [as a composer] to do comedy.”
P.D.Q. Bach’s The Art of the Ground Round (a twist on dad’s The Art of the Fugue) is a set of rounds, also called catches. A round is a multi-part vocal piece that takes a theme and passes it around the various voices. “These pieces were very popular,” LeCluyse said. “There were many groups in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries called catch clubs where members would meet to sing these pieces. Most of them are written in three-part counterpoint and most of them are drinking songs.” He added that scores of these ditties were published in collections. “A lot were collected by Henry Purcell and other composers.” A famous, and large, collection from the early 18th century is called Pills to Purge Melancholy. “The style is much like The Beggar’s Opera, which was written around the same time,” LeCluyse said. “Some of the pieces in the collection are send ups of popular songs of the time. People were riffing back then, too.”
In addition to drinking songs and P.D.Q. Bach, there will also be a newer musical spoof on the program. Harpsichordist Pamela Palmer Jones will play Giovanni Dettori’s Lady Gaga Fugue, based on the pop diva’s song Bad Romance.
“The entire program is something you’d expect from Weird Al,” Nelson said.
Joining Nelson, who is a soprano, and LeCluyse, who sings tenor, will be singers Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano, Geoffrey Friedley, tenor and Ricky Parkinson, bass. Also performing will be Lisa Chaufty on recorder and flauto traverso.
The concerts take place Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. in the Cathedral Church of St. Marks (231 E. 100 South). Admission is by freewill donations; suggested amounts are $15 for general and $10 for students.
Below is a schedule of concert dates and programs. For more information log on to www.utopiaearlymusic.org.
- Oct. 18, 8 p.m. and Oct. 19, 5 p.m., Cathedral Church of St. Marks (231 E. 100 South) – “My Bonny Lass She Smelleth: P.D.Q. Bach and More Saucy Songs of the 17th Century.” Program: Selections from P.D.Q. Bach’s The Short-Tempered Clavier and The Art of the Ground Round; naughty songs from Elizabethan England; and drinking songs from the 17th century. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano; Christopher LeCluyse and Geoffrey Friedley, tenor; Ricky Parkinson, bass; Pamela Palmer Jones, harpsichord; and Lisa Chaufty, recorder and flauto traverso. (Freewill admission; suggested: $15 general, $10 students.)
- Dec. 6, 8 p.m. and Dec. 7, 5 p.m., Cathedral Church of St. Marks – “A Celtic Christmas.” Program: Christmas music from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Gretchen Windt, mezzo-soprano; Christopher LeCluyse, tenor; Michael Chipman, baritone; Bronwen Beecher, fiddle; Eleanor Christman Cox, baroque cello; and Therese Honey, Celtic harp. (Freewill admission; suggested: $15 general, $10 students.)
- Feb. 23, 2015, 8 p.m., Vieve Gore Concert Hall (Westminster College) – “The Dance of Love: Romantic Songs from Machaut to Brahms.” Program: Music will include renaissance galliards; medieval dances; selections from Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes; and selections from Schubert’s part songs. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Aubrey Adams-McMillan, mezzo-soprano; Christopher LeCluyse, tenor; Michael Chipman, baritone; and David Walker, lute. ($15 general, free for students with I.D.)
- May 9, 2015, 8 p.m. and May 10, 2015, 5 p.m., Cathedral Church of St. Marks – “Poignant Pleasures: Music of the French Baroque.” Program: Music by Marais, Charpentier, Campra and their contemporaries. Performers: Emily Nelson, soprano; Christopher LeCluyse, tenor; Alex Woods and Audrey Woods, violin; John Lenti, theorbo; and Eleanor Christman Cox, baroque cello. (Freewill admission; suggested: $15 general, $10 students.)