If you love it, mock it

Three tuxedo-clad, mullet-sporting men sing the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The set contains a rusty trailor, patio furniture and a keg. Not a typical night at the opera. They’re the Redneck Tenors, and man, can they belt Beethoven.

These guys, along with a number of other artists, use their musical backgrounds and skills in rather non-conventional ways: creating parodies of classical music. In addition to being downright hilarious, good parodies are also a nod of respect to the work of art under deconstruction. I mean, people who mock the content and conventions of a piece or a genre have to be extremely familiar with the subject matter in order to create the most effective parody. Still, the people who create parodies don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, which makes these pieces even more endearing to audiences. And let’s face it—no matter how much we love classical music, we also have to admit that some elements of it can use a good parody from time to time.

Take the Redneck Tenors, for instance. These guys clearly know the stereotypes about classical music: it’s stuffy, boring and elitist. So what do they do? Parody this opinion by presenting the music by an incompatible stereotype: the redneck. By doing this, they subvert several dominant beliefs at once, but do so humourously. And their rendition of Beethoven was anything but trash.

While the Tenors mock dominant beliefs about classical music, other artists mock the music itself. Take Dudley Moore, for example. In this piece, the comedian / musician parodies a Beethoven Piano Sonata. First, he applies a Beethoven-like style to the tune that soldiers whistle in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai. But the true Beethoven parody appears as Moore’s piece begins to end. Beethoven wasn’t one to end his works quickly and succinctly. Indeed, Moore’s rendition is four-and-a-half minutes long; about 3 minutes in, he begins to play what mind be an ending. And it doesn’t end. And then it doesn’t end some more. And then there’s a little coda, followed by more ending. Another coda, more ending, and then the thing finally ends. This approach allows Moore to showcase his piano-playing and his humourous side simultaneously.

Victor Borge was another musician who loved to do comedy. This sketch, for instance, doesn’t parody the music, but the teaching thereof. Borge presents to us how he might teach piano to people of different occupations. The shoe-shine boy and the sea-captain imitations are the most brilliant and made me laugh the loudest. The great part about Borge’s comedy act is that he really does manage to sneak in quite a bit of music in among the visual gags, the puns and the general silliness—he even manages to play the best-known theme from “The William Tell Overture” backwards.

But no discussion of classical-music parodies would be complete without talking about P.D.Q. Bach. I’m actually most familiar with this guy, as my parents have some of his stuff on vinyl, and I listened to a lot of it when I was younger.

Satirist Peter Schickele invented a composer of this name, pretending that P.D.Q. is an unknown member of the Bach family. And sure enough, Schickele performs the newly found works of this composer. What strikes me about Schickele’s approach to parody is that he uses humour as a way to teach about classical music and its history; indeed, his comedy extends to the verbal descriptions that he offers prior to the music itself. Or during the music, such as in this parody of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Rather than just explaining the structure of the movement, lecture-style, he makes like a baseball announcer in the voice-over. Yes, it’s funny, but what the announcers say actually contains a lot of genuine technical information.

In P.D.Q.’s "Eine Kleine Nichtmusik,” Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” doesn’t get a voice-over; instead, Schickele throws in themes and motifs from other songs (such as the chorus from “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) while “Eine Kleine” just plays along innocently. Well, not the entire work. He takes out the second movement.

These parodies are many things, but they certainly aren’t stuffy, boring or elitist.

And now, please stay tuned for the listings. If you have any listings you’d like me to mention, please send them to 


Sat, Apr 24 (7:30 pm)
Concordia Concert Choir
Holy Harmony
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, $10 – $12

The concert features many Canadian composers, including Mark Sirrett, Healey Willan, Trent Worthington and Milton Schosser. The program will also feature works by British and Latin-American composers. After singing in Edmonton, the choir will take the concert for a tour in Great Britain.

Sat, Apr 24 (7:30 pm)
The Choirs of Robertson-Wesley United Church, Knox-Metropolitan United Church and the Willan Chorale
Te Deum
Robertson-Wesley United Church, $10 – $15

They will perform two works. One is the orchestral and choral work, Te Deum Laudamus, by French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. This is a celebratory work for the Easter season. The other is an orchestral ballet suite by Jean-Baptiste Lully.

Tue, Apr 27 (8 pm)
Elena Denisova and Alexei Kornienko
Knoppers Hall, King’s University College, $10 – $15

Playing on the violin and piano, this duo performs works by contemporary composers from Canada, Austria, Belgium and Croatia. The duo commissioned a piece by Canadian composer Thom Golub; this work will make its world première at this concert.


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