Participating in these composers’ sense of fun allows players to project humor to the audience. The listeners react, bouncing it back to the players to continue. And a good time is had by all. The following are just a few fun examples of humor in piano 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!
- Eric Satie’s Sports et Divertissements of 1914 shows his eccentric humor at every turn. Print it out here (imslp is a wonderful resource for free public domain classical music): https://imslp.org/wiki/Sports_et_divertissements_(Satie%2C_Erik). The sparse music of his humorous period includes tongue-in-cheek comments such as, “Like a Nightingale with Toothache”, “Light as an egg”, “Open your head”, and “Work it out yourself”.
- J.S.Bach’s Crab Canon is a musical palindrome. Bach certainly had fun writing this music forward, backward (retrograde) and inverted. His enigmatic Canon 1 à 2 from the Musical Offering (1747) folds back on itself, scooting about like a crab. Check out the Mobius strip presentation of it on YouTube, and print it out here: https://musescore.com/user/27827686/scores/521368
- Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche for two pianos opens with a calliope-like imitation between players, sounding like a circus. He playfully moves from consonances to land on dissonant chords.
- Kabalevsky’s A Little Joke, from Thirty Children’s Pieces draws on humor to pique the interest of young players. During the 5-note runs in alternating hands, one imagines a jokester jumping back and forth, landing on the punchline.
- John Cage’s 4’33”, a landmark piece of 20th century experimental music, is certainly humorous to watch, although painstaking to perform. All three movements are tacet, indicated at specific times (with a stopwatch) by opening and closing the piano lid. While Cage was showing that extraneous sounds are also music, the result brings a chuckle as well. It transcribes well for harpsichord, organ, or even flute…
So let’s make music, and let’s find music that makes us smile! What examples would you add to this brief compilation?