1. Malcolm Arnold‘s A Grand, Grand Overture
This piece, scored for orchestra, vacuum cleaner, four rifles and electric floor polisher, is a 20th century parody of the late 19th century concert overture and is dedicated to President Hoover. Check out this nice, clean performance from the 2009 BBC Proms, with contributions from Stephen Hough, David Attenborough, Goldie and Jennifer Pike, amongst others.
2. Haydn’s Symphony no. 94 ‘Surprise’
Even as early as the 18th century some composers were aware that toying with our musical expectations could actually be funny. That’s what Haydn does in his Symphony no. 94, lulling us into a false sense of security with the meek melody that opens the slow movement before clobbering us with an ff chord. It might not be the stuff of belly laughs, but it’s worth a titter.
3. Rainer Hersch’s Coronavirus Concerto
One of the finest musical comedians of today, Rainer Hersch was a Monty Python fan in his youth and it shows: his blend of music and comedy is nothing if not surreal, pointing up the more absurd side of classical music and the culture surrounding it. Here he is presenting the Coronavirus Concerto.
4. Dudley Moore‘s Little Miss Britten
No list of musical comedians is complete without Dudley Moore, whose parodies of classical composers are so razor sharp that they almost venture beyond parody into the realm of musical criticism. Perhaps his most famous routine is Little Miss Britten, his hilarious send-up of England’s most celebrated composer, Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears.
5. Mozart‘s Divertimento for Two Horns and String Quartet
Mozart never explained his intentions behind this 1787 work, but it is widely interpreted as a parody of incompetent composers and performers. He fills it with harmonic and rhythmic gaffes as well as clumsy, over-repetitive phrases and passages that convey the impression of substandard performance, which is why, nowadays, most of us know it by its other name: A Musical Joke.
Photo of Malcolm Arnold statue in Northampton: Immanuel Giel