Antheil and Berlin, part 3

The Second Sonata »The Airplane« (1921/22) was the progenitor of the entire group of piano pieces written in the same cold, mechanistic style during the composer’s sojourn in Berlin: Sonata Sauvage (1922/23), Death of Machines (1923), Jazz Sonata (1923), Mechanisms (c. 1923). In the Airplane Sonata,Antheil’s machine aesthetic manifests itself in driving rhythms and insistent ostinato patterns, while the lack of any dynamic nuances contributes to the mechanistic, hammering effect of the music. The sonata is constructed out of rhythmically-activated musical blocks which are delineated by different ostinato patterns. These musical blocks, the “time-space” components that Antheil superimposes on his musical canvas derive their energy from the rhythmic momentum of the repeated musical fragments. The sonata is in two movements that are related harmonically and motivically; both are organized on a synthetically constructed supra-E tonality and both end with the same musical material (Antheil’s only concession to the listener’s need for some stable organization!) Antheil establishes tonal centricity around E by assertion: he continually repeats the note E either in a pedal or as part of an ostinato. This E is not to be intended as a functional tonality, but as a sound object, or better a Duchamp-like objet sonore trouvé, maybe reminiscent of a motor-buzz, such is the case in Antheil’s model, again a piece by Leo Ornstein: Suicide in an Airplane. In this piece, and in the others composed around 1923, Antheil shows that he knows how to èpater les bourgeois, shocking them by a lack of consequential development, avoiding sonata-form, or other classical structures, and – most clearly in his case – juxtaposing unrelated rhythms and materials, creating a sort of musical bas-relief, such as in the Airplane Sonata, where he divorces metric structures from melodic constructions, or where he presents two interlocking but independent ostinato patterns a minor second apart that start together but gradually go “out of phase” because of the rests inserted in the left hand. This is precisely what Antheil himself tried to describe as “fourth dimension” in music, a term he got from his pseudo-scientific understanding of current philosophical or pictorial theories. “We of the future find our sense of organization from Picasso rather than Beethoven or Stravinsky (..). We should find our sense of forms and time-spaces moulded by months and months of studying the sculptures of Brancusi or Lipchitz.” – he declared in one of his manifestos.

The other pieces composed during 1923 (plus his later Sonatina für Radio, 1929)have the same common characteristics: multimetric textures where a constant eighth-note pulse is maintained despite constantly changing meters which destroy ostinato and motivic regularity while creating a propulsive, forward-driving energy.

Published in: on December 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm  Comments Off on Antheil and Berlin, part 3  
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