Composers Datebook®

Meyerbeer and Lloyd Webber: "On Ice"

Composers Datebook - April 16, 2024


A century before crowds of extras and gigantic sets first filled the silver screen of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood extravaganzas, the Paris Opera brought similar resources to the stage for their historical operas — offering shipwrecks, explosions, massacres, and other crowd-pleasing spectacles.

For example, on today’s date in 1849, the premiere of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera The Prophet, included a ballet sequence that made audiences gasp in surprise when the dancers — supposed skating on a frozen lake — glided across the stage on roller skates!

Roller skates had been invented in Paris in 1790 but were considered a useless curiosity — after Meyerbeer’s opera, however, there was a booming demand for what was marketed as Prophet Skates. Meyerbeer’s opera also included an onstage sunrise, employing, for the first time at the Paris Opera, state-of-the art electric lights.

And just to prove that there is nothing new under the sun — electric or otherwise — in 1984, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express, a rock musical about trains, had singers racing around the stage on roller skates. The musical proved a big hit in London, New York and Las Vegas, and, reminiscent of Meyerbeer’s frozen pond ballet, there has even been a version of Starlight Express on ice.

Music Played in Today's Program

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864): ‘The Prophet: Ballet of the Skaters’; Galop; Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Michal Nesterowicz, conductor; Naxos 573076

Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948): ‘Starlight Express Suite’; Cincinnati Pops; Erich Kunzel, conductor; Telarc 80405

On This Day


  • 1893 - Spanish composer Federico Mompou, in Barcelona

  • 1924 - American composer Henry Mancini, in Cleveland


  • 1846 - Italian composer and double-bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti, 83, in London


  • 1735 - Handel: opera Alcina, in London at the Covent Garden Theatre. This was Handel's last operatic success in London (Gregorian date: April 27).

  • 1791 - Mozart: Symphony No. 40 (re-scored to include a pair of clarinets) is performed in Vienna at concerts conducted by Antonio Salieri.

  • 1849 - Meyerbeer: opera Le Prophète (The Prophet), at the Paris Opéra.

  • 1896 - Dvorák: String Quartet in Ab, Op. 105, at the Prague Conservatory, by four students (at the composer's special request, on the first anniversary of his returning home from America).

  • 1909 - Arthur Foote: Suite for Strings in E, by the Boston Symphony with Max Fiedler conducting.

  • 1942 - Barber: "Second Essay" for orchestra, in New York City.

  • 1945 - Leo Sowerby: "Canticle of the Sun" for chorus and orchestra, in New York City.

  • 1956 - Persichetti: Symphony No. 6 ("Symphony for Band"), in St. Louis, by the Washington University Chamber Band, Clark Mitze conducting.

  • 1959 - Ned Rorem: Symphony No. 3, by the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting.

  • 1967 - Ligeti: Cello Concerto, by the Berlin Radio Symphony conducted by Henryk Czyz, with Siegfried Palm the soloist.

  • 1994 - David Ward-Steinman: "Cinnabar" Concerto for viola and chamber orchestra, at the University of San Diego, Calif., by the San Diego Contemporary Music Ensemble conducted by Lily Hood Gunn, with Karen Elaine as soloist.


  • 1888 - American premiere of Verdi's opera Otello, at the Academy of Music in New York City.

  • 1920 - American premiere of Debussy: Fantasie, by Boston Symphony, Pierre Monteux conducting.

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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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