Bernard Gabriel; 27; How funny can serious music be?
This is Bernard Gabriel serious music is pretty serious stuff. Not too many smiles or Chuckles to say nothing of belly laughs or go for laws are ever observed in a concert hall as one looks around at the audience and most portraits or busts of famous composers generally present the sitters as doer figures with no hint of so much as a smile crossing their countenances come to think of it even popular music. Well ask doesn't seem to be very funny. Take rock for instance teenagers may be literally sent out of their collective minds with joy as the beach gets more and more intense and the decibels mild ever higher but hysterical as the teenagers get they usually don't laugh at the music. However there are a few charismatic divinely touched souls among us who have somehow managed to extract humor in the most riotous kind of humor for the most solemn and serious musical art.. And a king among the small community who can find both high and low comedy in the most
severe austere forms of musical artist Peter shakily who is my guest this broadcast. Peter shakily is well known to us all I'm sure for among other things being the arc of history has discovered the black sheep among the great Bach family. He Bach of course and born a good 65 years after he died. Well here I better turn right away to Mr. Peter explain place well the dates are a matter of some argument among musicologists. Well you say. Given that they says given our 18 0 6 to seven hundred forty two. With a question mark outside the parentheses usually in the question mark indicates several things One is the accuracy of the dates in question. The other is the difficulty in determining which is the birthdate and which is the death date. And third the question as to whether the dates have any meaning at all.
That is whether there was any birth on either of those dates or any death on either of those states that could be attributed to Peter hue by lairs Crystal. Now J.S. Bach Johann Sebastian wrote the coffee Cantata as you all know I think you are ancient music. But this wayward son with presumably some pity for insomniacs wrote a Sanka cantata. And you perform this I think in the past many places where not so many places actually the Sanken taught I was the very first work of Peter Hugh Bach that I ever came across. But the allusions in the text of the lyric of the psychic and tada. A very obscure nature and I've so far refrained from inflicting it on the public at large because I feel that until the public is more in tune with the special symbology of PD Q. Bach's music not to mention the iconic graphic that it would be best to withhold
this piece until people were very beautiful it is in its own peculiar way. Yeah well now you've been appearing at as I say if I'm on a call townhall elsewhere hear about Robert Hall Robert Hall. You made recordings too and I want to get just a bit later. And you've been doing all this for how long. The five years I've been doing it in front of the public as it were for five years and in private. Before that these concerts were presented at the Juilliard School of Music and also at the Aspen festival in Colorado in the summer. That's been going on since 1959. Oh wow. You've got two big concerts and I do mean big. At Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center New York City the end of this month. What's on the menu or should I say what are we all in for. Well we will be departing from a strictly PDA Hugh bar format which will be very interesting we will have a PD Q. box the Gros Concerto which is one of the major works in fact the major work from his first period the
initial plunge and we will have the schlep tat which is one of the purest of his works from the South period. And finally the Concerto for piano vs. orchestra who wins. That changes at every concert you know. That's for the critics to decide. And then finally we will be having for the first time on any stage the famous new approach to music appreciation the sportscaster the Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and which will be giving a play by play analysis of the symphony with a great many visual as well as auditory aids to understanding. Well now it is likely this may be very difficult for you but let's be serious for at least one moment that that does it that helps clearing it up. Now just how much humor do we actually find in the works of great composers without anybody having their works up in any way. Now I myself can think
of course of your hand Sebastian Bach's coffee Cantata in which the heroine sings if I don't have my 5 cups daily my skin gets Withered is dried goat's flesh. She also sings that one cup of coffee is worth at least a thousand kisses. All right. So he had something of a sense of humor and Beethoven certainly did with his rage over a lost penny. And I always love to think of the thought that he when he describes a milk carton that most wretched vehicle of hell. And certainly Haydn with his farewell Symphony and he surprised me with a bomb going off in the slow movement to rouse his solemn and somnolent listeners. Something I had a great deal of sense of humor and Mozart had his musical joke and well Eric sati with his compositions in the form of a pear another one for a dog and I once remember playing one of these three dried out embryos in which a nightingale sounds like a way in which the music or the piano rather sounds like an idea with a tooth ache. So these are a few examples of some sense of humor anyway on the part of composers who otherwise have very serious any
others occur to you. Well as a symphony by Haydn called destructo which has some very funny things in it I think it's made up of. Incidental music that he did originally for a play but for instance the first movement starts out in a big way and after a few measures into the movement the whole orchestra stops and the first violins discover that they're out of tune. The strings are not in tune and so the whole music stops and the first violins tune their string back up and then the symphony goes on its merry way. And there are several other instances of things like that in that piece. I would say Haydn. A lot of things about composers in those days and particularly Haydn was that they didn't necessarily make a big division between humorous works and serious works. In other words the surprise symphony is not is not a humorous work has a moment and a farewell farewell rocking out so that I think there were there wasn't always this big division. There isn't one of the preludes a Securicor reference
to God Save the Queen. What if I got a wax cake walk. Right it's a parody of Tristan and he's old right. Which is also quite funny when I've spoken of you already as a king in your field of finding even slapstick humor in classical music. But why do you have no direct competitors I'm sure there are a few others around who've managed to find some fun to be amusing with music of course I guess everyone away will immediately think of Victor Borg and Anna Russell. I can think of a singer lady singer of the past recent past who used to wow her audiences into tears of laughter and quite unwittingly I think she used to go for a high C land on an F sharp and slide down from there. Can you think of any other people that are having fun with music that's out right now. Well one man who unfortunately is not having fun anymore with music but did have a great deal and that's Gerard Hoffnung who is an Englishman who until he died several years
ago presented humorous music concerts several of these concerts were recorded on records but I've never I wish I had been able to be at one of the live concerts because they sounded as if they were an awful lot of fun. And then I would like to include somebody who is not strictly humorist in the classical field but that is Spike Jones because he did. Make forays into the classical field just as Farai did for that matter. That was Spike Jones was known mostly for his take offs on popular music. It's a very funny version of Carmen for instance and he did treat some of the 19th century ballet music also in his in his own manner. And he was a particular master at the weird ridiculous funny instrument sounds that are also associated with Bach. What about Alec Templeton. I like Templeton was also a humorist a lot
some of the humor in his things was was from the lyrics that he sang with the music but he also did actually actual musical humor too. Well now I think that having fun with music revolves mostly around satire and I guess there's plenty to kid about when serious music. Would you say that's true in general. I think it takes several forms and there are different levels there is an actual kitting of the music itself or a setting setting up a certain expectation and then and then not fulfilling it having something unexpected come in the music and then there is also the satire of the ritual of the concert hall. I think instead of going to satirize own words the things that a pianist does before he starts playing a concerto for instance and the things that a conductor does when he comes up the whole the whole attitude of both the audience and the performers in a concert hall is one of the things that that I've always worked with and one of the things I enjoy about
PD concerts is doing things that people have always wanted to see but never get a chance to for instance in the Hollywood Bowl. There is a reflecting pool between the audience and the stage. And when we did our concert there one was at about it was about four years ago I think. We were doing that Kentucky in Brooklyn in which I play the wine bottle which was the instrument upon which Peter Cuba himself was an acknowledged virtuoso and the only instrument in fact that he played every day. And I was playing the wine bottle part and by the end of the piece I music completely out on the floor because it does require exhaustive amount of drinking. And when I took came out for a curtain call I took a deep bow and just keeled over right over into that reflecting pool into the pool of water and somebody came up after the concert and said how I've been coming to concerts here for 15 years and I've always wanted to see somebody fall into that. So it's that kind of
fulfillment that I get a particular kick out of. Now Peter Schickele a you have a serious background as a Juilliard student a composer of modern music the recipient of a Ford Foundation grant. How did you all of you ever get all this nonsense. Well I sort of got into it before long before I started doing it I was a kid I was a dyed in the wool Spike Jones fan. I had most of his records. I acted out the records. It's a matter of fact the embarrassing part of it is that Spike Jones is responsible for my getting interested in music at all. And he was he was my first real interest in music aside from the French horns and Peter in the well. And so that it lay dormant for a while but at Julliard I and some other friends among them actually did nothing but play practical jokes on everybody. I also did a little serious work too. But in 1959 Jorge Mester who is now a conductor of the Louisville orchestra and myself and some other friends did a
concert in Julliard it sort of started the ball rolling and we have been able to stop it since. You know I'd like to read a few excerpts from some of the reviews that you've had say from Time magazine couple of the newspapers But first wait is it true that you've written some of the music for Calcutta. Yes I'm a member of a group called the open window and the three of us wrote the music I mean everybody listens. Some people hear and there is an original cast album which. I think I was strictly visual. It has been said that if you come out of Calcutta whistling the tunes there's something wrong with you. But nevertheless we do get when we're playing the show we did get a lot of comments and what's this is an opera of yours the battered bride the battered bride is a living room opera that Iroh on so it's no relation to the bartered. Now you know it's never been a long outside the living room. When I said I wanted to read a few excerpts and I would like very much to do that. For instance here is just a sentence or two from a TIME magazine account of one of your concerts and I quote As the music went sailing off in directions
on me merrily blasted away on a kazoo and up by Cornell's buzzers and doorbells for a finale he punctured six balloons with an ice pick and a rifle. Oh you didn't do that did you. You know I certainly did act I wouldn't want to put Time magazine in the position aligns well. And then TIME magazine at the end of this particular lengthy article says perhaps the most touching compliment that you've ever received was from a lady who rushed up after one concert shook your hand and gushed. Oh Professor It was awful just awful. And you said thank you thank you. Well I always appreciate discernment and scholarship and I think that the level of our audience is much to my pleasure. His is going consistently down at a very rapid rate it is but not in numbers not in numbers but just in you know under right now the New York Post lots of other things headlines one of your review is also a two column review as a disconcerting concert by Bob. Does that describe if you think that I think that's a pretty fair description
right and the reviewer goes on to say that PD Q. Bach and we've already talked about has been described as the last but least of Bach's 20 children and by far the oddest of the lot. Well also later it says that you played a concerto for Horn and hard act. Featuring what the hard art of wind percussion instrument which was automated during the industrial revolution should be constructed from balloons an orange soda bottle and make singles figures among other implements. And of course it's coin operated. Yes actually I did the research on it. The actual reconstruction was done by Zuckerman who makes the Do It Yourself harpsichord kit. One thing I am sorry that I never heard and that is the pathetic symphony because it has not an original musical phrase in it. I will tell you the pathetic symphony i sense of discovered that was not its original title the actual title is The UN begun symphony and it is recorded on one of the Vanguard recordings.
Yeah. Yes it was a start only with a third and fourth movements. It has just the third and fourth thoughts. You think I do that. All right. Who mostly make up your audiences. I mean what kind of people wacky people people out for some fun series Musicians who want to have a laugh at themselves. Well I make up the music and George Schultz makes up the audience. He's your manager. Yes. He goes out and beats the Bushes you know one of the ways we get musicians to play for us is by digging up some sort of unpleasant thing about their relatives or something that we can hold blackmail on Mr. Schutz it developed a interesting method using mailing lists of doing the same for an audience. But we found that over the years as we give more and more concerts the audience gets broader and broader. I think that the overweight problem is one of the most serious things in this country today and that there are more and more families that come to kids bring their parents along and parents bring their kids and it ends up quite a crowd never
audience participation. Not intentionally although sometimes they do get carried away by someone they want to come up and play I try the hard and hard act. Yes but but we have we have musical goons to keep them away from these incidents which after our all are very precious. Well now you mention that you've played at Hollywood Bowl and otherwise as far as from New York City where you brought your delightful madness. Well I have toured both with small specially trained Marcus TRA. And also I do a program now in which I appear as a soloist with symphony orchestras and I've done this all over the country. As I say you must practice very hard. How many hours a day. I find actually that it's better not to practice. It's more in keeping with the music if you have not seen it for a considerable amount of time and so on a fresh approach it's best to try to forget about it also. There's another element. You know there was an 18th century instrument called the glass harmonica and the Mozart.
Yeah right. That you played by rubbing your finger on the rim of a wet glass and this was a quite a popular instrument at the time. But the reason why it died out was a glass harmonica virtuously developed a nervous disease from playing that room with their fingers. I wonder why that hasn't and it's a similar thing with Petey if you do play too much PD Q. Bach you know you begin to develop certain musical twitches. And so I generally try to forget about it between concert Have you taken your art across the Atlantic or the Pacific or to the Caribbean. No no I've taken it across the Hudson but that's about as far as I go I made it up to Toronto once but beyond that it's been pretty confined to the borders of this here country. I have a feeling that you are planning. There are some there are some plans afoot to bring it very particularly. Yes. But so far there's nothing definite yet.
Well now I want to get to some of your recordings. What's available. Well there are now four PD Bach recordings on the market and surprising and surprisingly enough they're all still in print. The fourth one just came out a few weeks ago. It features Pete a huge box half fact opera. The Stoned guest. And it also has two madrigals was a pretty prolific wasn't he actually wrote a lot of music considering the amount of time that he spent facedown in a gutter. I'm always amazed that he had as much time to write as he did which is your own favorite you must have a favorite. Well I don't know if I have a favorite I have I have certain favorites. It's very hard for me to pick you know it's like saying the favorite among your children you're just too close to them and you get so you hate them all. You were telling me about the recordings what labels these are all on a vanguard label on the first the first one is called an evening with Peter Hugh Bock and features the Concerto for hard and hard and
brilliantly in the second one and hysteric return bark at Carnegie Hall. The main work on that is the seasonings which is the oratory which is one of most major minor works and that's where Haydn got he might have been looking into that I think is a good possibly the enabler isn't there so yeah and then the third recording is called Peter Hugh Bach on the air. Report from Hoople and this is a broadcast that I do up in Hoople North Dakota and a fourth one as I say is a stoned guest you know where I will be watching for those and. It should brighten our season holiday season very very much. Do you think there was a musical black sheep only only in the Bach family or had your peregrinations into historical research led you to suspect perhaps that maybe they had a long lost sister who was slightly touched. Well I would believe almost anything about Beethoven and particularly since we are recording
this on the 200 anniversary of Beethoven's birth. I think it's particularly unlikely. That's right. I think it's particularly likely that he had a sister who was somewhat touched. The question is touched in what way you describe musically of scarse bombs. Try to get. Give me a touch all the time on the street. I've never been described before you did so as divinely touched. I have been described. Add that to your next photo. I often wonder if you could speak of angels as being divinely touched. Not in the same way or just divine or just touched but. Anyway I sometimes get letters from people who claim they have discovered the music of PD Q. Mozart or PD cue list or something like this but I myself only hope I myself have not been able to corroborate any of these claims and as far as I know Bach is
the only son of a famous composer who whose existence was completely kept you didn't tell us how you actually did the research. Where did you do it when there's 1953. Well the way it started was that I was travelling around Europe and singing for my supper. And I'm not much of a singer and I didn't get much of a supper and one piece of bread that was given to me and which I thought was merely moldy and had black mold on it actually turned out to be a piece of old manuscript paper and the black mold was actually notes in a crabbed the manuscript hand and I read down run down this clue I ran down this clue is what I did and traced it to the leg and actually lost. You know where I found the sank a cantata manuscript being employed as a strainer in the caretaker's percolator tragic. That was the very beginning right there. It's been downhill ever since.
That saddens me. Talk a little with you Peter about the strange instruments in this world of Bach and so many of which you've resurrected and are using Bach wrote for a great many instruments which other composers had the good sense to avoid the Concerto for Horn and hard art we have mentioned the hard art I think is one of the strangest instruments ever constructed it is about 9 feet long and it looks like a sort of a thin counter and excuse me the principal of it was that every note had a different time for that one note would be a plucked string and the next note would be a blown upon bottle and next one would be a bicycle horn. So there was this constant variation of tambour And then of course the fact that you had to put nickels into it to get the instruments with which to play it was also a rather unique feature which indicates that inflation is not purely a 20th century phenomenon that already these things were creeping in in the 18th
century. Then there was the. The left handed super flu which is also one of his most remarkable instruments a flute made out of lead sewer pipe which has a sound appropriate to its origins and an instrument that did tend to disappear somewhat after the eighteenth century as lead pipe became more and more in demand for use as sewers. But I have unearthed an original left handed sewer which however I did not perform on your end is it teachable. Not too pleasant for me but then the wind breaker is another instrument I think the less said about that the better perhaps. And the double reed slide music stand. Well what about that double reed slide music stand is a very delicate instrument which consists of a double reed and a music stand with a slide in it and has arranged a fabulous range of about a minor third think that practicing my stuff putting on mastering history.
But of course I didn't master them all some of these instruments are played by other people that I con into performing in the mail as you say. Yes one way or another and. Then another instrument of course is the trombone which is a sort of a cross between a trombone and a bassoon combines all the disadvantages of both instruments into one compact instrument. The worm is another instrument that he used in his relation to the serpent. Well it's a much smaller version of the serpent and you play it by pinching it and then you see this it's different from the serpent also in that it cannot play scales whereas the surface it honestly you know oftentimes you know that it's you know the serpent obviously could play scales whereas the worm can it does turns very well. It does yes. And and that's about the eyes are now on these instruments I want to hear it tell me what are some of the new features or what exactly will take place at
these conscious the end of this month until I'm on a call. Well I've described the program the exact outcome of the contest you have all of the differences in the Concerto for piano versus orchestra you can never tell it just depends on how good the orchestra is because I'm in pretty good shape myself. Yeah and The Piano be like when you're through. Well the piano is a standard concert grand piano and I try to keep it intact at the end of the program I try my best to keep it so that you know that none of the scars of battle show on the piano. The piano bench does have a tendency to start smoking sometimes because I play the scales so rapidly that it does have a tendency to allow for a last question Piers shakily I wish it weren't the last. You've already looked into the past and look what you found treasure indeed. Do you ever think of glancing into the future who knows what you might find there. Well for my last answer and I certainly wish it weren't the last I have to
say that I find that research into the future is considerably more difficult and research into the past I don't know a lot. Well it hasn't happened yet and it's harder to find the archives and the manuscripts and the library you know see any possible. Well it's not that I wouldn't work on it but it's just that the libraries don't seem to be as well equipped and also I feel that people will have a chance to experience the future when it comes whereas PD Q. bark if it hadn't been for my research how do I know if I ever heard one. Well Peter shakily I realize you're a little one though I feel sure that those lucky people who are privileged to view music through the years especially tended and I do especially did it prescription glasses and who can hear through your ears connected as they are with your funnybone. Well never think of serious music as being quite so serious again. I'm really grateful to you for joining me. And again let me alert one and all to your two performances if I'm on a call. Lincoln Center New York City December 28 and
- Bernard Gabriel
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- How funny can serious music be?
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- APA: Bernard Gabriel; 27; How funny can serious music be?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-k9316p90