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Laughing Through Classical Music
By Rex Levang
April, 1999

Classical-music comedy has a special place in the affections of music lovers and if there was a list of Frequently Asked Questions on this subject, these queries might be near the top:

Who wrote "The Seasonings," the "Unbegun Symphony," and "Iphigenia in Brooklyn"? That would be P. D. Q. Bach, who, as these titles suggest, will stop at nothing to get a laugh. But behind all this is a formidable musical intelligence - witness his parody of Philip Glass. Unlike most Glass parodies, this one actually sounds like Philip Glass. (It's pretty funny, too!)

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Who is Anna Russell? The English-born comedienne who skewers genres like German lieder, Slavic folk song, and, satirizing the satirists, Gilbert and Sullivan. Her most famous line comes as she recounts the improbable events of Wagner's Ring: "I'm not making this up, you know!"

Wasn't there some English guy too? The festivals organized by the British cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung were in the best tradition of British humor -- smart and understated. Example: horn player Dennis Brain giving a perfectly deadpan performance of a baroque concerto, played on a garden hose.

Do you have anything a little more up-to-date? With her contemporary take on classical music, singer and stand-up comedienne P. D. Ward takes the classical humor genre into the 90s.

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Who was that rich lady who thought she could sing? All she wanted to do was sing, and share her love of music with others. She took herself seriously, even if no one else could. Does she deserve to be included with the jokers and wise-acres of the musical world? Maybe not. Still, if you've ever relished some awful poetry, or enjoyed a turkey of a movie on Mystery Science Theater, or haunted the "wretched cinema" section at the video place - you will know why the world remembers Florence Foster Jenkins.

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