Introduction: What the heck is the Ballet Mécanique???

Antheil and propellor
George Antheil and a "propellor" contraption
and rack of electric bells used in the
notorious 1927 Carnegie Hall performance
of Ballet mécanique

In 1924, an American living in Paris named George Antheil composed a piece called Ballet mécanique. It called for three xylophones, four bass drums, a tamtam (gong), two pianos, a siren, three airplane propellors, seven electric bells, and 16 synchronized player pianos.

It was never performed with that instrumentation during the composer's lifetime. In fact, until 1999, it was never performed. But now, thanks to computers, MIDI, and microprocessor-controlled player pianos, it can be.

The world premiere of this piece, in its original instrumentation, took place in the Concert Hall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, under the baton of Jeffrey Fischer, on Thursday, November 18, 1999.

Also on the program were several world premieres of pieces for multiple player pianos, and performances by the UMass Lowell Percussion Ensemble.

The concert was Webcast live on .org.

A CD of the music on that concert is now available on the Electronic Music Foundation label. Listen to samples of the CD here.
A video of the concert is included as an "extra" with the documentary film about the Ballet mécanique, Bad Boy Made Good.

Subsequent performances now number over two dozen:

Copyright © 2009 by Paul D. Lehrman. All rights reserved