It goes back to Bach
And probably before that
‘Cause that’s what we do:
Humans match patterns,
And we disrupt those patterns
Just to get a laugh.
(“Cabbage and turnips
Have driven me away” is
Part of Bach’s Goldbergs?!)
A quodlibet is a musical composition that quotes other works, usually several at a time, to show that two disparate items can be combined. It can be like a musical joke. That was certainly the case in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It’s said that the Bach family loved to perform quodlibets for each other for entertainment. Variation 30 of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a quodlibet. It brings together two German folk tunes: “Ich bin so lang bei dir nicht gewes’n” [“I haven’t been with you for so long”] and “Kraut und Rüben, haben mich vertrieben” [“Cabbage and turnips have driven me away.” The whole line is “Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, if my mother would have cooked meat, I would have stayed longer”]. You can find a more technical discussion of this variation here.
It’s pretty, but if you don’t know the tunes it refers to (understandable; it has been several hundred years), it won’t get a laugh. Though you might get a chuckle out of the fact that at least one of the songs included in this elegant little piece of music is, um, rather bawdy. Let’s just say the Bach boys wouldn’t have been singing it around their grandmother.
A few years back, I wrote a post that featured a quodlibet that combined 57 classical themes by 33 composers. You can read that post here.
Today, I bring you the Quodlibet For Small Orchestra by Peter Schickele, which has so many classical themes one would be hard pressed to catch them all. There are also some popular tunes thrown in for good measure. And it’s not only what he includes, but how he includes it that will make you laugh.
If you would like to know why this is funny, you may consult this study, which specifically focuses on Schickele’s work. If you’d like to read about the origin of PDQ Bach, read this interview with Peter Schickele.
I hope you have a happy day!
Image attribution: C. Gallant, 2018.