From 1990-1993, Schickele's P.D.Q. Bach recordings earned him four consecutive wins for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.
Schickele wrote music for a number of folk musicians, most notably Joan Baez, for whom he also orchestrated and arranged three albums during the mid-1960s, Noël (1966), Joan (1967), and Baptism (1968).
Schickele, an accomplished bassoonist, was also a member of the chamber rock trio Open Window, which wrote and performed music for the 1969 revue Oh!
The humorous aspect of Schickele's musical career came from his early interest in the music of Spike Jones, whose musical ensemble lampooned popular music in the 1940s and 1950s. While at Juilliard (1959) Schickele teamed with conductor Jorge Mester to present a humorous concert, which became an annual event at the college. In 1965, Schickele moved the concept to The Town Hall and invited the public to attend; by 1972, they had become so popular that they were moved to Avery Fisher Hall in
Besides composing music under his own name, Schickele has developed an elaborate parodic persona built around his studies of the fictional "youngest and the oddest of the twenty-odd children" of Johann Sebastian Bach, P.D.Q. Bach. Among the fictional composer's "forgotten" repertory supposedly "uncovered" by Schickele are such farcical works as The Abduction of Figaro, Canine Cantata: "Wachet Arf!" (S. K9), Good King Kong Looked Out, the Trite Quintet (S. 6 of 1), "O Little Town of Hackensack", A Little Nightmare Music, the cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn, the Concerto for Horn and Hardart, The Art of The Ground Round (S. $1.19/lb.), Blaues Grasse (The Bluegrass Cantata), and perhaps best known of all, the dramatic oratorio, Oedipus Tex, featuring the "O.K. Chorale". Though P.D.Q. Bach is ostensibly a Baroque composer, Schickele extends his repertoire to parody much more modern works such as Einstein on the Fritz, a parody of his Julliard classmate Philip Glass.
His fictitious "home establishment," where he reports having tenure as "Very Full Professor Peter Schickele" of "musicolology" and "musical pathology", is the
Schickele also invented the "dill piccolo" for playing sour notes, the "left-handed sewer flute", the “tromboon” ("a cross between a trombone and a bassoon, having all the disadvantages of both"), the "lasso d'amore", the double-reed slide music stand, which he described as having "a range of major third and even less expressiveness," the "tuba mirum", a flexible tube filled with wine, and the "pastaphone", an uncooked tube of manicotti pasta played as a horn. Further invented instruments of his include the "pumpflute" (an instrument that requires two people to play: one to pump, and one to flute) and the "proctophone" (a latex glove attached to a mouthpiece, and "the less said about it, the better"). The überklavier or super piano, with a 15 octave keyboard ranging from sounds which only dogs can hear down to sounds which only whales can make, was invented in 1797 by Klarck Känt, a
To some degree, Schickele's music written as P.D.Q. Bach has overshadowed Schickele's work as a "serious" composer.
For a period of time in the 1970s and early 1980s, performances by Schickele of the works of P.D.Q. Bach often involved guest appearances by the Swarthmore College Choir, often advertised as "fresh from their recent tour of
Mr. Schickele began to curtail his live performances of P.D.Q. Bach due to health reasons, but performed two concerts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first concert at The Town Hall in
Schickele has composed more than 100 original works for symphony orchestra, choral groups, chamber ensemble, voice, television and an animated adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are (which he also narrated). He made a brief foray into cinema with the Bruce Dern film Silent Running (1972), for which he composed the musical score and co-wrote the original songs "Silent Running" and "Rejoice in the Sun" with the late Diane Lampert. He has also written music for school bands, as well as a number of musicals, including Oh!
Schickele's musical creations have won him multiple awards. His extensive body of work is marked by a distinctive style which integrates the European classical tradition with an unmistakable American idiom.