Composers Datebook®

Lloyd-Webber's long-lived 'Cats'

Composers Datebook - May 11, 2024


Primitive man probably imitated animal sounds for both practical and religious reasons. More recently, the Baroque-era composer Heinrich Franz von Biber imitated one particular animal for comic effect in his Sonata Representing Animals, and, in early 20th century slang, it’s simply “the cat’s meow.”

Now speaking of cats, they’re supposed to have nine lives — but would you believe 8,949?

On today’s date in 1981, Cats, a musical by British composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber opened at the New London Theatre in the city’s fashionable West End. Despite a bomb threat and brief evacuation of the theatre, the premiere of Cats was a great success. 8,949 performances later, on the same date in 2002, when the show finally closed, it had long since entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running musical to date.

In London, it took in 136 million British pounds in ticket sales. Worldwide, Cats has taken in billions of dollars, has been seen by millions, and has been performed in 11 different languages in over 26 countries.

And if you asked your cat to comment on all this, they would probably say, “Why are you surprised?” and saunter away.

Music Played in Today's Program

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704): Sonata Violino Solo Representativa; Il Giardino Armonico; Giovanni Antonini, conductor; Teldec 21464

Andrew Lloyd-Webber (b. 1948): Cats Overture; Original Broadway Cast orchestra; Geffen 22031

On This Day


  • 1791 - Bohemian composer Jan Václav (Johann) Voríšek (Worzischek), in Vamberk

  • 1855 - Russian composer Anatoly Liadov, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: April 29)

  • 1888 - American popular song composer Irving Berlin (Isidore Balin) in Temun, Russia (Julian date: April 29)

  • 1895 - American composer William Grant Still, in Woodville, Mississippi

  • 1954 - Scottish composer Judith Weir, in Aberdeen


  • 1849 - German composer Otto Nicolai, 38, in Berlin

  • 1916 - German composer, Max Reger, 43, in Leipzig

  • 1947 - Swedish composer Ture Rangström, 62, in Stockholm


  • 1728 - Handel: opera Tolomeo, Re d'Egitto (Julian date: April 30)

  • 1917 - Busoni: opera Arlecchino (Harlequin) and Turandot in Zürich at the Stadttheater

  • 1945 - Bernstein: Hashkiveinu (text from the Sabbath Evening Service) for Cantor, Choir and Organ, at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, by Cantor David Puttterman, Max Heffman conducting

  • 1948 - Cowell: Hymn, Chorale, and Fuguing Tune No. 8 for strings, at Florida State University Recital Hall by the School of Music Faculty String Quartet

  • 1955 - Bliss: Violin Concerto, in London

  • 1963 - William Grant Still: opera A Southern Interlude, by the University of Miami Opera. This opera was later revised as Highway 1, U.S.A.

  • 1966 - Andrew Imbrie: Symphony No. 1, by the San Francisco Symphony

  • 1981 - Andrew Lloyd-Webber: musical Cats (after T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats) in London at the New London Theatre. This enormously popular and long-running musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982.

  • 1984 - John Harbison: Ulysses’ Bow, by the New Haven Symphony, Murry Sidlin conducting

  • 1995 - John Adams: musical I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky at the Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley, California, with the Paul Dresher Ensemble conducted by Grant Gershon

  • 2000 - Colin Matthews: Pluto, the Renewer (as a new contribution to Gustav Holst’s The Planets), in Manchester, by the Hallé Orchestra, Kent Nagano conducting

  • 2002 - Kenneth Frazelle: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, in Glendale, California, by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Kahane 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.

About Composers Datebook®