Composers Datebook®

Herrmann and Daugherty look to the skies

Composer's Datebook - September 28, 2023


On today’s date in 1951, the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still was playing in theaters across America. The film’s opening sequence depicted a UFO hovering over Washington, D.C. Back then, flying saucer sightings were increasingly common, perhaps a result of mass hysteria spawned by cold war tensions and the existential threat posed by the atomic bomb. Or maybe we WERE being visited by other planets?

In any case, the movie made a big impression at the time, and countless kids—and probably a few adults as well—memorized the magic words “Gort: Klaatu barada nikto” which, in the film, prevented Washington DC’s destruction by a death-ray robot.

Fast forward some 50 years to 1999, when Washington DC’s National Symphony premiered a new concerto for percussion and orchestra, specially composed for virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie by the American composer Michael Daugherty.

Inspired by the outer-space look of Glennie’s percussion gear, Daugherty titled his piece UFO and asked that the soloist arrive unexpectedly and dressed as a space alien! In performance, Glennie moves through the audience and around the stage while performing sleight-of-hand improvisations on a variety of flying saucer-like percussive instruments.

Music Played in Today's Program

Bernard Herrmann (1911 - 1975) The Day the Earth Stood Still filmscore National Philharmonic; Bernard Herrmann, cond. London 443 899

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) UFO Evelyn Glennie, percussion; North Texas Wind Symphony; Eugene Migliaro Corporon, cond. Klavier 11121

On This Day


  • 1870 - French composer Florent Schmitt, in Blámont;

  • 1913 - American composer Vivian Fine, in Chicago;


  • 1825 - Russian composer Dimitri Bortniansky, age c. 74, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Oct. 10);

  • 1964 - English composer Sir George Dyson, age 81, in Winchester;


  • 1918 - Stravinsky: "The Soldier's Tale" for narrator and seven instruments, in Lausanne at the Théatre Municipal with Ernest Ansermet conducting;

  • 1961 - Bartók: "Scherzo" for Piano and Orchestra, an early work by the late composer, in Budapest;

  • 1972 - Petrassi: Concerto for Orchestra No. 8, in Chicago;

  • 1997 - James MacMillan: Symphony ("Vigil"), at the Barbican in London, by the London Symphony, Mstislav Rostropovich conducting;


  • 1951 - Sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" opens in theaters across America, featuring memorable score by Bernard Herrmann that included eerie, other-worldly sounds imitating the electronic instrument known as a "Theremin" (after its Russian-born inventor, Leon Theremin); In the movie, actress Patricia Neal's rendition of the space alien command "Gort: Klaatu barada nikto" prevents Earth's destruction by a death-ray robot from outer space.

  • 2007 - Conductor Philip Brunelle awarded the "Champion of New Music" Award by the American Composers Forum at their 2007 Annual Meeting in St. Paul, Minn.; This award recognizes artists who have commissioned and performed a significant number of new works by living composers.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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