piano, video and 8-channel fixed medium

Orch. Paul D Lehrman, 2000 [original work]

Ballet mécanique (1924-25) is George Antheil’s most famous composition. In the piece, the Trenton, New Jersey-born composer (1900-59) reached the apogee of his mechanistic style, borrowing Stravinsky’s percussive and barbaric sonorities, and melding them jazz,ragtime, and the sounds of the new industrial age. Ballet mécanique was conceived for 16 pianolas in 4 groups of 4, operated electrically from a single master roll; 2 human-played pianos; 3 xylophones; 4 bass drums; 3 airplane propellers; a siren, and a set of electric bells. But the technology of the time was not capable of performing the piece. It was premiered using a single pianola, and only since the 1990s, using computer technology, has it been possible to play it with multiple player pianos. Lehrman’s and Livingston’s brilliant new arrangement, which was commissioned by the Sinuston Festival in Magdeburg, Germany, and premiered there in 2013, couples the human presence with virtual instruments and sounds scattered through the hall, in much the way Antheil wanted, at the same time combining the music with the film by Murphy and Léger, a masterwork of avant-garde cinema, in a way that was impossible during the creators’ lifetimes.