P.D.Q. Bach
An Introduction

(This page was created for our Middle School Band members who are getting an introduction into this wonderful piece of musical heritage.)

(The links below are explanations to help you understand the story.)

P.D.Q. Bach was born in Leipzig, Germany, the 21st child of Johann Sebastian Bach. The dates above are inscribed on his first tomb (he was later exhumed and reburied in an unmarked pauper's grave). It is thought that the Bach family inscribed the dates this way in an attempt to show that P.D.Q. Bach could not possibly have been Johann Sebastian's son! The question mark was added by P.D.Q. Bach's biographer, Professor Peter Schickele.


J.S. Bach was rather indifferent to his 21st son; at the age of five, the boy still had no name. Finally when pressed by his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, J.S. named him P.D.Q. -- no name, just initials. When asked what it stood for, J.S. replied, "Nothing." It is often said that this was an accurate description of P.D.Q. (he stood for nothing).


J.S. died when P.D.Q was eight. P.D.Q. was left on his own to fend for himself in the world because none of his relatives would take him in. We next find him mentioned as a teenager apprenticed to Ludwig Zahnstocher who was a carpenter and a virtuoso musical saw player. He said of P.D.Q, "He is lazy and will never live up to the Bach name, but he is always willing to experiment with something new." We see this in his music and the instruments he creates!

Some of the pieces written by P.D.Q. Bach are listed below (see side bar for the some explanations of the musical puns).

Echo Sonata for Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments in F Major. 

Gross Concerto For Divers Flutes, Two Trumpets & Strings in C Major. ("Divers" is an archaic spelling (or incorrect spelling?) of "Diverse". This piece uses: left-handed sewer flute, a slide whistle, a tonette, a nose flute, an Oscar Mayer wiener whistle and two sizes of ocarinas.)

Concerto for Horn and Hardart in Bb. (A Hardart has a range of over two almost chromatic octaves, with each successive tone possessing a different quality of sound, including a plucked string, bottles which are blown and struck, a bicycle horn, various whistles and a cooking timer. Due to its length - over nine feet - and the great variety of motions necessary to produce its tones, the hardart requires its player to be athletic as well as musical!)

Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons

Schleptet in Eb Major

Concerto for Piano vs. Orchestra in Bb Major.

Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion (for Concert Band)

Oratorio: The Seasonings (includes movements such as: "Tarragon of virtue is full", "Bide thy thyme", "Open sesame seeds", "To curry favor, favor curry", "Summer is a cumin seed" etc. 

Fanfare for the Common Cold

The Short-Tempered Clavier, Preludes and Fugues in all the Major and Minor Keys Except for the Really Hard Ones


 P.D.Q. wrote music for instruments such as the:

  • Double-reed slide music stand
  • Calliope
  • Foghorn
  • Hardart
  • Dill piccolo
  • Kazoo
  • Nose-flute
  • Left-handed sewer flute
  • Wine bottle
  • Shower hose in D