Composers Datebook®

An Antheil premiere (or two)

Composers Datebook - June 19, 2024


On today’s date in 1926, avant-garde musical piece Ballet Mechanique, scored for multiple pianos and percussion, had its public premiere at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. Its composer was a 25-year old American named George Antheil.

Antheil’s piece had its private premiere earlier that year at the palatial Parisian home of a very beautiful — and very rich — young American who wanted to break into elite European society. He suggested the lure of cutting edge music and buckets of free champagne would win over her specially invited audience of Parisian blue bloods.

Antheil described the scene as follows: “Eight grand pianos filled up the giant living room completely and without an extra inch of room, while the xylophones and percussion were located in the side room and on the giant staircase. [The conductor] stood at the top of the piano in the center. To this already jammed-packed house, add 200 guests!”

Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the champagne, but it did the trick. “The last we saw of our beautiful young hostess that day,” Antheil recalled, “she was being thrown up and down in a blanket by two princesses, a duchess and three Italian marchesas.”

Music Played in Today's Program

George Antheil (1900-1959): Ballet Mecanique; Ensemble Modern; H.K. Gruber, conductor; RCA 68066

On This Day


  • 1717 - Baptismal date of Bohemian violinist and composer Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz, in Nemecký Brod (Deutsch-Brod, now Havlíckuv Brod)

  • 1842 - Austrian operetta composer Carl Zeller, in St. Peter in der Au

  • 1854 - Italian opera composer Alfredo Catalani, in Lucca


  • 1915 - Russian composer Sergei Taneyev, 58, in Dyud’kovo, near Zvenigorod (Julian date: June 6)


  • 1899 - Elgar: Enigma Variations, in London, Queen's Hall, Hallé Orchestra conducted by Hans Richter

  • 1915 - Saint-Saëns: choral work, Hail California, in San Francisco, composer conducting

  • 1926 - Antheil: Ballet Mécanique, in Paris;

  • 1984 - Bernstein: opera A Quiet Place (revised version), by La Scala Opera, John Mauceri conducting. The first version of this opera premiered at Houston Grand Opera on June 17, 1983, conducted by John DeMain.


  • 1869 - final concert of a five-day Great National Peace Jubilee involving an orchestra of 1000 and a chorus of 10,000 organized by bandmaster Patrick Gilmore performing in a specially constructed hall in Boston’s Back Bay

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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®