“A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Humor in music takes many forms, ranging from obvious to subtle. It reveals the very human side of a composer, one ready to enjoy life with his performers and audience. The following are just a few fun examples of humor in flute music, each with a different quirky angle. These pieces can be heard on YouTube (links not given here to protect copyrights). Please comment below and add more!
- Gary Schocker’s Ambidextranata for flute and piano is played by one person! The resulting left hand flute melody and right hand piano accompaniment are lovely, so the humor is in the presentation, a deadpan approach to a ‘normal’ aural result.
- P.D.Q Bach’s Piccolo Sonata is a hilarious bit of comedy by Peter Schickele. He explains that the flute (player offstage holds out a flute beyond the curtain) fell into a barbeque and shrank (player offstage holds out a piccolo beyond the curtain). This is called a Mediterranean Flute Fry…
- Mozart’s Der Spiegel (The Mirror) is a fun piece for two intermediate flutes or violins, who face each other with the piece between them. Thus one plays it right-side-up while the other plays it upside-down. Duet players get a kick out of this, while listeners hear delightful music. Print it out here: http://www.ms.uky.edu/~jack/2011-08-MA111/2011-10-26-Mozart.pdf
- Ian Clarke’s The Great Train Race is a humorous anthology of extended flute techniques that suggest train sounds. My favorite is the octave with pitch bend: a quick up-down-up followed by a slow wail trailing down, just like the train conductor calling, “All abooaarrdd…”
- Berio’s Opus Number Zoo for woodwind quintet amuses both the performers and the audience. The narration jumps around among the players, as they express the poems through words and notes. This early work predates Berio’s serialism; he wrote it for an audience of young people in the ’70’s. It is actually quite a biting little piece, given the sometimes ominous tone of the four poems.
So this is just a starting point to enjoy humor in flute music. I’d love to hear your further examples!