[PW] Joke: "Is he still composing?" "He's decomposing"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Tue Feb 21 10:30:07 PST 2017

A version of the wordplay joke mentioned by John Porter, John Cowan,
and T. F. Mills was circulating by January 1886. The punchline was
ascribed to librettist W. S. Gilbert. Bach (pronounced Batch) was the

Date: January 23, 1886
Periodical: The Critic
Volume 5, Number 108
Article: The Lounger
Quote Page 45
Publisher: The Critic Company, New York
Database: Google Books Full View


[Begin excerpt]
WHEN W.S. Gilbert was in this country, two or three years ago, a Mrs.
Malaprop who met him, and probably mistook him for the musical partner
of the firm of Gilbert and Sullivan, asked him a number of questions
that revealed a plentiful lack of information on the subject of
contemporary music, winding up with a query as to whether 'Batch' was
composing anything just now. 'No madam,' Mr. Gilbert replied with
perfect imperturbability; '"Batch" hasn't composed anything for years.
He's decomposing just now!' I heard this anecdote only a day or two
ago, and don't remember to have seen it in print.
[End excerpt]

In September 1886 the locale was the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Periodical: The Christian Register
Date: September 30, 1886
Article: Pleasantries
Quote Page 624, Column 1
Publisher: Christian Register Association, Boston, Massachusetts


[Begin excerpt]
At a concert at the Peabody, in Baltimore the other day, while a
performer was playing one of Bach's fugues, a gayly dressed young girl
turned to a music-loving gentleman next to her, and said in an
ecstatic whisper, "Aren't Ba(t)ch's fugies just lovely!" The gentleman
dryly replied, "Beautiful." The young lady kept on chattering about
"Batch's fugies," much to the disgust of the man. At last, she came
close to him, and said, "Is Batch composing still?" "No, madam,"
replied he, gravely: "it is probable he is decomposing."
[End excerpt]

In 1891 the punchline was ascribed the composer Arthur Sullivan. The
word "pretentious" was misspelled as "prententious" in the "Chicago

Date: March 12, 1891
Newspaper: The Chicago Tribune
Newspaper Location: Chicago, Illinois
Article: Personals
Quote Page 4, Column 6
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Sir Arthur Sullivan is credited with saying, in reply to an ignorant,
but prententious, woman who asked him if Bach were composing anything
nowadays: "No, madam, he is decomposing."
[End excerpt]

By 1895 a variant was circulating with the composer Mozart instead of Bach.

Date: March 28, 1895
Periodical: Public Opinion: A Weekly Journal
Volume 18, Number 13
Article: Music and Art Topics
Quote Page 319
Publisher: The Public Opinion Company, New York


[Begin excerpt]
An exchange gives this anecdote of W. S. Gilbert: One evening the
"Magic Flute" was being sung, and as Mr. Gilbert dropped into the
opera box of a friend more rich than cultivated she said to him,
consulting her program first, "Mozart? Mozart? Never heard of him
before. He's immense. Why isn't he here? Why isn't he doing something
else? Why isn't be composing?" And Mr. Gilbert answered, "Because he
is decomposing, my dear lady."
[End excerpt]


More information about the Project-Wombat-Open mailing list