Program Notes

These pages contain program notes written for Redwood Symphony. You are free to use the information in your own program notes. If you quote me directly, please attribute it. Thanks!

These notes were edited, amended, and otherwise improved by Eric Kujawsky, Peter Stahl, and Doug Wyatt.

Barbara Heninger

Peter Schickele
Unbegun Symphony

Classical, rock, jazz, and folk works; music for radio, film, and stage; songs performed by choirs at Carnegie Hall or by Big Bird on Sesame Street: Peter Schickele has written them all. Despite earning a master's degree in music from the Julliard School, where he taught in the early 1960s, Schickele has never betrayed even the slightest tendency toward professorial stodginess. Always a performer, he founded his own theater company as a child (venue: the Schickele family basement) and joined the Fargo-Moorhead Orchestra as bassoonist at a relatively tender age - though, indeed, this may have been because he was the only bassoonist in Fargo, North Dakota. He claims equal inspiration from Stravinsky, Spike Jones, Hindemith, and Elvis Presley.

In 1959 he began performing concerts featuring the music of P.D.Q. Bach, purportedly a long-forgotten son of Johann Sebastian. It was Schickele's dogged research that proved to the world how supremely incompetent P.D.Q. was in every musical form; Schickele names him "history's most justly neglected composer." Given his close connection with P.D.Q., Schickele admits that the composer's habit of "manic plagiarism" has rubbed off on him, leading to the "Unbegun" Symphony in which "every melody in the entire piece seems to have been thought of previously by somebody else." He explains this work as follows:

…you may notice on your program it only has a 3rd and a 4th movement. This is because I was born too late to get a chance to write the first two movements, so it is the "Unbegun" Symphony. It used to be called the "Pathetic" Symphony; these names, such as the "Jupiter" Symphony and the "Eroica" Symphony, are usually not given by the composer - they're given by friends of the musicians. Now this name, the "Pathetic" Symphony, was given to my piece by some of my old friends. I have a new set of friends now, and I'm calling it the "Unbegun" Symphony.

From Beethoven to "You Are My Sunshine," this symphony celebrates - and steals from - themes both lofty and mundane. For those who wish a challenge while listening, there are fourteen plagiarized themes in the third movement and twenty-five in the fourth, guaranteeing that audiences always come out humming something familiar. What more could any composer want?

April 1, 2001