Composers Datebook

Bernstein's Fancy Free

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) Fancy Free Ballet New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond. Sony 63085

Composers Datebook for April 18, 2018


April 18, 2018


It was on today’s date in 1944 that the ballet “Fancy Free”–with music Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins–was first staged by the Ballet Theater at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. It was a big hit. Bernstein himself conducted, and alongside Robbins took some 20 curtain calls.

“The ballet is strictly wartime America, 1944,” wrote Bernstein, “The curtain rises on a street corner with a lamp post, a side-street bar, and New York skyscrapers making a dizzying backdrop. Three sailors explode onto the stage. They are on 24-hour shore leave in the city and on the prowl for girls. The tale of how they meet first one, then a second girl, and how they fight over them, lose them, and in the end take off after still a third, is the story of the ballet.”

In a curious parallel to the stage action described by Bernstein, the ballet had been first pitched to composer Morton Gould, who said he was too busy, then to Vincent Persichetti, who in turn suggested Bernstein as a third, and perhaps better choice to produce a more hip, jazzy, and danceable score.

Music Played in Today's Program

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) Fancy Free Ballet New York Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond. Sony 63085

On This Day


  • 1819 - Austrian opera composer Franz von Suppé, in Spalato, Dalmatia;

  • 1882 - British-born American conductor, arranger and new music champion, Leopold Stokowski, in London;

  • 1907 - Hungarian-born American composer Miklós Rósza, in Budapest;


  • 1936 - Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, age 56, in Rome;


  • 1713 - Handel: "Utrecht Te Deum" (Julian date: April 7);

  • 1800 - Beethoven: Horn Sonata, in Vienna, with horn virtuoso Wenzel Punto and the composer at the piano;

  • 1898 - Chausson: Symphony, in Paris;

  • 1909 - Rachmaninoff: "The Isle of the Dead" (Gregorian date: May 1);

  • 1930 - Charles Wakefield Cadman: Violin Sonata, in Los Angeles, with violinist Vera Barstow;

  • 1944 - Bernstein: ballet "Fancy Free," at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with the Ballet Theater orchestra conducted by the composer;

  • 1958 - Easley Blackwood: Symphony No. 1, in Boston;

  • 1958 - Quincy Porter: "New England Episodes", in Washington;

  • 1977 - Broadway premiere of Sondheim: revue "Side by Side by Sondheim" (compiled from various Sondheim musicals by British singer-actor David Kernan and others); This revue opened in London on May 4, 1976;

  • 1986 - John Harbison: "Music for 18 Winds," in Cambridge, Mass., by the MIT Chamber Players, John Harbison conducting.