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George Antheil

Born: 1900

Died: 1959

Nationality: American

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Photo © G. Schirmer Archives


The work of George Antheil, the self-proclaimed "bad boy of music," is marked by sustained rhythmic vitality, harmonic pungency, and melodic vigor. Born on 8 July 1900 in Trenton, New Jersey, Antheil studied with Constantin von Sternberg, Ernest Bloch, and with Clark Smith at the Philadelphia Conservatory. In 1922, he traveled to Europe to pursue a career as a concert pianist, performing in recital many of his own works such as Mechanisms, Airplane Sonata, and Sonata Sauvage. The riots that often ensued contributed to the composer's growing notoriety. In Berlin, he met Stravinsky who became an important influence on his compositional style.

The Parisian artistic community, including Joyce, Pound, Yeats, Satie, Picasso, and others, championed Antheil as musical spokesman for their modernist ideas. His crowning achievement during this period would be the spectacular Ballet mécanique, a milestone in the literature for percussion ensemble. The piece literally shattered conventions and, in a production complete with airplane propellers, created an uproar at its 1927 American premiere in Carnegie Hall.

Later, Antheil would adopt neo-romantic and neo-classic elements such as in the Symphonie en fa and Piano Concerto. In 1936, he settled in Hollywood and began writing film scores. The last 20 years of his life would be a fertile period, producing four symphonies as well as several operas including the farcical Volpone. A remarkable achievement in satire and caricature, Volpone is set to a musical score that combines a heterogeneous harmonic language with thematic versatility, rhythmic energy, mosaic construction, and colorfully programmatic timbres — all hallmarks of the mature Antheil style.

Composed in Berlin in the 1920s, Antheil's Piano Concerto No. 1 had its world premiere in March 2001, and its Berlin premiere in February 2002. Pianist Michael Rische was the soloist in both performances, first with the BBC Symphony, then with the Berlin Philharmonic. Also new to the Schirmer Rental Library are the new edition of Ballet mécanique with MIDI software for performance with player pianos and the arrangment of A Jazz Symphony for piano and 11 instruments by Milton Phibbs, premiered by 20th Century Unlimited.

— April 2002

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