All right—so what is a musical joke?
It's sort of a tricky question, right? I find musical humor fascinating. I'm a little surprised that there isn't more of it. But I think classical composers are a little shy about heading into this territory, even though they use humor in their works all the time.
To me, there are three different kinds of "jokes" in this program, and I love them all.
This program is bookended by two pieces that reference maybe the most standard musical humor trope: straight-up parody. Hindemith's "Minimax" is a miraculous send-up of blah-blah small-town army-life oom-pah stuff. The poor guy writes about how he woke up every morning to the sound of an out-of-tune march being enthusiastically played. You can think of "Minimax," and Mozart's "Musikalischer Spass" as well, as musical exorcisms of the moments in the composers' artistic lives that weren't quiiiiiiiite up to snuff. Why weep about it when you can laugh instead? I imagine Hindemith and Mozart taking turns playing these silly tunes at a piano in a celestial bar somewhere, each one making the other simultaneously laugh and groan with recognition.
Farina's humor comes from a different place, as does Boccherini's. I think of this kind of humor as "representative." In both the "Capriccio Stravagante" and the "Fandango," the composer is concerned with creating a very detailed picture, and the humor arises when the picture shifts to something innately wacky, like a rooster or a hurdy-gurdy. (Spoiler alert: the Fandango is not *really* humorous. But it is a very specific, intense, picture of a very sexy dance with a lot of outsize flair. And it sounds fabulous. And there are castanets.)
Noam Elkies' "Allegro Troppo" is something else again; the humor in this fugue comes from an excess of musicianship. Everything in Allegro Troppo overachieves, from the title/tempo to the intricate subject to the increasingly silly yet academically flawless paces that the fugal material is put through. The joke is brilliantly written into the piece's DNA.
All this being said, there is another dimension to this program. I didn't just choose these pieces for the "laugh tracks." Everything we'll play, as light-hearted as it is, is also something I find truly delightful. This music doesn't just make me laugh, it also makes me happy.
I hope you have a great time.