'Ballet Mcanique' finally can be heard
American symphony orchestras are loading their programs this year with works by Aaron Copeland (1900-1990) and even Kurt Weill (1900-1950), the German-American who straddled pop and classical.
But a third American composer born at the dawn of the 20th century is also getting his centennial due. While living in Paris as part of the expatriate American community in 1924, George Antheil (1900-1959, pronounced ANN-tile) composed his "Ballet pour Instruments Mcaniques et Percussion."
His wildly innovative score called for 16 synchronized player pianos (along with plenty of percussion, two "live" pianos, and various sounds of the modern world, like a siren, airplane propellers, and electric bells). Eventually, he gave up on performing the piece, since coordinating the mechanical pianos proved impossible. Instead, he wrote two other versions that tossed out the 16-piano concept.
The original version had never been heard until last November in Lowell, Mass., when a phalanx of computer-controlled pianos played it for 1,000 listeners.
Now even more of the curious can hear the original "Ballet Mcanique" that even Antheil (the self-proclaimed "Bad Boy of Music") himself was never able to. The American Composers Orchestra will perform it at Carnegie Hall April 2, and the San Francisco Symphony will follow June 11. And a CD with the Lowell performance will be issued next month.
Paris performances by Antheil used to cause riots. That won't happen today. It's just a composer getting his hearing - 76
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