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Monday, June 12, 2017

George Antheil - Ballet Mécanique (version 1925); etc. (Maurice Peress)


Composer: George Antheil
  1. A Jazz Symphony (original version 1925)
  2. Second Sonata for Violin, Piano and Drum (1923)
  3. String Quartet No. 1 (1924)
  4. Ballet pour Instruments Mécanique et Percussion (original version 1925): Roll One
  5. Ballet pour Instruments Mécanique et Percussion (original version 1925): Roll Two
  6. Ballet pour Instruments Mécanique et Percussion (original version 1925): Roll Three

Ivan Davis, piano (1)
Charles Castleman, violin (2)
Mendelssohn String Quartet (3)
New Palais Royale Orchestra & Percussion Ensemble
Maurice Peress, conductor (1 & 4-6)

Date: 1990
Label: Nimbus (originally recorded by MusicMasters)



George Antheil's Ballet mecanique (1925-6) has acquired a notoriety—through textbook reference rather than performance—out of all proportion to its musical merits. The best that can be said of it is that its 27 minutes are not unremittingly deafening, and Antheil's use of fragmentation and silence in the third part is a welcome concession to aesthetic conventions of balance and variety that the two earlier parts seem determined to bury for ever.

Ballet mecanique was Antheil's youthful response to the gloriously liberated atmosphere of Paris in the mid-1920s, when 'anything went', including compositions for pianola with multiple pianos, xylophones and percussion (hideously wailing sirens prominent). But it is the other, earlier works on the disc which reveal why Antheil's music is worth taking seriously. The First String Quartet may be inconsequential in form, but it has an appealing lyric quality, and its livelier episodes confirm that Antheil could digest, and not simply copy, the formidable influence of Stravinsky.

The Jazz Symphony and the Second Violin Sonata enjoy themselves with collages of quotations and allusions, and are far more genial in atmosphere than Ballet mecanique. The symphony has more to do with dance music than with jazz 'proper' (no wonder Gershwin was puzzled by it) and also has clear links with mainstream French music—Ibert, even Ravel. The sonata is less anxious to please, and comparisons with Ives are therefore more appropriate: the imaginative reticence of the ending is particularly attractive.

The enterprise embodied in this expertly performed disc stems from the re-creation, in 1989, of a scandalous Carnegie Hall concert of 1927. There seem to be fewer players credited for Ballet mecanique than appear in the booklet photograph, but even so the noise is phenomenal, and the engineers did well to contain it within ear-stretching rather than ear-bursting bounds.

-- Arnold Whittall, Gramophone

More reviews:


George Antheil (July 8, 1900 – February 12, 1959) was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, author and inventor whose modernist musical compositions explored the modern sounds – musical, industrial, mechanical – of the early 20th century. Spending much of the 1920s in Europe, Antheil returned to the US in the 1930s, and thereafter spent much of his time composing music for films and, eventually, television. A man of diverse interests and talents, Antheil was constantly reinventing himself. He wrote magazine articles, an autobiography, a mystery novel, newspaper and music columns.


Maurice Peress (born March 18, 1930 in New York City) is an American orchestra conductor, educator and author. He served as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein from 1961 to 1962. Peress was leader of the orchestra in Corpus Christi, Texas, the Austin Symphony Orchestra and he Kansas City Philharmonic. Peress has also extensively conducted orchestras internationally. In 1984, he became a professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. Peress is the author of  the book "Dvorak to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America's Music and Its African American Roots".


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