Exposed Fifths
classical music blog
June 19, 2006
Not for Human Dance
I seem to have run into a bit of a modernist thread, with Ligeti dying, and Tubin Preludes, and Trumpet Playing Robots, and I'll add just one more post before moving back to my usual Baroque adoring self. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with 20th and 21st Century Music, it's just that this Spirit prizes a sense of order and balance, and while its good to venture into the unknown periodically, there's something about the human that finds the comforts of home, I don't know, safe. It's the returning beacon where familiarity and safety lies, much like I'm listening to the Well Tempered right now.

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the first performance of George Bad Boy Antheil's ballet mecanique. Excuse me for not inserting the appropriate accent markings, but I'm a lazy English user, and have become much too inured to the standard US keyboard layout. Onto the ballet, and the story goes that Antheil was commissioned to write the music for a film of the same name, ballet mecanique. Only Antheil took too long, and they screened the film, silent, in 1924. Two years later, the music was ready, but there must have been a gross miscommunication in the meantime. The film was 16 minutes long, Antheil's music ran for more than half an hour! The artists, naturally, fell out, and Antheil went on to premiere the music ballet mecanique by itself in 1926 in Paris.

Like Stravinsky's sacre du printemps two decades earlier, Parisians aren't shy in demonstrating their dissatisfaction when they don't get what they expect, and they weren't happy with ballet mecanique. On stage, there were 2 grand pianos, 4 bass drums, 3 xylophones, 3 aeroplane propellers, bells, sirens, and 16 player pianos. It was a hell-raising racket. The crowd rioted.

Ballet Mecanique has since been reconstructed, and a performance authentic to the original was undertaken in 1999. It has also been recorded. Intrigued? Click here.