Composers Datebook®

Antheil at Carnegie Hall

Composers Datebook - April 10, 2024


“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” If George Antheil were asked that question in 1927, he would have answered that it was easy. After the scandalous Paris premiere of his aggressively avant-garde Ballet Mécanique, scored for eight pianos and lots of percussion, including airplane propellers, Antheil received a cable offering financial backing for a one-night only performance of the new work at Carnegie Hall.

Antheil was broke at the time, so the offer was hard to refuse. For his Carnegie Hall debut, he also programmed his new jazz sinfonietta — and hired the all-black W.C. Handy jazz band to accompany him at the piano — and remember, this was 11 years before Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert famously presented a racially integrated ensemble on the same stage.

“The public paid scant attention,” Antheil later recalled. “They had come to see and hear the Ballet Mecanique. The new Jazz Sinfonietta which I composed specially for the occasion was played by a large Negro orchestra whose personnel contained a list of names later to become tremendously important in popular music … but the critics took almost no notice except to say that my Sinfonietta was reminiscent of Negro jazz and not as good.”

Music Played in Today's Program

George Antheil (1900-1959): A Jazz Symphony; Ivan Davis, piano; New Palaise Royale Ensemble; Maurice Peress, conductor; MusicMasters 67094

On This Day


  • 1864 - Scottish-born German composer and pianist Eugéne d’Albert, in Glasgow

  • 1892 - Italian composer and conductor Victor de Sabata, in Trieste


  • 1911 - Lithuanian painter and composer Mikolajus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 35, in Pustelnik-Minski, near Warsaw (Julian date March 28)


  • 1868 - Brahms: A German Requiem, at a Good Friday concert at Bremen Cathedral conducted by the composer

  • 1886 - Chabrier: opera Gwendoline, in Brussels

  • 1913 - Montemezzi: opera L’Amore dei Tre Re (The Love Three Kings), in Milan at the Teatro della Scala, with Tullio Serafin conducting

  • 1919 - Fauré: Masques et Bergamasques (Masks and Bergamascas), in Monte Carlo;

  • 1927 - Antheil: A Jazz Symphony, at Carnegie Hall in New York, by members of the W.C. Handy with the composer at the piano

  • 1935 - Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4, in London, by the BBC Symphony, Adrian Boult conducting

  • 1936 - Carlos Chavez: Sinfonia India, by the Boston Symphony with the composer conducting

  • 1963 - Poulenc: Clarinet Sonata, at Carnegie Hall (posthumously) with clarinetist Benny Goodman and pianist Leonard Bernstein

  • 1984 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Prologue and Variations for strings, by the Chattanooga Symphony, Richard Cormier conducting

  • 1988 - Joan Tower: Clarinet Concerto, with soloist Charles Neidich and the American Symphony Orchestra, Jorge Mester conducting

  • 1992 - Michael Torke: Music on the Floor, for chamber ensemble, in Milwaukee, Wisc., by the Present Music ensemble, Kevin Stalheim conducting;

  • 1996 - Stanislaw Skrowaczewski: Passacaglia Immaginaria, in Minneapolis by the Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue conducting

  • 2005 - Gabriela Lena Frank: Ghosts in the Dream Machine for piano quintet, in Philadelphia, by pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the Chiara Quartet

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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.

About Composers Datebook®