Skip to main content

Pianist Laura Leon

MORNING MUSIC: Piano Works by Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach

cover of MORNING MUSIC: Piano Works by Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach

view a larger image

released 2014

2014 Music for a G'day Productions/Musical Tapestries Inc.

Cover art and design by Karen Leon.

buy now…


"…Morning Music's pieces are colored by wit as well as a certain poetry…the pieces turn out to be surprise delights. The disc seems pretty true to Schickele's philosophy, which I see reason to applaud."
Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News, December 2014

"His music wins us over through its keenly conceived sonorities and its fully realized expressive, finesse, and a convncing continuity." Composer Judith Lang Zaimont

"Lovely, clear and untethered music."
Skip Lievsay, Oscar-winning film/television supervising sound editor, sound re-recording mixer and sound designer.

"Laura serves the cause of these pieces with such integrity and intelligence." Pianist Robert McDonald

MORNING MUSIC is a unique collection of never before recorded solo and four-hand piano works by Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach. This CD includes tender settings of American folk songs and hymns, Hollers, Hymns and Dirges-including the beloved "Amazing Grace"; a "snap shot" of a classical-style Sonatina; Epitaphs-his homage to great 16th- 20th century composers from Orlando di Lasso to Stravinsky; and tangos, blues and a cool riff.

The one and only P.D.Q. Bach (1842-1972)? (discovered by Professor Peter Schickele) is represented by his very early work Three Teeny Preludes, S. .001 and his "Goldbrick" Variations, S. 14--an attempt to match 'his father's' (J.S. Bach) breathtaking Goldberg Variations. Hoping to keep players' and listeners' attention, P.D.Q. Bach reversed theme and variations-including the Variation titled "Presto changio!"

Morning Music's two works for one-piano four-hands are Morning Music, described by the composer as a "raga-like, exotic sunrise-inspired string of musical beads"; and Civilian Barber Overture, a delightful, humorous preview of the P.D.Q. Bach discovery-to come. These were recorded with Blair McMillen, pianist of the acclaimed New York contemporary ensemble, Da Capo Chamber Players.

A master of refined, streamlined composition for the piano, Peter Schickele contours simple musical lines brilliantly and refreshes traditional melodies, transforming them anew. These works range from serious to humorous to poignant, harking back to-and influenced by-the composer's deep love of folk tunes and popular music, which he brings to the contemporary classical realm with finesse and sensitivity.

Produced and recorded by Adam Abeshouse, Grammy award-winning classical producer, Morning Music was made possible by an award from the Classical Recording Foundation.

Peter Schickele-and P.D.Q. Bach- have changed and enlightened the world's musical landscape in so many fantastic ways for thousands of musicians and music lovers.


TRACK 1. MORNING MUSIC: Morning Music is a string of beads; each bead is a concentrated, somewhat static musical section. One of these sections is fast and driving, another is languid, others flow in a songlike manner, but they all have a rather hypnotic quality. Although there is no direct reference to the music of India, this work has, to me, the feeling of a piece to be played at sunrise, in the manner of a morning raga.

This piece was not commissioned; it simply wanted to be written. It was first performed by Jack Behrens and the composer on February 6, 1983 at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

Tracks 2- 9. HOLLERS, HYMNS AND DIRGES: Hollers, Hymns and Dirges was written over a period of many years, and for a long time resided only in my head and fingers; it was finally, definitively written down on September 1, 1988. Some time in the late '70s or early '80s I played the work on radio station WQXR in New York City, but since I had not yet written it down, and don't have a tape of that program, I'm not sure how much revision took place between the first performance and the final notation; I do not know that I changed the order of the individual pieces during that period.

The first time I heard GUIDE ME, O THOU GREAT JEHOVAH was one of the high points of my musical life. Swarthmore College was one of the first colleges to have a regular folk festival in the early '50s and one of the (perhaps even the very first) featured a concert by a young woman from Kentucky named Jean Ritchie whose unaccompanied singing of this hymn was a revelation to me; having been brought up on smooth folk singers such as Burl Ives, I never realized how ornamental, how almost Moorish or Far Eastern, American folk singing could be. This hymn remains one of my very favorite pieces of music.

OH, DEATH is a wonderfully grim song I learned from a record made by a 66 year old Southern ex-miner named Dock Boggs, who sings it with a robustness that belies its grisly lyrics. Ralph Rinzler, an old friend and college roommate of mine who is also a noted folk song and craft collector, asked me to assist him in analyzing Dock Boggs's unique banjo and singing style and I got hooked on the record. I do not try to imitate either that banjo style or singing style; the piano setting is still stark, but bolder and more definite.

The first version of GO TELL AUNT RHODY that I heard was the famous Burl Ives rendition in the album of 10" 78's that must have been one of the most popular albums of the 1940s; at least all my friends' parents seemed to have had it too. Although it is basically a sad song, it makes a good lullaby-I know I'm not the only parent who has used it as such. My setting uses a kind of bitonality to create a sweet sadness.

AMAZING GRACE has become one of the most popular folk hymns in the county, and deservedly so. Not only has it been sung by singers of every kind, but it has even been recorded by a bagpipe band accompanied by a symphony orchestra. My setting contrasts simple declarations of the melody with a quasi-canonic, three part section.

When she was 8 years old, my daughter read the entire series of "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; a year later she started reading them all again. On one of my tours I ran across a book in which were collected the words and music to the various songs mentioned in "little House on the Prairie" and its companion volumes. It was from this collection that I became acquainted with THERE IS A HAPPY LAND, as well as the hymn which ends this suite, WHEN I CAN READ MY TITLE CLEAR. I have retained the old melodies, but I've made the harmonizations more modal.

DARLIN' COREY was, as I recall, in the same Burl Ives album as GO TELL AUNT RHODY. I have heard many and widely varied versions of these two songs since, but I retain a fond nostalgic memory of the Burl Ives performances, although his singing of Darlin' Corey is more gentle and less like a holler than my very pianistic setting.

RUBY is a bluegrass standard. One of the things I find so appealing about bluegrass hollers is the fast and busy instrumental accompaniment supporting expansive melodic lines featuring long (slow-feeling) notes-some of them held as long as the singer feels like holding them.

Tracks 10-16. LITTLE SUITE FOR SUSAN: I had just played a concert in Enid, Oklahoma--this was in March, 1980--and the couple driving me to the reception afterwards mentioned that it was the conductor's birthday. I'm afraid I wasn't much of a conversationalist for the remainder of the ride, for I knew that the conductor was a clarinetist and his wife a violinist, and I started thinking about a way of combining the slow movement theme from the Mozart clarinet concerto with "Happy Birthday." As soon as I got to the party I asked the hostess if she might be able to dig up a sheet of music paper anywhere. She must have talked to more than one person about it, because during the next half-hour two different people came up to me, one with a single sheet of manuscript paper (which I used to write down my little birthday present), and the second, too late, with a little manuscript book. But when I looked at it, I saw that Fate was at work: it was called PETER'S MUSIC BOOK, and it seemed obvious that, even though the apostrophe was a little out of place, the sixteen-page booklet was meant for me.

My wife had a birthday coming up, and since she periodically talks about resuming the piano lessons she quit when she was a kid, I decided to fill the book with little piano pieces that she might be able to play. That limitation ended up being stretched considerably, but about a week later LITTLE SUITE FOR SUSAN was completed. It was composed in Enid, Los Angeles, Ft. Worth and Tempe, Arizona (as well as in various vehicles between those points). Its first performance was in the living room of a friend in Jerome, Arizona, and its first public performance, also by the composer, was at a concert that was part of the "Summerfest '80" at the State University of New York at Purchase.

Tracks 17-21. EPITAPHS: Epitaphs is a set of tributes written over a period of thirteen years; the composers to whom homage is paid represent each century from the 16th through the 20th.

Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) A dream of Orlando, perhaps. A transfigured memory of the two-part motets, which, during the early 60s when I was teaching there, were used extensively at the Juilliard School of Music in the study of counterpoint.

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) A welcome revolution in the performance of pre-Baroque music has taken place since World War II; there are many groups around now who play that literature with real verve, at energetic tempos, and with a relaxed mastery of the instruments called for. My piece is a tribute especially to a wonderfully sunny DGG Archiv record of Praetorius dances that (my wife and I discovered during the first years of our marriage) make perfect music to do housework to.

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) Being introduced to the Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas was one of the great revelations of my college years. What an inventive, felicitous, passionate body of music! The only trouble with the sonatas is that there are so many of them and I have such a poor memory for numbers. The opening figure of this piece was, it seems to me, inspired by the opening figure of one of the Scarlatti sonatas in C major, but at the moment I have absolutely no idea what number it was.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) For many people, Chopin was one of their first favorite composers, but my affinities have always tended towards the classical, and it took me many years to come around to enjoying his music. This piece was written quite suddenly one evening, out of the blue; its not like anything else I've written, and it rather surprised me.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) The last piece in the set was written in 1972 as as birthday present for an old friend and fellow composer, Robert Dennis; it bore the title "Ding Dong, Stravinsky's Dead." Lest the intent of that title be misconstrued, I hasten to add that Stravinsky is one of my (and Robert Dennis') favorite composers of all time, and I feel privileged to have been around when he was around.

Tracks 22-27. SMALL SERENADE: In 1960-61, right after graduating with a masters degree from Juilliard, I spent the school year in Los Angeles on a Ford Foundation grant, writing music for selected high school ensembles. The grant was perhaps unique for our times in that it involved no teaching-one was actually being paid to write music. I composed nine pieces for the schools, but there was time for other pieces too, one of which was a little serenade for piano, finished on April 18, 1961 and revised and re-titled in June, 1979.

I premiered the first version during the 1961-62 season on a concert given by a group called Composers Circle in a New York City life on 72nd Street; by that a time I was doing some teaching at Juilliard, and a few faculty members said after the piece, "I enjoyed your piece, Peter, but that last movement (the rock 'n' roll "Stomp") doesn't belong in a concert hall." I disagree.

Tracks 28-30. SECOND SONATINA: Second Sonatina grew out of exercises that I wrote for an ear-training class I taught at the Juilliard School of Music in the late fifties. The first movement of this piece was one such exercise: I would play one or two measures at a time, three times, while the students endeavored to notate them. The better they got at doing this, the harder the exercises got. Later I added two more movements to complete the sonatina, which was finished on June 3, 1958.

Track 31. CIVILIAN BARBER OVERTURE: Written when I was 18 years old, this short overture shows a distinct similarity to the style of P.D.Q. Bach, whose highly figmental music was to become such a great part of my later life. This piece was originally the overture to a small living room opera performed by myself and a piano teacher singing the leads, along with a chorus made up of everybody at the party, plus oboe, bassoon, two violins, three cellos and bass. To say that the subject of the opera was topical is an understatement, but the overture kept itself in my mind, and years later I made two arrangements of it, one for piano four hands, and the other for chamber orchestra.


Tracks 32-34. THREE TEENY PRELUDES (S. .001): The most obvious speculation concerning the origin of these three gem-like studies is that they were written for the composer's own use in teaching piano to various Baroque and Classical youngsters. This speculation, however, is weakened if not demolished by two important facts: 1) P.D.Q. Bach rarely knew what time of day it was, or even what day it was, making it extremely unlikely that he would have been able to accommodate a regular schedule (or, as the English say, schedule) of students; b) P.D.Q. Bach's own level of proficiency at the piano would seem to preclude his being in a position to teach the instrument to anyone else. A more plausible speculation concerning the origin of these three gem-like studies is that they were written for the composer's own use, period; that is, that he wanted to write something that he could get through himself without resorting to singing instead of playing the fast passages, and muttering, "Und so fort" ("And so forth") whenever there were sixteenth notes in the left hand. Judging from internal evidence, the {[Three Teeny Preludes]} were composed in Baden Baden Baden, where the composer spent the Contrition Period of his life, trying to recuperate from the Soused Period of his life, an effort that was cut short by the composer's timely death.

Prof. Peter Schickele
Hoople, North Dakota
193 years to the day after the premiere of Don Giovanni

Tracks 35-38. "GOLDBRICK" VARIATIONS (S. 14): The discovery of the "GOLDBRICK VARIATIONS" was an especially important one for a couple of reasons, both of them important. In the first place, it is a theme with variations, and P.D.Q. Bach's use of this very usual eighteenth-century form was unusually unusual. And this piece is no exception. Because usually, when a composer writes a theme and variations, he presents the theme first, and then the variations. You sort of get used to that. Well, not P.D.Q. Bach. He presents all three variations first and only then does he get around to presenting the theme. I think the reason for this is that in this case even P.D.Q. realized that after hearing this theme nobody was going to stick around for the variations.

It was also an important discovery because very little of P.D.Q.'s solo piano music has survived. But there is more now than there was before the discovery of this piece, which is one of the things that makes it so important.

As was often the case, P.D.Q. tried in this work to emulate, or cash in on, the success of one of his father's most important pieces, the aria with thirty variations written for a keyboard guy named Goldberg to play when his employer couldn't sleep.

In Johann Sebastian's masterwork, every third variation is canonic, that is, a second melodic part does exactly the same thing as the first melodic part, except starting later and on a different note, while the first part blithely proceeds with new stuff, which, of course, the second part then has to imitate later and on different notes, so you'd think it would sound pretty awful, but it doesn't, it sounds just fine. All his happens over a free bass line (Bach lived long before free-basing was made illegal).

Since P.D.Q. Bach only wrote three variations altogether, there is only one canonic one, which is the middle one, and the artistically short-changed progeny of the Leipzig master exhibited his cleverness not in counterpoint, but in his masterful avoidance of it, that is, every time the second melodic part comes in, the first part has rests, and vice versa. Were the two melody parts the only parts, the resulting texture would barely, and only occasionally, earn the description "contrapuntal"; here too, there is a free bass line which acts as musical cornstarch.

Prof. Peter Schickele
University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople
March 19, 1996, right before the big game