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Ballet Mecanique

Daniel Spalding , Antheil Audio CD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 10.52 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Product Details


1. Ballet Macanique
2. Serenade For String Orchestra, No. 1: Allegro
3. Serenade For String Orchestra, No. 1: Andante molto
4. Serenade For String Orchestra, No. 1: Vivo
5. Symphony For Five Instruments: Allegro
6. Symphony For Five Instruments: Lento
7. Symphony For Five Instruments: Presto
8. Concert For Chamber Orchestra

Product Description

Amazon.ca

George Antheil's reputation as the Bad Boy of Music (the title of his fascinating autobiography) was earned largely with his Ballet Mécanique, written to accompany an abstract silent film by the artist Fernand Leger. It was composed for player pianos and percussion, with harsh, driving rhythms, and it caused the kind of riots in Paris that were useful to a composer's reputation. Today, that reputation may keep Antheil from being taken seriously. But when you hear the Ballet (as rescored in 1953 for an early mono recording) today, it's a substantial and exciting piece of music, formally tight and not at all hard on 21st century ears. The remainder of this program shows more of Antheil's range. The Serenade is a lovely piece of Americana, with a particularly touching slow movement. The Symphony and Concert owe much to Stravinsky's "neoclassical" style; both hold up very well. Spalding drives the Ballet hard, and it sounds more frenetic than that old mono recording, but the music can take the heat. This and the remaining performances are splendidly played by the excellent chamber orchestra, and the recording is clear, well-balanced, and realistic in sound. Another Naxos winner. --Leslie Gerber

Product Description


Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By NNNNN
Format:Audio CD
George Antheil was sort of the Orson Wells of American classical music. He hit it big from the start and then steadily declined until at one point he took up journalism. By decline I do not refer to quality but to the perceptions of critics and listeners. Antheil began with a bang with the BALLET MACANIQUE for multiple pianos and large percussion section (including an airplane propeller). As fearsome as it sounds it really is a whimsical and often delightful work that is sort of Varese with a smile. One can also hear fore shadowings of Bartok's Music for 2 Pianos and Percussion which would come a decade later. After such , for the 1920's, modernisms Antheil reverted, like Stravinsky at the time,to a sort of neo-classical style for which the critics of the time never forgave him. The Symphony and Concert are examples of that and are fine works. The Serenade for Strings is from the 1940's and shows influences of Ives and in the finale, Shostakovich. For years it has been hard to find any Antheil recordings except on smaller high priced labels. Naxos is to praised for providing a very good cross section of Antheil's music at a budget price. Daniel Spaulding and the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra turn in very fine performances and Naxos' sound is equally fine especially in dealing with the massive BALLET MECANIQUE. At the price you can't go wrong.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Bad Boy and the Bad Boy Tamed Nov. 29 2001
By A Customer
Format:Audio CD
The main problem with the early works of George Antheil, self-styled "Bad Boy of Music," is also its chief virtue: It's derivative of Igor Stravinsky. But then if you're going to slavishly follow a model, you probably couldn't choose a better one. In the Ballet Mechanique, Antheil's most famous work, you'll hear the percussion effects of "The Rite of Spring," "L'histoire," and especially "Les Noces." But you'll also note that the contours of the melodic snippets played by the tuneable percussion are Stravinskian as well, sounding like the Russian folk melodies that give "Les Noces" such impetus.
To be fair to Antheil, his music has its own merits, for one thing being entirely trusted to the percussion and an eccentic mix of instruments at that, including airplane propellers and electric bells among the more standard piano, drums, glockenspiel, xylophones, and such. It does create a uniquely extravagant and arresting sound. And then the music's multirhythms and off-rhythms give it the enlivening thrust that so many of this century's percussion extravaganzas lack. Overall, an interesting and appealing piece.
The "Symphony for Five Instruments" and "Concert Music for Chamber Orchestra" recall the neoclassical Stravinsky of the "Octet" and "Symphonies for Wind Instruments," but the quirky instrumentation of Antheil's symphony, with the prominence given to the sometimes clownish antics of the trumpet, abetted by the trombone, recall (or anticipate) Poulenc as well. Playful and enjoyable stuff despite its obvious hommage to Stravinsky. The "Concert" is more sullen and sober-sided and so is a bit more facelessly neoclassical.
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4.0 out of 5 stars New Anthiel Recording Hits Budget Market Oct. 23 2001
Format:Audio CD
Most readers will question the validity of introducing the works of such a little-known composer to the shelf, but this CD shows that even historical underdogs deserve their moment in the sun. The Philadelphia Virtuosi bring vibrancy and energy to Antheil's vivid soundscapes, which are amoung the most progressive works of the 1920's. To put Antheil's contributions into relief, the Ballet Mechanique on the present recording was first performed in 1926, predating the other famous avant-garde work for percussion ensemble of the era, Edgard Varese's Ionasation, of 1931-33. Of additional note on the record is the exemplary solo playing of the participants in Antheil's quirky quintet, the Symphony for Five Instruments of 1923. However, for those interested in the profound pinnacles of early 20th Century music, this disc may fall short of such inflated expectations. The music on this disc is primarily intended to divert and to delight. Influences of the Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat and of the early works of the so-called "Les Six" group conjure a reasonable example of what Antheil's witty scores have to offer. The program notes by Joshua Cheek unfortunately leave much to the imagination of the listener. For instance, the respective ensembles of the Symphony and the Concert are not enumerated, leaving the listener guessing as to the timbres he is hearing. Otherwise, congratulations to the Philadelphia Virtuosi and to Naxos for an interesting, welcome program with fine playing, polished sound and an alluring price tag.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bad Boy and the Bad Boy Tamed Nov. 29 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
The main problem with the early works of George Antheil, self-styled "Bad Boy of Music," is also its chief virtue: It's derivative of Igor Stravinsky. But then if you're going to slavishly follow a model, you probably couldn't choose a better one. In the Ballet Mechanique, Antheil's most famous work, you'll hear the percussion effects of "The Rite of Spring," "L'histoire," and especially "Les Noces." But you'll also note that the contours of the melodic snippets played by the tuneable percussion are Stravinskian as well, sounding like the Russian folk melodies that give "Les Noces" such impetus.
To be fair to Antheil, his music has its own merits, for one thing being entirely trusted to the percussion and an eccentic mix of instruments at that, including airplane propellers and electric bells among the more standard piano, drums, glockenspiel, xylophones, and such. It does create a uniquely extravagant and arresting sound. And then the music's multirhythms and off-rhythms give it the enlivening thrust that so many of this century's percussion extravaganzas lack. Overall, an interesting and appealing piece.
The "Symphony for Five Instruments" and "Concert Music for Chamber Orchestra" recall the neoclassical Stravinsky of the "Octet" and "Symphonies for Wind Instruments," but the quirky instrumentation of Antheil's symphony, with the prominence given to the sometimes clownish antics of the trumpet, abetted by the trombone, recall (or anticipate) Poulenc as well. Playful and enjoyable stuff despite its obvious hommage to Stravinsky. The "Concert" is more sullen and sober-sided and so is a bit more facelessly neoclassical.
Perhaps my favorite work here is the relatively late (1948) "Serenade for Strings No. 1," a gentle, very American piece with a skittish, syncopated first movement that has elements of the barn dance along with what seems like Latin dance rhythms. The tender, deeply felt slow movement is the high point of the work. The agreeably tipsy last movement returns us to the dance. This piece shows that Antheil never lost his Stravinskian belief that, as the Russian master said, "Rhythm is all."
The performances by the Philadelphia Virtuosi are indeed virtuosic but also highly sympathetic and even loving in the serenade. The recording, made in the War Memorial building of Antheil's native Trenton, New Jersey, is wonderfully vibrant and detailed. In all, a fine tribute to this mostly forgotten composer that should garner renewed interest in his music.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine illustration of George Antheil's art Aug. 12 2008
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
George Antheil styled himself as the "Bad Boy of Music." As one listens to this CD, one is not so sure why people might have said that. He clearly was a capable composer and his music is worth listening to.

The CD is titled after one of his better known works, "Ballet Mecanique." This and the other works on this CD are played nicely by the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Daniel Spalding.

The "Ballet Mecanique" was first performed in France in 1926, reputedly to good reviews. As the liner notes put it, "Notorious for its orchestra of pianos, percussion, electric buzzers, and aeroplane propellers, 'Ballet' was a summation of Antheil's involvement with futurism."

What of the "Ballet"> It is a very energetic piece, a dynamic work. It is easy to listen to and enjoy. It does use strange instruments (such as buzzers and propellers) and stranger combinations of instruments; one critic referred to this work as an example of "demented modernism."

Still, the energy of this piece is infectious. One can see this as in the tradition of Stravinsky (note what other reviewers say). Piano and percussion add an interesting element to the whole of the composition.

The middle segment becomes quieter, even contemplative. Then, the energy returns for a dramatic close. It's a bit different. I tend not to enjoy more experimental music, but this surely works for me!

Also on this CD are some of his other signature pieces, such as "Serenade for String Orchestra," "Symphony for Five Instruments," and "Concert for Chamber Orchestra."

Overall, I think that this is worth a listen, exposing the listener to one of America's more intriguing composers of the early part of the century.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A symphony for aeroplane propellers, electric buzzers and numerous grand pianos? May 21 2008
By Piers Moktan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Entertained by the weird, wacky and eclectic sounds of Frank Zappa, especially the orchestral Uncle Meat and King Kong, I subsequently learnt that his favourite composer was Edgard Varèse, famous for composing a symphony for percussion only (as well as being one of the earliest pioneers of electronic music). This struck me as such a ridiculous idea that I knew I just had to check it out (if Zappa liked it, then hell, I might too). Fortunately I had a friend with the expertise to initiate me into this intimidating foreign musical domain. And so my introduction to the wonders of twentieth century classical composition began. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring became an instant favourite, and Bartok's work soon after, followed by the scary sounds of Penderecki and Ligeti (remember those spine-chilling chorals in Kubrick's 2001?) It all made sense since I had already admired Bernard Hermann's Psycho, and discovered minimalists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass- the history was coming together from both ends.

So what about George Antheil (1900-1959)? Well, here we have a most unusually talented character. Besides work as a composer and pianist, he also mastered other disciplines and interests, writing on criminal justice, military history, and the explanatory role of endocrinology for criminal investigations, as well as patenting a torpedo guidance system and, with the actress Hedy Lamarr, a broad spectrum signal transmission system! His credentials of association with creative artists are also impeccable- in 1922 he went to Paris, where he met his idol Igor Stravinsky, as well as hanging out with Hemingway, Pound, Yeats, Picasso, and Man Ray, most of whom were apparently enthralled by his avant-garde music, which for them served as the soundtrack with which to advance their modernist manifesto.

So, finally onto Ballet Mécanique itself. This remains his most famous work, which I admit had a rather gimmicky appeal for me. After all, this is a symphony for aeroplane propellers, electric buzzers and numerous grand pianos! On its premier in Paris in 1926, the audience response was favourable, despite a leather strip flying into the audience, the propeller blowing off hats and toupées, and one audience member attempting to protect himself from the aural onslaught with an umbrella (wish I could have witnessed it)! The following year however, at Carnegie Hall in New York, his masterpiece was met with amused derision, and the discerning elite refused him their stamp of approval as a serious composer. Still, in the early days Antheil's radical work often sparked riots amongst audiences, resulting in his sobriquet as the `Bad Boy of Music' (which served as the title of his 1945 autobiography).

"Rhythmic vitality, harmonic pungency, and melodic vigor" characterise his work, and putting the gimmickry aside, it's worth reminding ourselves that a conference honoring his legacy was held in his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey in 2003, and that this rendition of his work was issued by Naxos in 2001 -all of which testifies to his enduring legacy (he does not deserve to be forgotten). Antheil's status as a great composer has surely been secured, and besides performance of the 1953 revised version of the Ballet Mécanique, this album also includes the relatively less radical Serenade for String Orchestra, Symphony for Five Instruments, and Concert for Chamber Orchestra, all of which are also fine pieces. And if anyone remembers the Walter Cronkite-narrated CBS documentary `The 20th Century', which ran from 1957-1970, then you have already heard some of the work of Antheil, who besides shocking audiences with bold musical innovations, later resorted to scoring films in order to earn a living. Far from cacophonous, Ballet Mécanique is an incredible piece, essential for anyone interested in 20th century composition (and by the way, the clockwork penguins on the cover seem peculiarly apt when one considers the fusion of mechanical and organic that characterises the instrumentation for Ballet Mécanique).
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Anthiel Recording Hits Budget Market Oct. 22 2001
By Cameron Logan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Most readers will question the validity of introducing the works of such a little-known composer to the shelf, but this CD shows that even historical underdogs deserve their moment in the sun. The Philadelphia Virtuosi bring vibrancy and energy to Antheil's vivid soundscapes, which are amoung the most progressive works of the 1920's. To put Antheil's contributions into relief, the Ballet Mechanique on the present recording was first performed in 1926, predating the other famous avant-garde work for percussion ensemble of the era, Edgard Varese's Ionasation, of 1931-33. Of additional note on the record is the exemplary solo playing of the participants in Antheil's quirky quintet, the Symphony for Five Instruments of 1923. However, for those interested in the profound pinnacles of early 20th Century music, this disc may fall short of such inflated expectations. The music on this disc is primarily intended to divert and to delight. Influences of the Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat and of the early works of the so-called "Les Six" group conjure a reasonable example of what Antheil's witty scores have to offer. The program notes by Joshua Cheek unfortunately leave much to the imagination of the listener. For instance, the respective ensembles of the Symphony and the Concert are not enumerated, leaving the listener guessing as to the timbres he is hearing. Otherwise, congratulations to the Philadelphia Virtuosi and to Naxos for an interesting, welcome program with fine playing, polished sound and an alluring price tag.
5.0 out of 5 stars A killer May 14 2013
By G.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Antheil's Ballet Mécanique certainly established Antheil's reputation as a "Bad Boy" of music at its premiere in 1924. Originally scored for a wide range of instruments and effects, from player pianos and xylophones to airplane propellers and constructed to accompany a surrealist film about machinery, what we get here is his 1953 rescoring for slightly more conventional and practical resources (two propellers, four pianos, a host of percussion instruments and electric bells). It still sounds like little else (and nothing preceding it) and has the power to take even hardened contemporary listeners aback with its otherworldly, shimmering sonorities, propulsive momentum and fizzing energy. Yet, above all, it is huge fun, and having a new, superbly played version is certainly very welcome (do also check out Naxos's release of John Antill's Corroborree, a less well-known but similarly original work).

The companion pieces are perhaps somewhat more conventional in character. The Serenade for Strings (1948) inhabits a sound world not too far removed from Prokofiev - perhaps with some of Shostakovich's sardonic wit, and certainly a sense of ominous ruminations beneath the generally buoyant surface. The Symphony for Five Instruments, on the other hand, predates Ballet Mécanique and is deeply indebted to Stravinsky, sounding very much like a counterpart to the latter's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, though Antheil adds some personal touches (especially in the middle movement); the main difference being that Antheil eschews Stravinsky's subtlety - where Stravinsky is sometimes sly, Antheil is almost naively straightforward. The Concert for Chamber Orchestra is rather Stravinskian as well, though even if it is clever in the way it combines and recombines element in a sharp, dry and emotionless language, it comes across as a bit formulaic and lacking in genuine inspiration.

As mentioned, the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra performs everything with verve and ebullience under Daniel Spalding. I suppose their approach is less of a "revel in the chaos"-type of approach, but their performances are nevertheless engaging as well as deeply illuminating in how they manage to reveal the inner workings of the music without losing sense of the bigger lines. It is all really deeply fascinating, and the sound quality is clear and dry - as it should be in this music. Strongly recommended.
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