Ivory Ticklers: Six Funny Classical Piano Comedy Routines

Tune in to WQXR on Tuesday for Some of These and Other Comedy Routines

Tuesday, April 01, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Rowlf the Dog Plays Beethoven Rowlf the Dog Plays Beethoven

Although comedy and classical music might seem like an oxymoron, celebrated humorists have fused the two for decades. And while the accordion or trombone can be pretty funny, pianists have often excelled in the comedy role, from Victor Borge to P.D.Q. Bach. For this First of April, here are six standouts.

1. PDQ Bach: The Short-Tempered Clavier, No. 2 in C Major, S. easy as 3.14159265 

It is now almost 40 years since Peter Schickele invented P.D.Q. Bach, the "last and least" of Johann Sebastian Bach's sons. The good professor has "unearthed" upward of 100 pieces by his pet composer. The Short-Tempered Clavier is a wild, polyglot set of preludes and fugues for solo piano. Many of its themes will be familiar, including “Chopsticks” and "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits." (Audio only)


2. Dudley Moore: Beethoven Parody: "And the same to you"  

When Dudley Moore starred on the British TV comedy series "Not Only but Also" he became known for his sublime melodic parodies. Among them was a "Colonel Bogey," played in the manner of Beethoven, complete with a rambling fugue and a coda longer than the whole piece.


3. Victor Borge plays Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody 

Victor Borge, the godfather of classical music and comedy, can be found on YouTube clips including this gem. It features pianist Sahan Arzruni joining in a tag-team duet rendering of a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody


4. Flanders and Swann: Ill Wind 

Flanders and Swann, the British comedy duo that delighted audiences from 1956 to 1967, were perhaps best known for their setting of the rondo from Mozart's Horn Concerto No.4.  


5. Rowlf the Dog Plays Beethoven 

Known as much for his dry wit as his unique piano artistry, Rowlf the Dog gave a memorable performance of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata in this episode of “The Muppets.”

6. Ingudesman & Joo: Mozart Will Survive

The conservatory-trained violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo have played to packed concert halls around the world and made a name for themselves on YouTube through clips like this one:


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Comments [13]

DaveG from Manhattan

These were so enjoyable, and so well done. Thank you.

Apr. 01 2015 02:01 PM

And I stand by my comment one year later:

Re I respectfully disagree. While her comedy was all-encompassing, I have seen videos where she accompanied herself at the piano while performing "Ring" parodies.

Apr. 04 2014 12:39 AM
I am DD~~, and I approve this comment.

Apr. 01 2015 01:47 AM

Re I respectfully disagree. While her comedy was all-encompassing, I have seen videos where she accompanied herself at the piano while performing "Ring" parodies.


Apr. 04 2014 12:39 AM
Andy from Lower Merion, PA

There's tons of Victor Bourge. Amazing thing about VB is that he was a terrific pianist. We take classical music so seriously today, it's hard to imagine one of today's virtuosi being as creative, candid and funny as VB.

The Hungarian Rhapsody version above was either the predecessor to or based on this routine from the Muppet Show which contains several of the same choreography.

The piano playing in this one is not so funny in this one, but a testimony to VB's creativity and wit--a full original counterpoint version of the Minute Waltz. Watch them pass the trill at 2:27.

This is one of my favorite VB routines, in which he contrives an opera plot and then performs the opera.

Apr. 03 2014 01:19 PM

Folks, thanks for the great comedy suggestions. As the title of our post indicates, this is intended to particularly look at keyboard comedians. Anna Russell, Looney Tunes and others didn't quite fit this particular concept. But we'll gladly keep your ideas on hand for potential future articles!

Apr. 02 2014 02:25 PM
Suzanne Fass

Anna Russell. Anna Russell. Anna Russell.

"I'm not making this up, you know."

Apr. 02 2014 12:03 PM
David from Northern VA

How could you do an article about humor and classical music and not mention the great Looney Tunes parodies: The Rabbit of Seville and What's Opera Doc?

Apr. 02 2014 10:41 AM
Bob from Huntington

I think Professor Schickele would be disappointed that you left out the greatest classical music comedian of the 20th Century and one his inspirations: Spike Jones.

Apr. 02 2014 10:36 AM
Jared from Greenwich CT

Oh just thought of one of my favorites, once again it's via film (well BBC televised..) and it is from Monthy Python's Flying Circus. The skit finds has one of the Python boys as master pianist (and "escape artist"!!) Sviatoslav Richter playing the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. I think it was Terry Jones as Sviatoslav. It begins with the great pianist on the floor, wrapped up in what looks like a full body straightjacket rolling around. As he attempts to break free he bangs upon the piano keys, falling and getting up again and again to play the concerto. Finally he breaks free entirely but escape portion whilst playing is hilarious!

Apr. 02 2014 12:39 AM
Jared from Greenwich CT

Going back a bit I would add the lovable, one of a kind Harpo Marx; Every Marx Brothers film had several musical routines and interludes, and the most charming of them found Harpo playing Chopin, Liszt (Hungarian Rhapsody no 2, on his beloved harp!), Irving Berlin and others..crazily, animated and odd-ball...as only he could! Chico Marx too warmed up his piano hands, although Harpo was the true musician in the family.

Apr. 02 2014 12:23 AM
charlie from new york

No discussion of comedy and classical music can be complete with out mentioning Anna Russell and her inspired operatic parodies.

Apr. 01 2014 11:44 AM

Wait!!! You left out john belushi on saturday night live doing beethoven.

Apr. 01 2014 10:14 AM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

Expanding the classical music comedy routines beyond the piano would allow the inclusion of Anna Russell,and the drawings of Gerard Hoffnung.A special category for unintentional humor would include Florence Foster Jenkins.

Apr. 01 2014 02:00 AM

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