In all the years that Peter Schickele has been "discovering" the music of P.D.Q. Bach, his greatest accomplishment may be "New Horizons in Music Appreciation." It consists of a (mostly) straightforward performance of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony -- you know: Dum Dum Dum Dummm. However, two announcers -- Schickele and Robert Dennis -- give a play-by-play of the performance, along with the noise of an enthusiastic crowd, as if it were a competition between the orchestra and the conductor. Surprisingly, two smarmy sports commentators talking over one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music is not as irritating as you'd think. First, they're very funny. Second, and most significantly, they actually make the music more exciting.
See, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the most famous piece of classical music ever -- people worldwide recognize it just from its first four notes. There is probably no one on earth who hasn't been exposed to those four notes, and that global familiarity breeds -- well, not contempt, but Beethoven's Fifth has certainly become a classical cliche. The commentary by Schickele and Dennis lets us see Beethoven's Fifth for what it always has been -- an incredibly exciting work of genius.
After initially dismissing the performance as predictable ("I think we'll be hearing a lot of that four-note motif," notes Schickele), inexpert (the announcers discuss a bad musician for about a minute), and halting ("They keep stopping," Schickele complains), the announcers think they have the ending all figured out, until a shocked Schickele screams, "WAIT A MINUTE! This piece is going into overtime!" From that point, the announcers, the cheering crowd, the players, and the casual listener are taken on a wild and thrilling ride as the players struggle to find the original theme, start a new theme (which is fumbled from one section to another), and finally return to the original four-note motif ("I CAN'T BELIEVE MY EARS!!!" Schickele bellows) as the piece ends.
I can't speak for anyone else (but I sure try, don't I, har har), but since the first time I heard "New Horizons in Music Appreciation," I haven't been able to listen to Beethoven's Fifth without getting shivers...
"New Horizons in Music Appreciation" originally appeared on "P.D.Q. Bach on the Air," but it's also available on "The Wurst of P.D.Q. Bach."
Listen to it here.