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George Antheil Ballet Mécanique player rolls (MSS 61)

Identifier: MSS 61

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of three piano player rolls containing the first edition of George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique for pianola, dedicated to Mary Louise Curtis Bok. In addition to the handwritten dedication, the first roll contains an explanatory introduction about the purpose and use of the rolls, which were meant to be heard by musicians only.


  • 1925


Biographical / Historical

Despite being American, composer George Antheil began his music career in Europe. Antheil's Ballet Mécaniqu was originally composed as the soundtrack to the silent film Ballet Mécanique by French Dadaist painter Fernand Léger and cinematographer Dudley Murphy, which made its premiere in Vienna in 1924.

Text of Antheil's Foreword

The handwritten foreword on the first roll reads as follows:

"This is the first edition of the Ballet Mécanique and is limited to 20 copies. It is the 16 piano part alone none of the xylophones, drums, and other percussion being written into or cut into this part. These are the master rolls which run the 16 pianolas electrically from a common control (switching on 16 or 1, as might be necessary to the sonority) together with which the other percussion is synchronized.

Therefore in general I should like to have only musicians hear the rolls before their proper orchestral presentation, because only to a musician will certain long parts of repitition obviously and immediately appear as accompaniment to an invisible other percussion (i.e. xylophones) which does not appear in these rolls. In general I would also say that the parts of these rolls in which many notes are cut are solo parts, especially the beginning of roll III.

This edition is the "orchestra-piano" edition and cost 500 dollars to make. It was cut by Pleyel in July and August, 1925. The second edition of 400 rolls appears next month (January 1926) complete (with all the rest of the percussion cut in) but this will be simply for private and not public performance. Pleyels consider it worth while to place in their edition!

George Antheil, Paris 1925"


1.0 Linear feet ((1) photo box)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Found among Mary Louise Curtis Bok's personal records kept at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Related Materials

Correspondence between George Antheil and Mary Louise Curtis Bok can be found in AD 1.2 Founders Papers (Mary Louise Curtis Bok was a major patron in Antheil's early career).

George Antheil Ballet Mécanique player rolls (MSS 61)
Barbara Benedett
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
revised 2017

Repository Details

Part of the Archives Repository

1720 Locust St
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States