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In Honor of Composer and Satirist Peter Schickele ’57 H’80

Peter Schickele on cover of Bulletin with flute going through his head

Peter Schickele '57 on the cover of the Swarthmore Bulletin in 1986

Peter Schickele ’57 H’80, an American composer whose career as a writer of serious concert music was often eclipsed by that of his antic alter ego, the thoroughly debauched, terrifyingly prolific and mercifully fictional P.D.Q. Bach, died on Tuesday at his home in Bearsville, a hamlet outside Woodstock, N.Y. He was 88. [New York Times: Peter Schickele, Composer and Gleeful Sire of P.D.Q. Bach, Dies at 88]

Schickele was the College's first graduate to major in music and received a master’s from the Juilliard School in 1960. Upon receiving an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Swarthmore in 1980, he sang his address to the graduating class.

In The Meaning of Swarthmore, he wrote, "My research into the life and music of the putative composer P.D.Q. Bach would not have had the truly flabbergasting cultural depth it evinces, had it not been for the broad general education I received on the banks of the Crum."

Schickele grew up in Ames, Iowa, and Fargo, N.D., along with his brother, David Schickele ’58, who played the viola and often performed chamber music with Peter. Speaking with Terry Gross in a 1986 Bulletin interview, Schickele reflected on his late start into music, the influence of musical comedian Spike Jones, and his time at Swarthmore.

"I had four orchestral pieces played by the Swarthmore Orchestra, one each year I was there. I was just writing music and hearing it played all the time," he said. "When I got to Juilliard I was glad that I’d gone to Swarthmore... In looking back, my life has turned out to be more than just composing. It has this whole historical eggshell around it that I think was very much nurtured by the education I got at Swarthmore."

In addition to the over 100 pieces he composed as P.D.Q. Bach, Schickele also published more serious work under his own name and even wrote film scores and musical numbers for Broadway.

"There are people who are fans of my serious music who years ago wished that I had given up P.D.Q. Bach. The trouble is that I love that whole theatrical part of it," he told Gross. "One of the things I learned from Spike Jones is the better played it is, the funnier it is."

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