Recommend Witty/Funny Classical Music

I’m not talking about operas with comedic librettos, but instrumental music that is, in and of itself, “funny” in some way. I think there’s a tendancy for people to take classical music very seriously – the deeper, more profound composers seem to get most of the attention. And while that’s all well and good, I’m looking for the lighter end of things. Haydn is one of my favorite composers for this reason: he’s the most consistently funny composer I’ve run across – it’s hard to explain how music can be funny, but many Haydn pieces (particularly, of course, the fast movements of his symphonies and sonatas) invariably make me smile if not laugh out loud.

Mozart is occassionally funny, but for the most part I think he’s too elegant and lyrical to really bust a gut.

Based on my limited exposure, Russian composers seem to have a sense of humor: Rimsky-Korsakov and Khachaturian and Prokofiev come to mind.

So who else should I listen to?

So you wouldn’t count PDQ Bach here?

Oh, maybe, I dunno – I’ve heard of him, but never listened to any of his stuff. Is he funny?

Second PDQ Bach. Peter Schickele is brilliantly funny, and he’s also a superb musician.

To me, Mozart is (as you yourself pointed out) the funny guy among the great. But if asking about laughter and having fun, Vivaldi surely fits the bill. He’s more of the Yngwe Malmsteen kinda character.

(No, really, Vivaldi is much better than his reputation – makes me happy kind of guy. More of Richie Blackmore…)

(No, seriously… Vivaldi is one of the great, but don’t mention it to anyone who believes s/he knows anything about “classical music”.)

Haydn is known for his sense of humor. Such works as the Surprise Symphony (in which very quiet passages end in GREAT BIG MULTI-SECTIONAL CHORDS because he was tired of his patron’s court nodding off during quiet movements) and the Farewell Symphony (which ends by the players getting up and walking off, one by one at various intervals, throughout the final movement).

Beethoven’s 8th symphony: The ending is just nutty.

Mozart’s “Ein Musikalischer Spass”

Saint-Saens’s “Carnival of the Animals”

And yes, definitely check out P.D.Q. Bach.

And if you can track it down, listen to the version of “Peter and the Wolf” done by Wendy Carlos and Weird Al Yankovic.

Spike Jones’ take on The William Tell Overture, Dance of the Hours, Holiday for Strings, and The Nutcracker Suite. Especially The William Tell Overture.


Le Boeuf sur le Toit by Darius Milhaud, written as though it were accompanying a Charlie Chaplin movie. I’ve seen it used that way, and it worked wonderfully. It’s also pretty funny on it’s own.

PDQ Bach is the creation of Peter Schickele, who’s sort of the classical music version of Weird Al Yankovic. He’s not a real classical composer, which is why I didn’t think he’d be included. He’s still alive, for one thing. He claims to have discovered the music of JS Bach youngest and least talented son, PDQ. Anyway, typical of his stuff is the 1712 overture, which changes the tune from the Marsellies (spelled wrong, I’m sure) to “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and features popping balloons instead of cannons. He also did an opera called “Oedipus Tex,” where Oedipus (call me Ed) lives in Thebes Gulch, Texas.

He’s quite funny, I just don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for.

I was going to mention Haydn, too. Not so much because of obviously funny stuff like you mention, but just because his music is just fun to listen to.

And I think Beethoven is the most rock’n’roll classical composer.

One of the funniest intros was on a P.D.Q.Bach record

and, while it’s not “classical”, I still get a great laugh when I hear The Intro And The Outro by the Bonzo Dog Band

Two humorous suites commonly programmed together:

Kodály: Háry János
Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kijé

The whole thing; written largely as a musical joke. My favorite Beethoven. He described his mood while writing it as “unbuttoned.”

Lieutenant Kijé, definately.

And Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique has it’s moments—including some string work during the March to the Scaffold movement that represents the fall of a guillotine blade, and the bounce of a severed head!

The early 20th C. German composer Paul Hindemith could have quite a musical sense of humor. Try some of the various “Kammermusik” by him.

I beg to differ. Schickele has a number of works under his own name which, although admittedly tougher to find, are interesting and fun to listen to. He also scored the soundtrack to the film “Silent Running” under his own name.

I can’t hear The Dance of the Hours without thinking of the Hippos and the Crocs from Fantasia.
And Flight of the Valkyries always makes me think of helicoptors.

I find Haydn and Prokofiev tiresome, as if they’re trying too hard to be funny.

Shostakovich certainly had a lighter side…the ninth symphony, and any of his film music, is a good place to start. Charles Ives can also be funny (laugh-out-loud funny, to me) on occassions.