George Antheil

Ballet Mécanique

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George Antheil's "Ballet Pour Instruments Mécaniques et Percussions," better known as the "Ballet Mécanique," was visionary, provocative, and highly original back in the 1920s when it was written. It still holds much excitement because beyond its audacity it stands as a gripping work. Its place in music history was ensured by scandal in Europe, lack of scandal in America, and public ridicule of its modernist grandeur. But the piece premiered in 1927 was a second, much less ambitious version. Antheil had to abandon his original vision (and score) for three xylophones, four bass drums, tamtam, two pianos, siren, seven bells, three airplane propellers, and 16 player pianos because of the impossibility to properly synchronize the army of automated instruments. On November 18, 1999, in Lowell, MA, technology caught up with the composer's idea, thanks to Yamaha's Diskclavier, which allows the artist to control grand pianos via MIDI. The University of Massachusetts Lowell Percussion Ensemble performed the human parts. This album was recorded two days later. All the exuberance of Antheil's piece slaps you in the face, the pianos hammering away the rhythms of industrial life. It is simply incomparable to previous recordings and attains a level of mayhem similar to Erik Satie's "Parade" or Stravinsky's "Sacre du Printemps." The piece has a duration of 31 minutes. The rest of the CD presents an assortment of percussion and player piano pieces, some written especially for this performance. John Cage and Lou Harrison's "Double Music" makes a good opener and Richard Grayson's "Shoot the Piano Player" deconstructs a few Far West movie clichés. But they all pale in comparison to Antheil's anthem.

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