Antheil and Berlin, part 2

Up to then, he had already established his own style, especially in some compositions written between 1920 and 1921, which displayed on one hand a toccata-like percussive and anti-emotional music, while on the other a clear parodic humour. Both can be seen in Valse Profane With an Introduction of Fireworks(1919/21). Its first movement, a purely programmatic toccata depicting a rocket blast, is replete with exceedingly non regular arpeggio patterns in a two-hands dissonant counterpoint. Here we find already the well-known Antheil’s instruction in all these pieces, to execute them “as quickly as possible”. The second movement has an even more puzzling structure, where the waltz seems to be not only parodied in a Satiesque manner (see instructions such as “over-sentimental exaggerated”, or “with mock coyness”) but dismembered and recomposed in a nearly cubistic manner. Ostinato patterns and/or pedal points animate a structure which become more and more mosaic-like, a feature it has in common, together with some pentatonic “Chinese-like” harmonies, with his coeval Golden Bird, after Brancusi (1919/21), a clearly more ingenuous piece, whose original title, the Chinese Magician, betray not only the impressionistic character piece (with an inner story and musical development) but also its source in Leo Ornstein’s A la chinoise, op. 39 (1916). It must be said, in fact, that many of his earlier piano pieces, written with Scriabin, Debussy, Cyril Scott as models, later had their titles changed by Antheil, and were offered to unaware audiences with more updated, modernistic titles, (the Golden Bird was a fallic sculpture by Constantin Brancusi). Hiding a source, an inner visual, narrative program, was a sure method to render a composition more enigmatic and indecipherable, a lesson he would later learn well with Joyce and Pound. Another method was to turn serious homages into parodies, as he did with his The Perfect Modernist (or, with his German title, Erste Fibel für Ehrgeizige Modernisten – 8 Karikaturen des Stiles der heutigen Komponisten) where he coupled his earlier Myths-Homages (1917), dedicated to Debussy and Skrjabin with his Sonatine provincial (1918/19) with three movements dedicated to, respectively, Malipiero, Casella and Pizzetti. Antheil’s retitling, however, becomes a problem for scholars, because his manuscripts often appear with different titles, and earlier pieces can be later not only renamed in different fashions, but often orchestrated. This is true for a collection of four-hands piano pieces, called Four Hand Suite (1922, rev. probably 1939) where many of the 14 numbers appear also in other manuscripts, such as the movements II. One Violin Lesson for Two Pianists which is not only I. Little Overture of the Three Little Pieces (1922) but also appears, orchestrated, as a theme for his Piano Concerto No. 1. More: the other two Little Pieces (II. Valse and III. Berceuse Balalaika are the same with III. As I remember My Aunt and VIII. Vaudville Hookey of the same Four Hand Suite. Its last piece Gallop for Horatio Alger appears only orchestrated in his Symphony for Five Instruments (I. Version, 1923), while the missing two early pages for IX are to be found in the Habañera dedicated to Virgil Thomson in 1925. That said, the pieces are pure fun, and were played under different covers during the German tour. Still, little playful pieces, or burlesque wits could not suffice to make him famous in a country which had already heard the more advanced experiments of Hindemith, Krenek and Schulhoff. And, more than that, Leo Ornstein had already enraged audiences almost ten years before, and Henry Cowell was touring at the same time as Antheil. He had to find something more interesting, more daring, more futuristic, and for that he adopted two different styles: jazz and a machine-like percussive frenzy, already attempted by the Italian futurists, and later adopted by many different composers during the Twenties.

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm  Comments Off on Antheil and Berlin, part 2  
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