Antheil and Berlin, part 4

Arriving in Berlin, Antheil transformed his earlier Second Sonata, Street Sonata (1919/21) into a piano concerto, and rename two earlier pieces, Snakes and Negroes as new movements (with Ivory) of a Sonata Sauvage (Nr. 1), finished in January 1923. Curiously enough, he had cut into a pianola roll a fragment of the II. movement, known also as Mecanique N.1, or Serpent Mecanique(1921), here recorded in a six-hand version (after a lost original manuscript). Needless to say the player-piano (or pianola) was for Antheil both a source if inspiration for his frenetic rhythms and the ideal medium to realize his musical ideas. Meanwhile, between January and May 1923 he composed up to six of these little sonatas (which he later called his six Sonates sauvages): the Third Piano Sonata Death of Machineswas premiered in Dresden on January 22nd and in its four movements without a break suggests an inner program which will be developed in toto in the Ballet mécanique, i.e. the human side of the machines, depicted as vulnerable, imperfect, even dying. We are so far now from the exaltation and glorification of the progress, so dear to the Italian and Russian futurists of a decade before: the precise motion of the opening begins to stumble immediately, tries to reprise, and looses itself in uncoordinated gestures, while the two last movements (both titled Accelerando) end abruptly, after a quotation from the opening, with a glissando representing the death of the machines, a finale that in the Ballet will assume a similar alternation of pianolas stumbling, alternated with silences and alarm bells ringing.

The Fourth Sonata for Pianoforte Jazz Sonatabearsthe indicationAs rapidly as it is possible to execute cleanly and with even touch and dynamics like a player piano. It should be considered a Twentieth Century companion to Chopin’s Minute Waltz and is a test bed for pianists (as many of Antheil’s compositions). Its mosaic-like, or radio frequency-hopping like structure is aimed, once again, at giving repeated coiti interrupti to the listener’s great expectations. Similarly constructed will be his later Second Sonata for Violin with Accompaniment of Piano and Drums (fall 1923), and the Piece for Merle, dedicated to Merle Schuster (a neighbour of the Antheils in the Paris apartment, dated 1925), while his famous A Jazz Symphony (1923/25) will, on the other side, develop for piano and orchestra much of the same material of the Jazz Sonata. Again, in the same syncopated jazzy atmosphere is the short (Little) Shimmy written for and dedicated to Böski (Oct. 3rd, 1923), a miniature of the dance which was the rage everywhere since 1917.

His last two sonatas, composed in the Spring of 1923, the Fifth Piano Sonata, (also known as Sonata V) and Sixth Piano Sonata “Woman Sonata” (recorded by Guy Livingston in the Wergo 6661 2 Antheil volume I) follow the collage technique already employed in the earlier, more famous pieces. Antheil himself probably never played them publicly, and they survive in two manuscripts and in a book of sketches (now at the Princeton University) where also the first sketches for the Ballet mècanique are jotted down. The Fifth Sonata (“Nicht schnell, mechanistically”) was dedicated to the brilliant ethnomusicologist George (Juri) Herzog, a friend of George and Böski, who was working with Hornbostel at the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv, in 1923 transferred at the Musikhochschule in Berlin-Charlottenburg, and where Antheil could listen to recording of African and Asian music (especially the famous Java Gamelan ensembles), and whose rhythmic patterns continued to influence his music for the following years. Here tot, Antheil plays with popular music, even to the point of quoting directly – among other things – Denza’s Funiculì, Funiculà (or perhaps indirectly even Strauss’ own quotation of that Neapolitan song in Aus Italien, op. 16?)

At the end of this period, Antheil recognized that “the chief and most important effect of this postwar Berlin upon me was to houseclean out of me all of the remaining old poesy, false sentimentality, and overjuicy overidyllicism.” (BBM, 29). Using the collage, the “all-purpose Twentieth device” (Wyndham Lewis), Antheil reached a cohesion through arrangement and proximity, a device so typical of Modernism, at the same time denying a cognitive value to the logical consequentiality, such as of the sonata-form, and thus stating the discontinuity and non-linearity of time itself. In so doing, Antheil’s vocabulary was probably putting together Stravinsky’s ostinatos and cubistic matching of non-consequential musical cells, plus the use of vulgar and heterogeneous material, with Cowell’s clusters and a Bartókian rhythmic tapestry. But his results were, at least for the German public, sensational and astonishing.

Published in: on January 11, 2013 at 5:56 am  Comments Off on Antheil and Berlin, part 4  
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