Composers Datebook®

Bernstein's 'Fancy Free'

Composers Datebook - April 18, 2024


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 20 curtain calls.

“The ballet is strictly wartime America, 1944,” Bernstein wrote. “The curtain rises on a street corner with a lamppost, 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, conductor; 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, 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, Massachusetts, by the MIT Chamber Players, John Harbison 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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