American music

Charles Ives is often celebrated for having anticipated many of the innovations of twentieth-century music. Less often noted is that he also anticipated, if that’s the right word, P.D.Q. Bach. Some years back, an acquaintance for whom I played a recording of Three Places in New England was scandalized by the second movement — real music isn’t supposed to be funny, he said. (Tell that to Mozart.) Here it is, the ideal music for the Fourth of July:

It’s become trendy in recent years to complain that the music of P.D.Q. Bach overshadows that of the composer Peter Schickele. I’ll grant that the humor is hit-and-miss, with misses predominating on the later recordings. Sometimes, though, the jokes work. Here’s the fourth movement of the “Unbegun Symphony.” ((Strictly speaking, this isn’t P.D.Q. Bach, since Schickele claimed it as his own, so to speak.))

If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill while waiting for it to get dark enough for fireworks tonight, why don’t you invite 35 of your closest friends over with their instruments and run through some American music of a different sort. Here’s the score to Terry Riley’s In C.

Bad pun alert

The habitués of Chess House (which was on 72nd Street, but no longer exists) were mostly elderly Jewish men. The air was dense with pipe and cigar smoke. Opponents did not talk to each other much, but it was the custom to engage in incessant thinking aloud, chattering to oneself, and verbigeration. Once, when I blundered by leaving a knight en prise (meaning undefended and liable to capture)—or in the chess slang “hanging”—my elderly opponent wondered aloud, “Why is this knight different from any other knight?” I thought he was just making a sarcastic comment about my play, until ten years later I finally got the joke while watching a TV show about Passover!